The Bag and the Bench
As October temperatures fall in the UK it was time to let Anatolian Sky whisk us away on a mythical winged creature to a place still in the upper 20s C. Alright it was actually a 737 operated by Pegasus Airlines but let’s use a little imagination here. Flying via Istanbul (just 40 mins on the ground there) we headed for Northern Cyprus nestled in the Mediterranean Sea.
Our twin-centre holiday began in Kyrenia (Girne) on the Northern coast and our encounter with Turkish Cypriot hospitality was initially based at Rocks Hotel and Casino. Rocks enjoys a great position a gentle ten minute stroll away from the old harbour and on the edge of the town centre. The hotel oozes class from the moment we walked into reception (the Rocks Rolls Royce outside sets the scene too). We had a very comfortable, spacious and well equipped King sized room, with most things we’d need for our stay (safe etc.) plus a small balcony and sea view. Just across the road was their private sea front area, with a pool and bar set in a large decked area. There were plenty of loungers and beach towels provided, plus steps on the decking led to the sea and a floating platform. To read more detail about our stay at The Rocks CLICK HERE.
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. Although we were staying half board at Rocks and were able to enjoy their sumptuous buffet morning and night, with a half litre 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 at the west side of the harbour and is a great source of free booklets, town map and helpful advice. The town map guided us to over a dozen 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.
To get to grips with the rich history of the region, we had no further to go than the end of the harbour to the honey coloured Kyrenia Castle. The castle was probably built as far back as the 7th century BC to protect the town from Arab raids, but it’s our very own Richard the Lionheart that provides the first historical reference to the castle when he captured it back in 1191. It was a real treat to walk in the sunshine 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. Within the castles walls we encountered the Chapel of St George and various exhibitions, including a recovered shipwreck dating back to 300 BC. We even learnt about a tortured mistress in the dungeons (does a little shiver at this point).
A 15 min (about £5) taxi ride away is Bellapais, a small but interesting village set on a hillside offering sweeping views of the coastline below. The village gets its name from the French for Abbey of Peace (kind of) and it’s the Abbey that is the main attraction. Built around the 12th to 14th centuries by Augustinian Monks, much of it remains intact and it takes little imagination to realise how magnificent a building this was in its heyday. The Gothic arches of the cloisters and the vaulted ceilings of the church and refectory are most impressive. Stairs lead up to the roof for those vertigo inducing views of the coastline below (there’s railings don’t worry) and the whole thing is set in a pretty garden of flowers and cypress trees. 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”. 50m from the tree is the refurbished historic mill. While we were having a cooling drink and ice cream (it was hot at The Abbey) the owner introduced us to the various olive oil and flour milling equipment in his restaurant. All free (except the drinks and ice cream).
Our brief and pleasant visit to Kyrenia left us wanting more, with so many things to do close by. More history is available at St. Hilarion Castle, there are many great beaches to explore, with turtle watching possible at certain times of the year and boat trips to be taken. For the more active there are trails to be hiked, dives to … well dive and paragliding. It is said that the 100 year old paraglider who made the Guinness Book of Records did it here. Should all that activity fail to press your buttons, then you can just join Silver Travel bag on a harbourside bench shooting the breeze (see photo).