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