Earlier this year our group of five friends spent a week in Kyrenia, Northern Cyprus, at the Nostalgia Hotel. This was an ‘accidental’ holiday as we had to cancel our planned tour of Egypt since one of our party was recovering from a serious operation which ruled out the somewhat intensive itinerary we had planned. We were resigned to losing our deposits until the tour company – Voyages Jules Verne – offered to transfer them to another holiday of our choice. February does not offer many options of winter sun so we eventually decided Northern Cyprus might be a reasonable alternative.
A choice of two hotels was offered: a four-star hotel out of town or the two-star Nostalgia tucked away in the old town close to the harbour. Reviews of the latter were mixed – ‘quirky’ and ‘unusual’ being recurring adjectives, but on balance we decided the location was so good (and the food got such excellent reviews) we would take a chance.
Quirky it certainly was. The hotel is spread over two buildings which date back to the days of Richard the Lionheart and are connected by an open courtyard and an initially bewildering maze of passages. The rooms are all different but they are comfortable and adequately equipped, although some refurbishment would not go amiss in a few of the older chambers. The mosque opposite the hotel offered an early morning call that was difficult to ignore but certainly added to the atmosphere of staying in the old town. And the hotel décor is, to say the least, unusual, with the dining room home to an eclectic display of Mercedes car bonnets, wheel trims and steering wheels, not to mention a vintage motorcycle in pride of place. The food, home-cooked at the hotel, lived up to the reviews and was indeed tasty and plentiful.
I have certainly stayed in more luxurious establishments with better facilities but what really made it special for us was the warmth of our welcome from the hotel managers, Serpil and Shen, and their delightful multinational staff. Nothing was too much trouble as they were always available for help and advice and invariably cheerful even in the face of a major power cut one evening after a violent thunderstorm, just as they were cooking dinner. And of course the location could not have been better, with a two minute walk to the harbour in one direction or to the town centre in the other. If you think you might enjoy a more unusual and hospitable experience than a standard chain hotel, do consider staying here.
Kyrenia itself is a delightful little town, with its 16th century castle dominating the lovely horseshoe-shaped harbour fringed with bars and restaurants and it makes an excellent base for exploring the island. Dolmas taxis – usually small mini-buses taking 6-10 people – are the standard form of transport. Some of them have seen better days and the drivers can occasionally be a tad cavalier with the speed limits, but they are very reasonably priced and will take you efficiently to all the main towns and sites.
Must-see destinations are medieval Famagusta, the extensive ruins of the Greek city of Salamis and the old town of Nicosia where you can also see the incredible whirling dervishes. And don’t miss the evocative ruined Abbey in the village of Bellepais in the hills a couple of miles from Kyrenia, where you must be sure to sit under Lawrence Durrell’s famed Tree of Idleness (but not for too long!).
The border between the Greek and Turkish parts of the island is far more relaxed than of yore and nowadays you can freely travel between them via the border post in Nicosia. We flew to Larnaca in the south and from there took a very comfortable minibus booked by Voyages Jules Verne to the Hotel Nostalgia, which took about an hour. Northern Cyprus is also excellent value for money as it is not in the euro and the dire state of the Turkish lira makes the exchange rate for even our beleaguered UK pound look good.
The local tourist office advertises Kyrenia as ‘the Mediterranean as it used to be’ which is an evocative and accurate description. For those of us who remember the excitement of our first package holidays in the 60’s and how much how we enjoyed the totally new experience of a different culture, friendly people, sunshine and affordable prices, Kyrenia really hits the spot.