Best time to visit:
The best time to visit Cyprus is from Easter to mid-June and from late August to mid-October when the weather is mild. In July and August you have to deal with crowded beaches and crowded archaeological sites.
In a word:
At the table:
Meze is the name Cypriots give to small appetizers based on vegetables, meat or fish. “Fare meze” means sitting at the tables of a restaurant and having dinner with a series of fifteen, twenty appetizers based on vegetables, cheeses, meat or fish of your choice. It is a very convivial way to experience the meal, since the appetizers are served from time to time in the center of the table and each of the diners takes what he prefers.
Cypriot cuisine has similarities with both Greek and Turkish cuisine, with meat dishes such as "ofto kleftiko", lamb legs slow-cooked in a clay oven, or "moussaka", baked in meat and eggplant base. If you go to a Cypriot restaurant, don't forget to order haloumi, a cheese made from goat and sheep's milk flavored with mint leaves. It is great, especially when served on the grill.
- Avoid long walks: the sun is strong and many paths are steep and stony.
- Protect children from the sun with suitable clothing and making sure they are always well hydrated.
- Do not cross the border outside official crossings
Already crossing the Green Line that separates the Greek part of the capital Nicosia from the Turkish one is a real experience to live; Enjoying a baklava at sunset in a cafe in Kyrenia; listen to the sad stories of the ghost town of Varosia, just after the border, when in 1974 the Orthodox fled in a hurry.
Northern Cyprus is simply the Turkish part of the island, the least visited.
In 1974 the Turks invaded this small Mediterranean island.
Northern Cypriots were expropriated of their homes and properties and forced to emigrate to the other part of the island, at the same time 250,000 Turks poured into these territories to repopulate it and coming directly from Turkey, but this is another story!
For those who want to visit this area, it is not recommended to land at the North Cyprus airport, otherwise, if you rent a car, you will not be able to travel to South Cyprus by the same vehicle. The best thing to do is to visit Northern Cyprus starting from Republic of Cyprus, as we did, with a comfortable and cheap flight to Larnaca, for example.
Our suggested itinerary (9 days)
Nicosia (visit Buyuk Han, Selimye Mosque, Samabahce District and Bedesten)
Crossing the Green Line, relax in Kyrenia
visit to the ghost town of Varosia, Famagusta
I return to Nicosia and continue to the Greek part of the island of Cyprus
We arrive in the Cypriot capital after a pleasant trip to the Greek part of the island.
Nicosia would be worth seeing if only for the history that this city tells. Nicosia is the only capital divided in two. The "green line" in fact separates the southern part, the capital of the Republic of Cyprus, and the northern part, the capital of the self-proclaimed (since 1974) Turkish Republic of Cyprus, the result of the Turkish invasion and not recognized by the international community.
Nicosia is a lively city, where young people (especially students) gather at night to have a beer outdoors in the streets of the center.
After the Turkish checkpoint the whole background changes, here you realize how much a political-religious orientation can have such a profound influence on a place.
I was very impressed to see Cypriot-Greek people queuing up to show their identity documents to the Turkish authorities only to go to the other side of the same city.
Maybe it's just a coincidence but once you enter the north of Cyprus all the greenery of the Greek part disappears to make room for a more rugged landscape.
The Cypriot flags are only a distant memory, as well as the language, the Greek writings and the euro is not as widespread as the Turkish lira.
Instead of the Orthodox monasteries there are Islamic mosques, Turkish flags flanked by the white one of the unrecognized Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
North Nicosia (Lefkoşa). It is from here that the exploration of the Turkish Republic of Cyprus inevitably starts. Know that in 1963, after violent attacks by Greek nationalists forced Turkish residents to retreat to a well-defined portion of territory, the decision came to formalize the rift with the creation of a Green Line designed by the British army officially for to favor the ceasefire (from 1925 to 1960, in fact, Cyprus was a colony of the British Empire). The Green Line that cuts the city in two remained the same even after the Turkish invasion of 1974, transforming, with the seal of the United Nations, into the border between the two Cypriot republics. The checkpoints along the Green Line are different, although the most popular are undoubtedly the two pedestrian streets of Ledra St. and Ledra Palace Hotel. This is where tourists and residents pass daily, moving from north to south and vice versa.
But be careful: do not go from one side to the other outside the official checkpoints. Among other things, the freedom of movement is much greater than in the past and, consequently, even the bureaucratic controls have become much more streamlined. So it would be really imprudent to try to be smart. An imprudence that, moreover, could cost very dearly, up to the stop.
Inside the Girne Gate, home of the Turkish tourist information office, we are lucky enough to meet a real tour guide who, very passionately, gives us valuable information on visiting the city, just a pity that he limits himself to enhancing the beauties of the Turkish side almost discouraging us to visit the Greek one.
Our walking tour begins with the "Samanbahçe Quarter", the first social housing district branched around the main square and which housed the only water well in the agglomeration.
A little further on, a majestic column from the Venetian era stands out in the Ataturk square..
Once, on its top, there was a statue of the lion of San Marco, replaced over time by the Ottomans by a bronze eye.
Short stop at Hammam Buyuk, not very interesting as it is now incorporated into a hotel and no longer retains anything of its past splendor ...
