A Postcard from Northern Cyprus: Kyrenia/Girne

Yes – I do mean the ‘Turkish’ bit – The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus to be exact. Getting there is a tad less convenient than its southern counterpart but well worth the effort as you will see…

The island of Cyprus gained its independence from Britain in 1960. The constitution guaranteed a degree of power-sharing between the Greek Cypriot majority and the Turkish Cypriot minority but that crumbled within a few years. By 1964, Nicosia had been divided into Greek and Turkish quarters and a UN peacekeeping force was in situ. In 1974, a Greek military coup, aimed at uniting the island with mainland Greece, led to a Turkish invasion and the occupation of the northern and eastern 36.7% of the island.

With Greek and Turkish Cypriots fleeing in opposite directions, the UN Buffer Zone was extended and a 180km ceasefire line partitioned the island.

In 1983, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus was declared but to this day is still recognised only by Turkey. Meanwhile in the south, the internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus is a member of the EU.

The demilitarized border zone still exists and the UN still maintains a peacekeeping force on the island but, in 2003, Turkish Cypriot authorities eased border restrictions, allowing people to cross over for the first time in decades.

Recognised only by Turkey, political isolation and partition has preserved this part of the island for decades from the ravages of mass tourism. Increased accessibility in recent times however, cannot guarantee the unspoilt nature of the region for much longer I fear. You’d better get there fast!!

Kyrenia / Girne

Sorting out the name…… Kyrenia is Greek/English and Girne is Turkish. I’m going with Girne because that’s what the residents call it and it’s on the roadsigns, taxis, etc…

Once across the border, most visitors head for Girne, the most popular holiday destination in Northern Cyprus.

Introductions to the town are usually accompanied with a slew of cliches – the Jewel of Cyprus, stunning, cute, pretty, charming – it’s that sort of place. But, to be fair, it really IS stunning, cute, pretty and charming – and probably IS the Jewel of Cyprus! Despite the ever increasing visitor numbers, the old town is still attractive and certainly merits a day trip if you cannot manage a longer stay…..

While many of the bigger, fancier yachts have relocated to the newer marina, the old harbour is still the focal part of the town and offers up a jumble of traditional fishing boats, pleasure craft and and excursion vessels of every sort. Touristy – yes – but it gets away with it for now….

The main export here was the crop of carobs and many of the old carob warehouses lining the port have been converted into cafes and restaurants.

Overlooking the harbour is the massive Kyrenia Castle. Built by the Byzantines – possibly on the site of an old Roman fort – and added to over the centuries, the present structure is usually accredited to the Venetians who captured it in 1491.

It’s only when you’re right beside it that you appreciate its size….

I can take or leave a castle but this one is worth a peek even if only for the views from the battlements…. (Entrance Fee – 12 TRY/€0.74)

There are museum rooms – and a rather gruesome display in the dungeon! In the Shipwreck Museum you’ll find the Kyrenia Ship -the oldest wreck ever recovered from the seabed. This Greek trading ship, which sank in 30 metres (100ft) of water just offshore around 300 BC, was rediscovered in 1967 by a sponge diver.

Looking out towards the new marina….

…. and the old harbour below….

Beyond the harbour, the short promenade and immediate cobbled streets of the old town won’t take long to explore….

2 things in particular you can’t help but notice….

The water is unbelievably clear – even in the harbour….

….and most of the bigger hotels have casinos – the place seems to be a mini Las Vegas!!

Bellapais Monastery was founded by Aimery de Lusignan – the first King of Cyprus – for the Augustinians who fled here from Jerusalem when it was captured by the Saracens in 1187. It enjoyed great wealth for a while but, by the mid-16th century, monastic rule had been all but abandoned with many monks taking a wife or two and accepting only their own children as novices!

Nowadays, the ruins attract huge numbers of visitors. The setting IS impressive – located about 8km from Girne, the backdrop of the mountain range gives way to stunning views of the coast. ( Parking 5 TRY/€0.31 – Entrance 15 TRY /€0.93)

The little village is worth a look around but screams ‘tourist trap‘ – to say it has cashed in on the attraction is putting it mildly!

