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Quiet please in the top third of Cyprus

Costa Rica

Cut off from the Greek south of the island in the 1970s, North Cyprus was spared the worst effects of mass tourism and big beach-side building. Now the quieter and much less known Turkish north is coming into its own. Outside the Eurozone (which includes the rest of Cyprus), the currency is the Turkish lira, much friendlier to British visitors. On GHD’s list of must do things are slow- paced villages, majestic Crusader castles, historic harbours great mountain views and some of the best turtle beaches in the Med.

Star ship

2300 years ago, just when Alexander the Great was conquering the world , a
cargo ship with a crew of four sank just off today’s resort of Girne (Kyrenia).
Rediscovered in 1967, ship and contents were brought to the surface and are
now N. Cyprus’s star exhibit. The only preserved ship anywhere from Greece's
Classical Age, she was old even when she went down - in a storm, or
attacked by pirates - much patched up and sheathed in lead to keep her
afloat. Now she is safe and preserved in the Shipwreck Museum in Kyrenia
Castle – the 47 feet long preserved hull, and the cargo, including perfectly-
preserved almonds found in 400 amphorae. They know the size of the crew
because there was four of everything - salt bowls, cups, wooden spoons, oil
jugs. And 300 lead weights for their fishing nets.

Turtle triumph

Lighter tourist development than elsewhere in the Med may have helped the
endangered green and loggerhead turtles survive in N Cyprus. There are still
empty beaches where females labour ashore on jet black summer nights to lay
their eggs in the sand. In August and September a few lucky hatchlings make
it back to the sea. In 2008 600 turtles laid eggs on Cyprus beaches, 110 on
protected Alagadi (“Turtle Beach”), near Girne. Scientists from Exeter
University study the turtles here through the summer. Go to The Goat Shed at
Alagadi at nightfall and, if they have time, they will lead you to the beaches
to observe this awesome natural event. Even if you see nothing on your visit,
it is worth calling in to be inspired by an amazing success story in the busy
Mediterranean.

Capture a castle.

N Cyprus boasts some of the best Crusader castles in the Mediterranean. The
one in the pretty old port of Girne is only a taster. The simple castle rule here
is: the higher, the better. St Hilarion Castle, taken by Richard the Lionheart on
his way to the Third Crusade, is the one lodged in our subconscious. Some say
it is the inspiration for the famous Disney Castle in Snow White, a jumble of
defensive walls and towers, climbing to the summit of a twin peaked mountain.
The steep climb to Buffavento Castle, up adventurous, narrow road winding
between rocky crags, on a rocky cliff 3,084 feet up, is worth it for the
stupendous view from the moody ruins. Perhaps the finest of all, (and not so
steep a climb) with more spectacular views over the island, is Kantara Castle,
in the neck of the Karpas Peninsula.

Easy Tree.

Bellpais is the perfect short trip from Girne, and not too far from the other
resorts. The village’s marvel is the 13th century Bellapais Abbey, teetering
above a sheer 100 feet drop. You enter one of the most beautiful Gothic
buildings in the region down a promenade of palms, through a fortified
gateway. There are many fine features, and a mystery – who was the man
carrying a ladder in a carved corbel? British author Lawrence Durrell lived in
this pretty little village of narrow streets and good boutique hotels and
restaurants. He renamed the tree on the main square “The Tree of Idleness”,
settling his characters comfortably in its shade, in his novel Bitter Lemons of
Cyprus. Today there are two candidates to be called the official Idle Tree. So
you have a choice of shades in which to laze with a drink.

Cross over

If you’re staying in the Greek south of the island, the divided city of Nicosia is
the ideal entry point to the Turkish north. You can now walk over the open
border along once-troubled Ledra Street (Lokmaci), reopened in 2008. Try one
of the great pampering pleasures of Turkey, in the Omeriye Hamam. This
famous old Turkish bath was recently restored in a joint EU/UN project and is
operating again in its 14th century premises. Not far away is the old walled
harbour town Gazimagusa (Famagusta), close to good sandy beaches and the
Roman ruins of Salamis, some of the finest on the island. Take a trip to citrus
fruit capital Guzelyurt, for its prodigious weekly market stretching across the
whole town.

High and mighty.

A band of coast to coast mountains spans N Cyprus, ending in that distinctive
narrow finger of land pointing to Syria. It has become a year-round tourism
attraction. The new thing here is the Kyrenia Mountain Trail, running its entire
length through cypress and pine swathed hills, 143 miles along at an average
height of 2,250 ft. It links all the best features of this still little known
countryside – the National Park in the Karpaz Peninsula, unspoilt sandy
beaches, birdwatching sites, the wild donkey sanctuary, castles, Roman and
Byzantine settlements, stone houses , ruined churches and exceptional views.
It’s a ten day coast to coat walk in spring or autumn, when it is cooler and
the flowers are out. In summer, when it’s hot down on the coast, the
mountains are a refreshing retreat, with a selection of short guided treks
available.
www.kyreniamountaintrail.org/

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