I've been living in Northern Cyprus for several years. I went for a holiday, met the young man who is now my husband and fell in love with the island.
Those days the border in between the two halves of the island was still shut and traveling in between difficult, for us impossible. In the meantime the situation has slightly changed. Although the island is still divided you can now travel from north to south – and vice versa – without any problems.
Due to the political situation on the island the northern part has spend most of the last 34 years in a kind of Sleeping Beauty-like slumber. While the tourism in the South was booming the northern part stayed rather unaffected, apart from the more developed area around Kyrenia, and remained on of the last surviving untouched areas in the Mediterranean. The journey to the north was difficult and long as there were no direct flights available, all air traffic needed to be directed via Turkey, not surprisingly the only country in the world who recognizes the KKTC. Accommodation prices were, and still are, higher than in most regions around the Mediterranean, the cost of living is also high.
However, this article is not about the political situation on the island. Its sole use is to introduce you to a part of the world I came to know very well and love because of its beauty.
With the possibility of using a direct flight to the airports in the south, from where the journey to whichever hotel accommodation in the north is short, things have changed quite a bit. Already in 2002, when we left, there was a lot of building work going on and new hotels and bungalow complexes have been erected with the speed of light. Not a good sign in my book as I fear that building regulations might not be strict enough to preserve the beauty of this region. Nevertheless, Northern Cyprus is still relatively unspoiled and you can find kilometres of golden beaches with hardly any visitors and won't have to worry that you might not be able find enough space to place a face towel on the sand.
Kyrenia is the most developed town in this part of Cyprus. It offers many hotels, most of very good standard, and plenty of restaurants and bars. Many of the big hotels offer casinos, hardly any has a beach and if then it is often man made. Some smaller beaches can be found towards the west where also still a large number of hotels can be found. Especially the villages Karaoğlanoğlu , Lapta and Alsancak are popular resorts. Long stretches of beach and sheltered bays can be found towards the less developed east. Especially the beach of the tiny village Kaplica can be recommended. Kyrenia sports a tiny but charming yacht harbour. Many restaurants can be found in this scenic location and it gets very lively at night. The huge old crusader castle overlooks the harbour, a visit is a must if visiting Kyrenia.
Another crusader castle, St Hilarion, can be found a short drive from Kyrenia. It is a bit of a climb to reach it but the views are more than rewarding.
The 14th century Lusignan abbey in Bellapais is famous for its beauty. The village is home to a few hotels which all offer breathtaking views.
Famagusta is located on the east side. A massive city wall surrounds the OldTown of this ancient city, once one of the major seaports in the Mediterranean. After entering through one of the impressive gates you will find a maze of small streets.
Many shops are located here and this is not the worst place to be if you are looking for a souvenir. The cathedral of St Nicholas was built during the 13th
century and is probably the most imposing building here; today it is known as Lala Mustafa Mosque. If you want to see the inside dress adequately, ladies are expected to cover their hair. If you are not keen on the scarves they provide for visitors bring your own. Better known is probably the Othello Tower which is said to be the setting for Shakespeare's drama.
The surrounding new parts of the city are utterly unattractive. There are a few hotels in Famagusta but with the exception of the Palm Springs Hotel none offers a beach. The beaches, and more accommodation, can be found a few kilometres to the north near the Salamis ruins.
This region is much less developed than the buzzing Kyrenia and you might be able to have a huge stretch of magnificent beach all to yourself.
The highlight in this area is certainly the ruins of the ancient town Salamis. Make sure not to miss them. Located directly next to the sea you can find the well preserved remnants of the city, which dates back to 1100 BC. Just a stone's throw away is the quiet Monastery of St Barnabas. Here you can see some of the artefacts that have been found at Salamis. Have a cup of tea or coffee in their minuscule bar and enjoy the shade, the peacefulness and the calm.
Nicosia is the capital on both sides of the border which runs right through it.In its OldTown you can find some wonderful examples of Gothic and Ottoman architecture. The Selimiye Mosque, the Greek Church Bedestan, the Great Inn – just to name a few.
Near Lefke, at the west side, you can find the remnants of the great ancient city Soli. Here you can visit the Roman Amphitheatre, an early Christian Basilica and some stunning mosaics.
Drive up the panhandle towards Karpaz, the easternmost part of the island of Cyprus. There are a number of Byzantine churches here, the best known probably the Monastery of Apostolos Andreas. Karpaz is a nature reserve and rich in fauna and flora. You will be surprised about the larger number of wild donkeys that live at the panhandle. The area also offers the most beautiful beaches in the Northern part. Hotel accommodation at the panhandle is very limited and mostly basic.
The most popular food is, apart of Kebas, probably meze. There are some wonderful meze restaurants in Yeni Bogazici, near Famagusta.
To get a taste of the local cuisine I have opted for a recipe that is very popular in my family:
1 pack of macaroni
For the meat layer:
400 gram minced meat (lamb or beef)1 handful parsley, finely chopped 1 glove of garlic 1 onion, finely chopped For the sauce 1 pack Halloumi (Helim) cheese, grated 1 handful of cheddar, grated 6 tablespoons of plain flour 2 eggs
Preheat oven to 190 degrees
1. Lightly grease an oven proof dish to prevent the makarna from sticking. Heat some olive oil in a pan and fry the onion until transparent, then add the mince. When the mince is browned take off the hob and add the parsley.
2. In the meantime cook the macaroni according to the instructions on the packet. Make sure they come off al-dente and not too soft. Drain the pasta and fill half of it into the oven proof dish.
3. To prepare the sauce add milk a saucepan and heat on low to medium heat, add the flour bit by bit. Stir well while mixing.
4. When the mixture starts to thicken take it from the fire.
5. Give grated Hellim and eggs into a bowl and mix well, add the milk/flour mixture.
6. Pour half of the sauce over the pasta layer in the dish and mix well. Add the minced meat and then add the remaining macaroni on top. As a last layer add the remaining sauce and sprinkle the grated cheddar on the top.
7.Cook for about 40 minutes until golden.
Don't cut the pasta immediately after taking it out of the oven but let it to cool down for a while. My husband's family usually eats this dish at room temperature, I prefer it slightly warmer.
Serve with yogurt and salad.
- travel guide Cyprus
On-line travel guide for the whole island. Also offers hotel search and price comparison.