We move to the Buyuk Khan, "caravanserai", built by the Ottomans in 1572, used to refresh the merchants.
On their arrival, the travelers found everything they needed to get back into shape: an inn in which to eat; the fountain where to practice ablutions; a mosque in which to pray and rooms for a night's rest heated by the fireplace. The old inn still occupies the ground floor of the building today and houses the Sedirhan Restaurant & Cafe, where you can taste typical local dishes.
Buyuk Han was also used as a prison during the days of Anglo-Saxon colonization. In fact externally it looks almost like a fortress and the small windows, built to protect the merchants from thieves, turned out to be perfect also to avoid escapes. Access to the caravanserai is possible from two entrances: from the main door to the east, on Piazza Asmaalti, or from the second entrance to the west.
In the center of the square is the particular fountain, on which a mosque rests. On the ground floor of Buyuk Han there are shops, bars and restaurants. Going up one of the two symmetrical stone staircases you arrive at what were once the 68 dormitory rooms now occupied by artisan galleries and shops that make hand-made works, paintings and ceramics.
The Buyuk Han is very suggestive even at night, with the right lighting and live music: it can also happen to attend a representation of folk dance.
Finally we come to the presence of “Selimiye Mosque ”. Former Gothic church dedicated to Saint Sophia (Agia Sofia) adapted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of 1571. Since then this has remained its intended use and can be visited outside the hours reserved for the five daily prayers of Islam.
Finally, the Bedesten is an ancient Byzantine church of the thirteenth century which after a very long decline (during the Ottoman occupation of the sixteenth century it was used as a granary and market) was renovated and transformed into a cultural center.
Kyrenia, or as the Turks call it: Girne, is a real gem that is almost out of place after all the harsh landscape that surrounded our move so far ...
For a long time, this city was prosperous thanks to its active trade with Turkey, using gulets to transport goods.
Its location fascinates every traveler who goes there, thanks to its splendid views between the Mediterranean Sea and the Five Finger Mountains.
It has a bay that would make any poet, photographer, painter or writer fall in love with it.
We immediately immersed ourselves in the romantic and picturesque alleys of the town ...
We had lunch in one of the nicest restaurants ever, overlooking the small bay ... all based on fish ...
Today the main resource is tourism!
The city, and especially the surroundings, still offer a lot to see. Starting from the old port where fishing boats, private boats and yachts dock and in whose warehouses, at one time, carob beans, fruits with multiple nutritional properties and widely used in the kitchen, were marketed. Instead of the carob warehouses today there are restaurants, bars and shops.
The old port, from which several boats specialized in touring the bay depart, is surrounded by a castle of Roman origin which, however, over the centuries, has undergone several changes by the Byzantine, English and above all Venetian. Kyrenia Castle, built in a strategic position to dominate the city port, gives the opportunity to enjoy wonderful views of the sea. This fortress was initially built in the Byzantine period, but what we can admire today dates back to the period of Venetian domination.
It is not the only fortress in the area. There are three more and they are all worth a visit. We are talking about the Castle of Sant’Ilarione and the ancient fortifications of Buffavento and Kantara. Trekking is the best way to approach these places, stages of the Kyrenia Mountain Trail, a splendid hiking trail of over 150 kilometers.
Also do not miss the Bellapais Abbey, founded in 1200 by Augustinian monks fleeing from Jerusalem.
Long relaxing stroll along the seafront while enjoying delicious freshly made baklava as the sun sets over this romantic Mediterranean town!
Not far from Kyrenia, by van, we reach Famagusta, undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cities in Cyprus (about an hour's drive from Nicosia and Larnaca International Airport).
The historic center of Famagusta dates back to the Middle Ages, all surrounded by picturesque walls; after passing through the gates of the old city, you will feel like you are back in time, in the glorious past of the city. In fact, it was here that the coronation of the kings of Cyprus and Jerusalem took place.
Walk along the narrow streets to the main square of the city where there is the former cathedral of San Nicola which is flanked by the minaret.
The visit of Famagusta ends with a stop at the Patek pastry shop, a historic café where you can sip a good Turkish coffee, on the terrace on the first floor, to have an extraordinary view of the city.
The Famagusta Riviera until the 1960s was a tourist area overlooking some of the most enchanting beaches on the island. In the district of Varosha, south of the historic center, inhabited mainly by Greek Cypriots unlike the rest of the city with a Turkish Cypriot majority, modern hotels were managed and ready to welcome tourists.
In August 1974, faced with the advance of the Turkish army from the north of the island, the inhabitants of Varosha fled and the Turkish army took possession of the city.
Varosha, today, is deserted and is the saddest and most disturbing part of the city, still a vivid reminder of the dark days of 1974. 40 years since then, condos, shops and homes have remained unchanged ever since. Along the beach there are 33 hotels. They are all uninhabited, ghosts of a time when the inhabitants hastily abandoned the area, hoping to have the opportunity to return to take their belongings or perhaps to live in their homes again. This was not the case.
Even today Varosha and the rest of the dead zone are surrounded by barbed wire fences and tin drums that block the passage and prevent anyone from entering.
The time has come to leave the Turkish side and after the check point we return to "Greece"!
From Nicosia, by bus, you can easily reach the city of Larnaca, home to the international airport and the final stop on our exciting journey to the island of Cyprus!
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