"Changing names ..." Top 5 Page for this destination Kyrenia by TheWanderingCamel

Kyrenia Travel Guide: 140 reviews and 404 photos

.... in the country that doesn't exist .....

Photo: Snapshot of Kyrenia

Well, not in legal terms as far as the rest of the world is concerned - only Turkey recognizes the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. The question of Cyprus is too political, too difficult, too emotional for a mere visitor like me to begin to presume to address in a forum such as VT, so I'll leave you to do your own research into the events (and their consequences) of 1974 that left Cyprus a divided island and focus instead on the treasures a visit to this beautiful place reveals.

Let's begin with the town known to its present Turkish Cypriot residents as Girne. In Greek it is Kerynia, but to most of the world it is Kyrenia, Set down on the island's north coast, backed by the jagged teeth of the Kyrenia Mountains, its small harbour guarded by a stone fortress, Kyrenia's old town centre is as pretty a little town as you could find in this part of the world.

Undoubtedly the centre of Northern Cyprus's reburgeoning tourist industry, the town is growing fast and it's hard sometimes to tell where the town ends and the surrounding villages start. It was one of those out-lying villages we chose as the base for our first visit to this part of the island.

Mpellapaïs ... Bellapais ... Beylerbeyi ...

When Augustinian monks fleeing the Holy Land in 1200 chose the steep mountain side overlooking Kyrenia to build a monastery, they dedicated it to St Mary of the Mountain but it was known to all as the Abbaye de la Paix (the Abbey of Peace). Richly endowed by the Catholic kings of Cyprus, the abbey grew in splendour and in wealth but by the late 1300s, the Kingdom was no more and, with royal protection gone, the abbey, now known simply as De La Pais, entered a long period of decline until the invading Ottomans threw the Latin-rite community out of their home and gave it to the native Orthodox church. The monastery fell into ruin but the church continued to be cared for and used.

For the local Greek population, De la Pais became Mpellapaïs, travellers from Western Europe referred to it as Bellapais. Made famous by English author Lawrence Durrell in the 1950s, the village and its beautiful ruined abbey became a popular tourist destination, a place to stay for some, or to be visited from all points of the island on a day's excusion from Kyrenia down the hill or places further afield.

1974 changed all that. The division of Cyprus into Turkish North and Greek South saw the entirely Greek population of the village forced to leave for the south. The Turkish spelling of Beylerbeyi replaced the Greek Mpellapaïs and English Bellapais. Visitor numbers dwindled as border controls made coming from the south very difficult. Only recently have things eased between the two sectors of the island, making travelling between the two trouble-free.

Holiday haven

I'm quite sure we wouldn't have found Bellapais half as attractive as we did had we stayed there in summer, when the steep narrow streets, cafes around the square and the peaceful old abbey are filled with day trippers. It's certainly not the most picturesque of villages and there was plenty of evidence that the local cafe and shop owners don't miss a trick when it comes to catering to the tackier aspects of tourism. It wasn't summer though, the souvenir shops were mostly shut and the cafes in the square were all but deserted apart from the occasional tourist such as ourselves and the inevitable backgammon-playing locals,

With a hire car waiting for us on our arrival, a reasonably adequate map and some friendly advice from the hotel staff, we set off each day, ranging far and wide as we explored this part of the island. Coming and going, we never tired of the view of the abbey hanging over the ravine. Our hotel, the Bellapais Gardens, with its individual cottage accommodation, excellent restaurant and amazing views was the perfect retreat at the end of a day's sightseeing.

Before we return, I'll make sure I dig out my ancient copy of Durrell's "Bitter Lemons". I'm also going to look out for "Death in Cyprus" by M.M. Kaye - a cracking murder mystery set in Cyprus with lots of the action set in Kyrenia and Bellapais - it sounds like the perfect holiday read, and the balcony of the Bellapais Gardens Hotel is the perfect place to read it.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Beautiful setting, charming hotel - a great base to explore from.
  • Cons:No real cons beyond some less than sympathetic developments
  • In a nutshell:Lovely winter retreat, must come back sometime for Spring
  • Last visit to Kyrenia: Feb 2011
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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Reviews (16)

Comments (8)

  • toonsarah's Profile Photo
    May 16, 2011 at 8:12 AM

    Never thought of going to northern Cyprus but you make it sound so well-worth exploring. The Shipk & Tomb-Finds galleries look fascinating, but even more so the Abbey, and of course the market would be a must! And that is my kind of hotel too, in spades!!

  • Trekki's Profile Photo
    Apr 28, 2011 at 10:44 PM

    Thanks dear Leyle for having taken me into a place full of history and magic :-) I fully understand why you liked your stay off season and yes, that hotel looks heaven :-) Love your collage of the stones and the cloister oh and the market of course :-)

  • ranger49's Profile Photo
    Apr 15, 2011 at 8:19 PM

    Back for a second look - after my wander last week & thought I'd already left a note here. A great page, Leyle, so evocative, it brought back vivid memories of Kyrenia.

  • MalenaN's Profile Photo
    Apr 15, 2011 at 11:05 AM

    I read death in Cyprus more than 20 years ago and remember I wanted to go there. Now, reading your page it makes me want to go, so I hope to visit one day!

  • HORSCHECK's Profile Photo
    Apr 3, 2011 at 1:03 PM

    Another gorgeous page with outstanding photos. Cyprus is still one of the few European countries which I haven't visited yet, but it is definitely on my list.

  • Mar 30, 2011 at 4:46 PM

    agree with 'starship' on this one - never really thought of cyprus in this way, buts its history and archiecture are superb, and you've really bought that to life. i need to borrow your copy of bitter lemons please. :))

  • starship's Profile Photo
    Mar 29, 2011 at 7:02 AM

    From beginning to end, the writing and photos in your Kyrenia page are superb! I have never thought about visiting Cyprus, but your pages are so well crafted that they entice me to do so!

  • globetrott's Profile Photo
    Mar 24, 2011 at 9:25 PM

    It is a pity that I totally missed northern Cyprus, except for a few hours in Nicosia ! What a shame to have such a divided country in Europe !

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