Its hard to understand why its taken us so long to do this trip but with the thermometer reading 10C outside and North Cyprus boasting 28C, the scales were tipped, we called Anatolian Sky, and off we went.
We began in Kyrenia (Girne) on the Northern coast. Home for a few days would be Rocks Hotel and Casino, which enjoys a great position a gentle ten minute stroll away from the old harbour and on the edge of the town centre. This hotel is top class (the Rocks Rolls Royce outside sets the scene). Top notch service from well trained and friendly staff.
The focal point of the town is the old harbour, now the place for a large selection of restaurants, bars and cafes. The attractive stone buildings that house the restaurants or are the backdrop to the open air seating on the harbour side, were once warehouses for the black gold (Carob) that was pivotal to past prosperity. Now it's gentle and relaxed atmosphere is the home of a prospering tourist industry. Depending on what you buy your pound can go a long way and with a pint of beer a miserly £1:50 we felt obliged to relax and watch the world go by at a harbour side establishment. Purely to support the local economy you understand.
The North Cyprus Tourism Office (NCTO) is also at the harbour and is a great source of free booklets, town map and helpful advice. The town map guided us to places of interest, but we also just wandered around the small lanes behind the old warehouses soaking up the atmosphere. The NCTO also have a very useful website that was great for planning this holiday.
Kyrenia Castle stands majestically at the end of the harbour. The castle was probably built as far back as the 7th century BC to protect the town from Arab raids, but it's Richard the Lionheart who provides the first historical reference to the castle when he captured it back in 1191. We walked along the ramparts between the four towers, soaking in the history of the castle, but also enjoying the excellent views of the fishing boats and gulets bobbing gently in the harbour. The castle also a recovered shipwreck dating back to 300 BC. Close by is Bellapais a small and interesting village set on a hillside. The Abbey is the main attraction built around the 12th to 14th centuries by Augustinian Monks. Much of it remains in tact and it takes little imagination to realise how magnificent it was in its heyday. The Gothic arches of the cloisters and the vaulted ceilings of the church and refectory are most impressive with stairs leading up to the roof for sweeping views of the coastline below. Across the road you can see one of the trees vying for the "Tree of Idleness" title of Lawrence Durrell fame and anyone here in September can visit his house where he created "Bitter Lemons of Cyprus".There’s so much more to do in this region, hiking, beaches etc. but too soon we moved to our second destination Famagusta (Gazimagusa).
Positioned on the south eastern coast, we stayed at Arkin Palm Beach Hotel, situated about 30 mins walk or a short taxi ride from the town centre and set on a private golden beach. Although a large and spacious hotel, it has a distinctly boutique feel to it. Packed with facilities, its a great place to base yourself in this area.To get our first helping of history we had to stroll no further than the end of the beach and view the ghost town that is Varosia (Maras). Once the venue for the rich and famous it was abandoned during the 1974 conflict and has stood empty ever since. It's dark eyed empty buildings are a stark contrast to the bright paint and glass of our own hotel.
The largely intact Venitian city walls around Famagusta were, at their peak, 3Km in length and in some places 18m high and 9m thick. We started around the walls at the Rivettina Bastion or Land Gate and dropped into the North Cyprus Tourist Office to pick up some useful complimentary literature and a city map. We climbed to the top of the wall and here, and at various points, you gain impressive views of Famagusta but much of the wall needs to be explored from the ground. Othello's Castle on the North East side is well worth lingering over, recently restored with the help of a little EU cash, it is said to get its name from Shakespeare's play.Don't miss the lion plaque or statue along this section.
In the centre of the city the Ottoman's cannonballs laid waste to a multitude of churches and other buildings but the ruins give a taste of how it may have looked. St Nicholas Cathedral is impressive and you can see where the Ottomans removed the twin towers and added a minaret, converting it into a mosque now known as Lala Mustafa Pasha. There are many cafes and restaurants in this area to relax, refresh and indulge in a little people watching. Look for the amazing sculpture that sits in the middle of the roundabout opposite the Ottoman tombs outside Land Gate.
A 15 minute taxi ride gets us to Ancient Salamis where the history dates back to 11 century BC and ranks as one of the island's main archaeological sites. Most of the more recognisable features, such as the gymnasium, baths and theatre (the most impressive) are relatively close to the car park. This part can be covered in about an hour, if the walk out to the remoter (and less complete) ruins doesn't suit. The full 7Km walk does reveal some interesting wildlife though, such as the 5p sized white snails that climb up and smother so much of the grasses and smaller trees. A climb to the top of the theatre also gives impressive views of the site and out to sea.
As we headed for the airport we were already planning when we can return to see the Karpas Peninsula and its wild donkeys, or North Nicosia and more. Perhaps we'll come in the spring for the riot of orchids and other wild flowers, or perhaps September to watch Turtle hatchlings released.......or perhaps both.
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Steve Aldridge -
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