The North of Cyprus often gets overlooked in favour for it’s more developed Southern neighbour, however if you like things a bit quieter, a bit more un-spoilt and cheaper I would recommend heading across the boarder.
Four years ago after being made redundant, my Aunt and Uncle decided to leave their London life and move abroad. After looking at different options they spent a month in the north side of Cyprus (also known as the T.R.N.C, Turkish Republic of North Cyprus). And they’ve been encouraging us to come and visit since, last summer we finally made it over before it gets too hot!
When we go somewhere new I love to see and do as much as possible and get really immersed into the history, culture and definitely the food! This was really easy to do here, as there is so much history you could feel like Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade just by walking around the old towns.
One of my passions is history and there are so many historic sites to visit in North Cyprus to explore there was no way to see them all on this trip, and there are even more in the South to see, but here are our highlights:
Kyernia/Girne Castle and Harbour
The Byzantines built the original Kyernia Castle in the 7th Century, but the first historical reference was in 1191 when King Richard I seized it on his way to the Third Crusade then sold it to the Knights Templar and then to his cousin Guy de Lusignan who was the former King of Jerusalem. This gives it that Indiana Jones feel because the archeology is so accessible and you can touch the ancient columns and see the Ancient Greek boat that was discovered just outside the harbour, compared to the UK where everything is behind glass. Inside the castle you can see the domed Church of St George built in the 11th or 12th century, and the remains of a 4th century BC merchant ship and it’s contents that was discovered in 1965.
Getting into the castle costs 9TL per adult (which is under £2 per person) and children are free.
After walking around the castle in 35c heat, lunch by the Harbour with a cooling fan in the shade was a welcome rest. You can get a lovely lunch from many of the cafes along the front with great seafood, mezze and many other choices. Enthusiastic staff will be trying to encourage you to choose their establishment over their neighbours, so don’t feel pressured just go to the one you like the look of best. We chose Café Chimera, which is closest to the castle and we loved our calamari that was really fresh and tasty. Everyone is very friendly and it is fab for families as restaurant staff make a real fuss about kids, and being able to get a huge ice-cream for about 50p it certainly helped to keep everyone happy despite the midday heat!
We’ve been reading lots of ancient Greek mythology with my son recently, so going to Salamis on the east coast of Cyprus and being able to touch and walk where legends from the Trojan Wars walked, on 3000 year old streets was a really cool experience.
The city was ruled by Greek, Persian, Alexander the Great, Roman and Byzantine Empires. It suffered several earthquakes in the 4th Century and was rebuilt but finally abandoned in the 7th Century during the Arab invasions.
Walking down marble column lined streets and over the original tiled floors was quite surreal as in the UK this would be protected from the public and you wouldn’t be allowed to touch. The most impressive part was the Amphitheatre, where I could imagine plays being performed. You could walk around and explore the city for hours through remains of ancient churches, temples, bathhouses and peoples homes, as it stretches for miles.
It costs 7TL per adult (about £1.50) and free for children to enter the site and occasionally it is used for concerts. Too cool off after walking around in the heat, you can swim in the sea and there is a restaurant to get cold drinks and an area with sun loungers.
After we visited Salamis we headed just a few miles south to the city of Famagusta, which has an ancient walled city to explore. The city was founded in 274 BC built by refugees from Salamis after one of their earthquakes. At it’s peak it was nicknamed as “the city of 365 churches” due to a legend that at the city had enough churches to visit a different one each day of the year.
The main town square is where you will find the main historic buildings including the beautiful Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque, also known as the Cathedral of St Nicholas. It was built in the French gothic style between 1298 and 1312, which is quite rare outside France, as Cyprus was ruled by the French Lusignan dynasty between 1192-1489. Ottoman bombardments in 1571 damaged the towers that were never repaired and was converted to a Mosque. Outside is a massive fig tree that provides some much needed shade from the midday sun, which was planted at they same time the Cathedral was built and at over 700 years old is the oldest living thing in Cyprus.
When we reached this area of the city the call to prayer was coming from the minaret tower and as it was during Ramadan, it was not open for visitors at the time. However I was surprised how open, relaxed and westernised everywhere was for a Muslim majority country. Women are not required to cover up or dress modestly, are allowed to work, and have a lot more freedom than I saw in other countries I have been to and I never felt uncomfortable or unsafe walking alone.