Trivia Moment – the village features in Lawrence Durrell’s autobiographical Bitter Lemons of Cyprus (1957)

Now!!! Look at this place!!! Isn’t it wonderful!!! Remind you of anything? Rumour has it that this was the inspiration behind Walt Disney’s castle in Snow White!

Built into the solid rock in the mountains above Girne, is the very dramatic St Hilarion Castle. Hilarion was a hermit who fled Palestine in the 7th century. He was supposedly stone deaf, so could resist the tempting cries of the demons who stalked the mountains. They finally gave up on him and he was left in peace to live and die here.

There was a monastery and church on the site but the first references to a castle are to be found in 1191 documents. Originally of strategic importance, it was built as a watch tower to give warning of approaching pirates who continuously raided the island. It went on to become a summer residence for royalty.

Built in three tiers, the lower and middle parts served economic purposes, while the upper level housed the royal family.

This is not about the ruins per se but about the location. The 30 minute minimum hike to the top from the car park is well worth the effort for the setting and the views… (Entrance 15TRY / €0.93)

I hate steps!!!

We made it!

On a clear day (not today) we should be able to see Turkey – some 100km away

Note – proper footwear is essential – leave the flipflops in the car! Although St Hilarion is very much open to the public, the approach road passes through a military zone which apparently closes occasionally. I wouldn’t leave it too late in the day to visit – the official summer closing time is 6.00pm with last admission at 4.30. When we arrived at 3.00pm, we were told that the place was closing at 4.30.

Time for a well earned rest after all that…

This is Alagadi Turtle Beach. Located about 19km east of Girne, the sweeping double bay is typical of many on this stretch of coast – natural and unkempt looking with a definite absence of umbrellas and sunbeds!

Sea turtles hatch their eggs here in the summer time.

Well the water is definitely warmer than my options at home – the Irish Sea or the Atlantic!

A ‘light’!!! lunch at the beach bar – we are going to head home looking like two whales at this rate!!

My Seabream came with meze, salad, bread and chips – circa €9. Tom’s Calamari and chips cost 60 TRY / €3.70

Practical Stuff – I’d intended adding details here but I’ve decided to do a separate info post re accommodation, transport, etc.

21 thoughts on “A Postcard from Northern Cyprus: Kyrenia/Girne

  1. I just learnt a LOT! What an interesting post about a place that was definitely never on my radar. But those beaches and old style villages — wowsers!

    1. We went to Cyprus for the first time just last October. I knew we’d go back some day to visit parts we didn’t manage to see that time – Didn’t expect it to be so soon!

    1. Thanks Alison. The water was so clear everywhere we went .. As for the lunch – we were half board in our hotel – which meant buffet breakfast and buffet dinner!!! We really needed that lunch!!😖 😅

    1. Although I come from a divided island myself, it felt rather surreal at times to be honest. But an interesting experience nonetheless.

  2. Ooh, this looks worth adding to the ever-growing wish-list! Thanks for sharing and adding to my ‘where to go next’ headache 😂

    1. It is indeed – driving around, you’d completely forget about it – and then come across yet another military zone…

  3. What an interesting post Marie, thank you for sharing. It’s absolutely beautiful, look at that water!! I find the fact the island is divided crazy, but then I suppose there are lots of instances of that being the case, just maybe not with military zones and tension on both sides!

    1. Glad you enjoyed Hannah – Apart from a few logistics like car rental etc, the political situation doesn’t impinge on the visitor at all. Nor was there any talk on either side about it – no mention whatsoever…

  4. Looks a great little place – I’ve been to the “other” half of Cyprus and we absolutely love Turkey…so this looks very much like a candidate for a visit. Give us fresh fish by the harbour any day!

    1. Well think more ‘Turkey’ rather than Cyprus/Greece and you have it….. The fish is great – even in touristy harbour restaurants you’re talking fish and all the trimmings for less than €10…

  5. Northern Cyprus looks like a place where I could easily spend a week or two! The views from St Hilarion Castle are quite fascinating and so is the gorgeous blue sky. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

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