An A to Z of Northern Cyprus (Part 1)

An A to Z of Northern Cyprus part 1. CUT OFF from the south since the mid 1970s, Northern Cyprus has been spared the effects of mass tourism, preserving and protecting its natural and cultural charm. This quieter slice of the island is abundant with archeological, architectural and historical gems plus some rather unique wildlife that brings the landscape to life.

Needless to say our A to Z of the North is full of fascinating things to do and see. Our favourite highlights include sea turtles nesting on deserted beaches, birds of prey flying over enchanted castles and indigenous donkeys wandering wild along mountain passes – not to mention a ghost town, a shipwreck and the ancient ruins of powerful civilisations who have once tried to claim this jewel in the Mediterranean crown.

Ancient kingdom of Soli – this long lost city will take you back through time…

Located on the Morphou coast, Soli dates back to the 6th century BC and was one of ten city kingdoms into which the island was divided at the time, not to mention the capital of Cyprus. Whilst Soli was mostly destroyed by Arab invasions in the 7th century, thankfully not everything perished. A number of buildings including a Roman theatre were excavated several decades ago. Most notably, the mosaic floor of the basilica with its animals, birds and majestic swan remains a visual masterpiece and is symbolic of the wealth once enjoyed by Soli.

Bellapais abbey ruins – stand in awe of this spectacular 13th century abbey…

Commanding a stunning view from the mountain slopes, the abbey ruins overhang scented citrus gardens which stretch out to the sea below. With its beautiful cloisters, this piece of architecture is indisputably the most impressive gothic monument in the North. The abbey is often referred to as Abbaye de la Pais, ‘the abbey of peace’, and the tranquil village of Bellapais in which it sits translates to ‘beautiful peace’.

Caretta caretta sea turtles – be witness to an amazing natural phenomenon on Alagadi beach…

Aka turtle headquarters, Alagadi is one of the few places where both the loggerhead (caretta caretta) and green sea turtles nest. A well-run local conservation project allows visitors, albeit in strictly limited numbers, the chance to see baby hatchlings emerging en masse from the sand and make the perilous journey to the open sea. You will need to visit during the summer months, and book ahead in advance to avoid disappointment. This is a once in a lifetime experience.

Deserted sandy beaches – immerse yourself in the North’s natural coastal beauty…

Wild stretches of unspoilt coastline where turtles bathe in the warmth of azure blue waters are not just the wow factor of nature documentaries. It is the picture postcard reality of the beaches of North Cyprus. The northern most part of the island is dotted with small secluded white sandy coves. However, head east to the Karpaz peninsula for mile upon mile of deserted coastline including the must-see Golden Sands with its vast sweeping bay. Together with Alagadi beach, this stretch of sand offers a vital breeding ground for the sea turtle.

Enchanting crusader castles – capture your imagination with tales of kings and queens of old…

Strategically placed along the ridge of the five-finger mountain range lie the Byzantine defences of Kantara, Buffavento and St Hilarion. Once used as observation and defence posts, St. Hilarion, the best preserved of the three, was also used as a summer residence by the kings of Cyprus. With its towering turrets, this is a castle of fairytales and is said to be the inspiration behind Walt Disney’s castle in Sleeping Beauty. Buffavento is the highest of the three castles and therefore less accessible, but if you are up to the hike this former escape castle, hideaway and prison boasts spectacular views. That said, the outlook from Kantara across the north coast and Mesaoria plain is unsurpassed.

Five-finger mountain range – walk the breathtaking trail through this magnificent mountain range…

Running coast to coast for almost 150 miles the five-finger or Besparmark range derives its name from five finger-like projections on one of the mountain tops. Legend has it that a Byzantine hero named Digenis Akritas gripped this mountain, pulling himself from the sea when he came to free Cyprus from invaders. It is possible to walk the monumental mountain trail in ten days although this is best done in the cooler months. That said, the mountains still offer a refreshing retreat from the coastal regions during the hot summer months.

…and from the legend of the five-finger range to the real life ghost town at Famagusta, just another fascinating place to see in Part 2 of our A to Z of the North.