Later in the week we headed up into the mountains to the small village of Bellapais 5km from Kyrenia. This is a beautiful traditional village that is well worth visiting with its gothic ruined “Abbey of Beautiful Peace”. Built in different stages between 1198 and 1284 it eventually fell into disrepair after the Ottoman conquest in 1571 put the Abbey under the control of the Greek Orthodox Church.
It costs 5TL per adult to explore the Abbey and 5TL for the car park. It is still used for weddings and concerts including the local music festival and there is a restaurant with beautiful views looking out to the Mediterranean Sea.
There are little touristy shops selling local crafts and gifts, where I bought a beautiful handmade scarf, and my husband’s favourite find was a hut selling local sweets where he bought over a kilo of Turkish Delight and other local sweets which nearly took us over our weight limit!
Our Favourite Beach:
“The best beach I have ever been to in my life” is my son’s review of the Karpaz Gate Marina Beach Club. It is easy to see why and was well worth the 1hr drive each way without air conditioning! While some places in the North felt a little basic on occassion, this was like a 5 star resort. The showers and changing facilities were faultless, the infinity pool looking out to sea was stunning, the food at the restaurant was fresh and tasty, and my son (and husband’s) favourite, the inflatable bouncy assault course in the sea! You could also go diving or snorkeling and kayaking. We chose to hire a cabana, which costs 50TL for two for the entire day (which works out as about £10 for the 3 of us as kids go free!) and includes your towels as well. Or you could choose the sun loungers for 10TL each. If/when we go back I would stay in the Karpaz area for a couple of days to make the most of it as the driving is quite tiring in the heat.
My most memorable meal:
Oh my goodness, I cannot recommend this restaurant highly enough! It’s more expensive than other restaurants in the area, but still a lot cheaper than a meal out in the UK, and it was definitely worth it! I had the best steak I have had in years, my starter of grilled prawns was cooked to perfection and the crème brûlée was the 2nd best I’ve ever had (1st place still goes to Paris!). Sitting outside and watching the sunset on the sea was really beautiful.
If this has got you interested to check it out you can get direct flights from the UK for as little as £35 each way from London and flights last about 5 hours. Larnaca Airport was one of the best I have ever been to, very clean and efficient with friendly staff. However during school holidays the prices increase and if you wish to fly directly to the north to Ercan airport, flight stops briefly in Istanbul and takes about 7 hours. Airlines to check out include Turkish Airlines, Jet2, Monarch, Pegasus and Easy Jet. But with only 2+hours time difference from GMT jetlag isn’t really an issue.
The politics of the region is complicated after a coup d’etat in 1974 that resulted in the North and South sides of the islands being separated with a UN Bufferzone, which you cross at the boarder in the middle of the Capital Nicosia/Lefoka. This is very simple and nothing to worry about as long as you have a valid EU passport, we just got an airport transfer from our car rental company (British Rent a Car)which picked us up from Larnaca Airport, and took us to our hire car at Kyrenia, our passports get checked at the boarder then you get on your way.
Side note: Just make sure you don’t get any speeding tickets as you might not be allowed back across to catch your flight until you pay your fines! Another car rental company my aunt recommended is A One car rental. Like hiring a car anywhere else, remember to bring both parts of your driving license.
The North is only recognised by Turkey and still has trade embargoes, which limits the development in comparison to the South but this also means it is :
• much less touristy, so doesn't attract noisy stag parties,
• so safe that many people would leave their cars unlocked and crime is virtually unheard of
• much cheaper (especially if you are coming from the UK!) as the currency is Turkish Lira (TL) instead of Euros
• most locals speak very good English and there are many English expats in the North, so no need to worry about a language barrier, although if you did know a couple of Turkish phrases, it is much appreciated.
After spending the week here it was easy to see why my Aunt and Uncle love it so much, with great weather, friendly locals, lovely beaches, fab food, cheap high quality healthcare and cheap living costs. They can rent a 4-bedroom villa with a pool with bills included for about £350 a month, which allows them a quality of life they wouldn’t be able to afford in the UK. You can read their tips for moving to Cyprus here:
Have you thought about moving abroad one day? If so which are your dream places to live? I would love to hear your stories or help with any questions in the comments below over on the Facebook page.