Tourists generally stay away from conflict, but the desire to travel can also be the beginning of a healing process. Many people are rediscovering the beauty of strife-torn regions that are only now emerging from their troubles. It often starts with citizens traipsing across the border for weekend breaks or shopping trips, but it can eventually lead to economic revitalization. A shared history, culture and language are part of the appeal of vacationing close to home. “Travel has a normalizing effect,” says Tom Hall, editor of the Lonely Planet travel guides. Here are some formerly troubled lands that have seen an upswing in local tourism
Cyprus. Within spitting distance of the hustle and bustle of the outdoor cafes and shops in the coastal town of Famagusta in North Cyprus lies a multistory hotel with a large Athenian trireme logo on the side. Even if the rusting, bullet-ridden and crumbling exterior of the building hasn't put you off, it's impossible to check in. That's because this hotel—and many others—in the city's suburb of Varosha is blocked off to all visitors save Turkish army troops. Varosha is like a 21st-century Pompeii—Greek Cypriots evacuated when Turkish troops invaded in 1974. Peak through the barbed-wire fence and you can see retro Coca-Cola signs and a “Bazooki Cyprus Music Club” sign left hanging from the 1970s. The Lonely Planet even claims that a car dealership still carries 1974 models in its showroom. Although a 1984 U.N. Security Council resolution states that only the original Greek inhabitants can resettle the town, the town would have to be rebuilt. In 2003, the United Nations-patrolled border opened up, and for the first time, residents of both parts of the island could easily travel back and forth—now there’s an estimated 10,000 crossings each week. Although Greek Cypriots consider it taboo to spend money in the Turkish-occupied north, many are apparently willing to come for the beaches and landscape of a region that was virtually cut off to them for three decades. (See www.visitnorthcyprus.org.uk for more details.)
Istanbul. Greeks, many from the Salonika region, frequently head to Istanbul for shopping trips; the number of Greeks going to Turkey from 1999 to 2004 has more than tripled to almost half a million. Tensions between the two countries have eased in recent years, and Turkey offers bargains to Greek tourists. Visit Four Seasons Istanbul, located in the heart of the Golden Horn, for impeccable service and the ultimate in luxury. Rooms start at $420.
Northern Ireland. British troops, who at the height of the Troubles had 27,000 military personnel stationed there, will be officially ending their police support mission, Operation Banner, in August. Tourism has been growing ever since the peace agreement of 1997—visitors increased from 950,000 in 2000 to 1.4 million in 2004—but now even more Brits are expected to come seeking the beauties of the north. “The Irish have easily slipped into a mode of taking the mickey out of the Brits who come over,” says Hall. “They'll say things like, ‘Hey, mate, why aren't you wearing camouflage?’ and they all have a laugh and get on with it.” Check out the splendid Belfast boutique hotel, the Merchant, where deluxe rooms start at £220 ($440) ; for tourist info go to discovernorthernireland.com.
India. In spite of the longstanding tension between India and Pakistan—in part over the disputed Kashmir region—the number of Pakistanis heading to India has leapt from just under 3,000 in 2002 to over 88,000 in 2005 (the latest figures available). An India Tourism officer attributes this to improved relations between Indians and Pakistanis and the introduction of direct road and rail links between the two countries. See incredibleindia.org for more details.
The Balkans. Torn by war in the 1990s, the Balkans has seen crossborder tourism increase each year. This past March the Kayaking Association of Croatia held their national championship races on the Vrbas River in Bosnia. In 2001, only 9,000 Serbs went to the Croatian coast for vacation, but last year over 52,000 made the trip. “Tourism between countries of the ex-Yugoslavia is getting back to normal,” says Joze Lozic of the Croatian National Tourist Office. Seka Dzelic, a Bosnian Muslim from Banja Luka, says she loves to vacation in Croatia not just because of the common history and similar foods but because it's cheaper than other locales, and, she thinks more lovely than places like Greece and Malta. “I have never had a negative experience during my stay in Croatia, and I have never heard anyone from Bosnia having a problem there because of their nationality.” Check out the brand- new Le Meridien Lav on the outskirts of Split that includes a tennis academy and a marina. Standard rooms start at 228 Euros ($310) starwoodhotels.com. If you are going to Sarajevo, be sure to stop in for a marvelous meal at Dveri—their ham, garlic and cream polenta is fantastic. dveri.co.ba. Go to bhtourism.ba/eng for lists of festivals and other things to do.