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North Cyprus – Destination Kyrenia!


Taking the geographical space of North Cyprus as a whole it can easily be divided into four areas that are the most attractive as holiday destinations. The major resorts of Kyrenia and Famagusta are the most popular and for the last thirty five years have absorbed the largest share of tourism. However there are the areas to the west, round Guzelyurt and Lefke, and to the east there is the Karpaz. Each of the four has something different to offer proving that no matter how choosy a tourist is, they should not be disappointed in North Cyprus.

I am going to start with Kyrenia because this was the least developed town prior to partition and thus most of the hotels available now are post 1974. There were only two big hotels in Kyrenia before the island divided, The Dome and the Couer de Lion. The latter is now The Liman. The smaller hotels and pansiyons in the back streets have changed considerably since that time, undergoing not only name changes but alterations in their architecture and use. Reassuringly, The Dome Hotel continues to be the “Grand Old Lady of Kyrenia” giving a comforting air of continuity in an ever changing world.

Kyrenia Harbour

Kyrenia Harbour

Historically the town and surrounding area of Kyrenia are abundantly rich. The Castle that guards Kyrenia harbour is “The Jewel in the Crown” of the Antiquities Department. It is a castle for exploring. There are passageways deep underground into the corner bastions where the defensive batteries were placed. There are the many rooms in the castle that are decorated with tableaux depicting life on the island throughout the millennia since mankind first trod the Cyprus soil. There is the shipwreck museum that houses the oldest ship ever raised from the sea bed. And the view from the Venetian tower across the harbour cannot be equalled.

On the mountain top above the town, stands the imposing sentinel that is the castle of St. Hilarion. It still keeps watch over Kyrenia as it has done since its first construction as a minor fort during the Byzantine period. The three levels will give even the most energetic walker good exercise and a full morning is needed to do justice to all there is to see.

It is a wonderful castle for both adults and children to explore but care needs to be taken as there are slippery steps during damp weather and unguarded drops.

A short drive to the east of Kyrenia and nestling in the foothills of the mountains is the village of Bellapais. It is here that the most beautiful and serene of all the ancient sites on the whole island is to be found. The Gothic Abbey of Bellapais has stood on a rocky promontory since the 12thC and apart from the ravages wrought by time and man, it has changed very little. Standing in the cloisters as the afternoon sun shines through the remaining fragments of tracery it is not difficult to imagine shadowy figures of the monks as they went about their ecclesiastical chores. The name comes from various corruptions through the ages from the original Abbey de la Paix of the Lusignan period, to the Venetian name of Bellapaise and the modern spelling of Bellapais. The name should never more be changed for it means as it has always done, a place of beautiful peace.

To the east and west of the town there are beaches for sand lovers. Some are well developed cosmopolitan venues with good restaurants and water sports, others are more basic with limited facilities. It will depend on what each individual tourist is looking for, though one thing in summer is guaranteed, the waters of the Mediterranean will be warm and crystal clear no matter which beach they lap.

Now it is a matter of which of the many hotels available to choose from. Family size, age and budget, will of course have a bearing on choice and there are hotels to suit all pockets. The three I have selected are my own personal favourites, and I have been in tourism long enough to know that a recommendation can sometimes backfire! However over the years friends and family have used all three and been very happy so I have no reason not to continue my recommendation.

The Dome, for its position close to the harbour, within easy walking distance of some good restaurants, it is very suitable for those wanting a quiet holiday without the need to hire a car. There are lifts to all levels for easy access.

The Pia Bella, positioned just on the outskirts of town, only a short walk into the centre. This is a super hotel for families with the advantage of two swimming pools set in verdant, shaded gardens, well appointed rooms and good food with an excellent choice to suit all tastes. Divided into two main sections, road front and garden annexe, there are lifts in both parts.

Bellapais Monastery Village, situated on the road to Bellapais, this hotel is not suitable for children or for those who have restricted mobility as there are no lifts. There are many flights of steps and steep inclines to access the facilities such as the two swimming pools, (indoor and outdoor,)  and dining room or terrace, but it has the benefit of fantastic views, beautiful gardens, overall a sense of tranquillity, plus a superb a la carte menu.

Lavinia Neville Smith
Lavinia Neville Smith
Lavinia Neville Smith first came to North Cyprus in 1995, and fell in love with the country and the Turkish Cypriot people. A self confessed dilettante, with a varied working career, it was not until she returned in 1997 and went into tourism that she was able to put to good use her knowledge of history, ancient and modern, acquired long ago at school. She is a co-author of the Landmark Visitors Guide to North Cyprus, and continues to promote this beautiful country as far afield as possible.