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Cyp, Cyp hooray; TOM MCTAGUE ENJOYS A MEDITERRANEAN ISLAND WITH FRIENDLY FOLK AND SUPERB BEACH LIFE.

In a hill-top village, sitting outdoors in the dying sunset, drinking a beer and playing backgammon - the deep blue Mediterranean all around. Bliss.

An old boy comes over from a card game in the corner of the square, immaculately turned out.

"Hi guys, where are you from? London? I was there for 30 years - served in the Army. I love going back. I was a proper Teddy Boy. I can't stand all this wailing Greek music."

At times it seems like every Cypriot has lived in Britain.

It's easy to see why so many Brits have moved to the island. It feels like Little Britain in the sun. And the cars drive on the left.

Our villa for the week is down a road off Coral Bay's main street, 40 minutes up the coast road from Paphos airport.

It sits nicely in a kind of American suburbia by the Med, where satellite dishes perch on top of whitewashed holiday homes, beaming Coronation Street from home.

Picking up the hire car and getting to the tidy, three-bed villa is a doddle. The keys are in a safe box outside the door and the reps have left milk, bread, tea, coffee and juice - a godsend after the four-and-ahalf-hour flight from Britain. There's a patio with table and chairs, sun loungers, a barbecue and a sea view - and, of course, a pool.

It's a 10-minute stroll to the nearest beach and five minutes to the resort's bars, supermarkets and restaurants.

The food is fresh and varied but it's very obviously for Brits abroad - steaks, jacket potatoes, boiled veg and prawn cocktails abound.

For more authentic grub, a hire car is a must.

Driving from Coral Bay over the mountains to Latchi on the northwest coast are stacks of little villages with pretty tavernas and bars serving piles of meze and local wine.

This corner of the island, bordering the undeveloped Akamas peninsula, is prettier and less in-your-face than the sprawl around Paphos.

Latchi is a former fishing villageturned small tourist centre for Brits and rich Russians - and the gateway to dozens of secluded little bays.

Swimming in the sea around Latchi is reason enough to visit Cyprus. It's that nice. Warm, shallow and turquoise green, until it turns deep, dark blue and chilly hundreds of feet from the shore as the sea bed drops away. And as clear as glass.

Swimming, snorkelling and generally lounging about in these sheltered bays is a dream. Speed boats can be hired from the excellent Latchi water sports shop. Scotch Mist, as our little vessel was called, had a canopy, cool box, MP3 dock and enough room for four people. The guys at the water sports centre also threw in some snorkelling gear - and waterskiing kit.

Away from the coast, the highlight of the island is the capital Nicosia.

It's a surprisingly big city with a cool, stylish centre and tight, shady alleyways.

The most interesting aspect of the place is the city-centre border with Turkish-occupied Northern Cyprus.

Driving into the city from the south, on the island's main motorway, a giant Turkish flag looms into view, carved into the mountains to the north. But, in the city itself it is hard to see the armed divide, until you stumble on it at the bottom of the main thoroughfare.

Passing through the loosely guarded passport checks, the Turkish side emerges - shabbier and less European.

The beautiful cathedral has been converted into a mosque, with Turkish flags flying high enough to be visible from the other side of the divided island.

Back on the other side, the city buzzes on as if there's no divide.

As one restaurant manager said to us: "We've been here 5,000 years, we'll be here whatever happens."

It's a good thing too, because it's cracking little place - and a perfect holiday destination.

get there Villas4You has 7nts at the Coralia Dream villas at Coral Bay, near Paphos, Cyprus, from PS399 and villa/flight packages from Gatwick from PS350pp (based on 4 sharing). Villas4You has more than 600 villas in 23 destinations with flights from all major airports. Car hire available, welcome pack (on request), 40mins from airport. www.villas4you.co.uk, 0800 096 3420. Tourism: www.visitcyprus.com time zone: GMT +2hrs currency: Euro PS1 = 1.15 best time to go: Virtually a year round destination

CAPTION(S):

KITCHEN: Everything we needed

VILLA: Complete with pool

BEACH: Relaxing at Coral Bay
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EXCY
Date:May 11, 2013
Words:739
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