Posted by Tony Flanagan on 20th Sept 2019 -- Read Time: 4 minutes
Vistas and history in northern Cyprus
The month of May saw me head out to the northern part of Cyprus in search of fresh itinerary ideas for our clients. I love to be able to offer more off-the-beaten-track destinations to our groups so that they can enjoy wonderful areas of the world without the crowds, and northern Cyprus had been on my radar for a while. What I discovered during my visit was a wonderfully relaxed region, filled with amazing views and fascinating layers of history stretching back for centuries. Whilst the island has been partitioned since the mid-1970s, northern Cyprus has a quiet charm and I found the people to be warm and welcoming.
I was based in the Onar Village hotel which is located on a hillside just outside of Kyrenia. Kyrenia (also known as Girne) is a pretty coastal town with a lovely, historic harbour and a little Old Town area with crumbling alleyways, and it gave me the feeling of going back in time to the Mediterranean as it once was. Cyprus, with its location in the Mediterranean Sea, has long been a crossroads of cultures and has seen many different occupations over the centuries, and the castle in Kyrenia is a great testament to this. Built by the Byzantines, this honey-coloured fortress as it stands today has been added to by the Lusignans and the Venetians. Within the castle walls is the interesting Kyrenia Shipwreck Museum, which goes back even further in history: it is home to the contents of a Greek merchant ship (and the preserved remains of its hull) that sank around 300BC. Discovered in the 1960s, it is believed to have sunk due to piracy in these ancient seas of trade.
From Kyrenia Castle, there are also fantastic views of the harbour – which is apparently one of the oldest operating harbours in the world. I stopped here for lunch and it had a lovely, ‘old world’ feel to it. At this time of year it was remarkably free of tourists and friendly locals wandered along the historic streets; it was a great place to enjoy a lovely moussaka. My evening was spent back at the Onar Village on the relaxing terrace, which looks out to sea. The hotel is very typical of the island and has a tranquil feel, with its white walls and sharp lines. The scent of the sea air, the smoke of grilling fish, the chirp of singing crickets, the beautiful sunset, and the sound of the call to prayer emanating from the mosques all drifted on the breeze. One of the delights of my stay was the incredible food, and the hotel chef even taught me the art of making kofte one evening, in the kitchen of the hotel’s restaurant. The kofte were both delicious and easy to make.
The hotel’s terrace was certainly not the only place that I visited with wonderful views – in fact, far from it. St Hilarion Castle is nestled snugly into the rocky crags of the Kyrenia Mountains, and the ruins really are like a fairytale castle. Indeed, St Hilarion’s romantic spires are said to have been inspirational to two famous castle creators: Bavaria’s King Ludwig and Walt Disney. Looming dominantly above Kyrenia, the vistas from here were absolutely to die for – wonderful panoramas over the town and the coast, backed by the endless, deep blue sea. The refreshing homemade lemonade for sale at the castle’s entrance was delicious and refreshing, too!
Just when I thought the viewpoints of northern Cyprus couldn’t get any better, we spent some time in Bellapais. This gorgeous hilltop village is a delight; immortalised by the author Lawrence Durrell in the 1950s, it has changed little since. The ruins of the stunning Bellapais Abbey dominate this charming mountainside settlement, and the abbey is regarded as one of the most beautiful Gothic buildings in the Near East. Yet again, the prospect out across to the Mediterranean was amazing, and framed by the medieval arches of the abbey ruins.
During my short visit I got just a small taster of the highlights and panoramas of Northern Cyprus. I’m really excited to have incorporated even more stunning views and historic sites into our suggested itinerary for northern Cyprus, in order to peel back the layers and get a new perspective on this wonderful destination.