Why Northern Cyprus?
Those who visit Northern Cyprus usually return. It is a quiet place. It has not been overrun by tourists. Northern Cyprus is a land of beaches, mountains, castles and villages where time stood still many years ago - well, actually, sometime in the late fifties. If you are old enough there are many things here that you will recall from your childhood, including the music!
Even in Kyrenia, a major town by the standards of Northern Cyprus, the old harbour looks pretty much as it did in 1914, although what once were Carob warehouses are now restaurants and bars.
There is one Turkish word that visitors quickly learn : Yavash=Slowly. There is time. And there is Cyprus time. In Cyprus, no one is in a hurry.
But, like all countries where the pace of life is slow, the people are friendly, and the Turkish Cypriot smile is as bright and as warm as the Cyprus sunshine.
About 200,000 people live in this small country, which is only 120 miles from east to west and about 15 miles from north to south. However, the topography, from the dry central plain, to the mountains, to the coast and beaches, is dramatic in its contrasts. In addition, Northern Cyprus has a wide variety of wild flora and fauna, and is a stopping off point for many species of migrating birds, and there is also a green turtle conservation area.
Historically, there is also much of interest. Cyprus was repeatedly invaded over the centuries, each invasion leaving a legacy that survives to this day.
So, when you visit Northern Cyprus, forget time, forget stress, forget rain and grey days, just relax in the sunshine and do your own thing.
Best time to visit?
The winter months are December, January, and February with max temperatures from 17C to 19C and rain is to be expected. Rain here is often torrential, but does not usually last long. However, even in the winter months, when the sun shines, which is more often than not, it is warm enough to eat breakfast on the patio.
At any time of the year, the sunlight is intense. When you sit outside, it is necessary to position oneself in the shade. In November, and the winter months, and to a lesser extent in October and March, day time temperatures are usually pleasant, comparable to the best early summer days of Northern Europe, but once the sun begins to set it does begin to feel chilly, and you may then need to wear a sweater. But it is often possible to eat your Christmas dinner outdoors.
March sees the beginning of the tourist season even though it can still seem (to the acclimatised!) a little chilly at nights. April, May and June are very popular months, nights are warm, and the fields are carpeted with spring flowers. This is followed by the hot, dry months of July and August. These two months are strictly for dedicated sun-worshippers. It can be very hot indeed, and there is never any rain. Then follows the 'second spring', when a little rain is to be expected. September and October are many peoples' favourite months. It is still very warm, but not unbearably so.
Cyprus has a Mediterranean climate. No matter what time of the year, it is always warmer than northern climates. In Cyprus gardens you will see flowers all year round.
If you know the food of Turkey, then you know Cyprus food, but there are one or two things that you won't find in Turkey.Probably the most famous of Cypriot culinary specialities is hellim cheese. This full-fat soft cheese is made from whole goats milk, salt and a touch of mint. It is typically served with salads.
Another speciality is molohiya, a green leafy vegetable which grows only in Cyprus and on the banks of the Nile. It is usually cooked with chicken or meat and is delicious and wholesome.
Another interesting vegetable unknown outside Cyprus is kolokas, a root vegeable which when cooked (again with lamb or chicken) has the texture of potato, but a sweeter taste.
In addition to the usual Turkish kebabs, there are two which are only to be found in Cyprus. One is kup kebab, lamb or goat wrapped in foil with potatoes and herbs and cooked for hours in a clay oven. The other is sheftali kebabs, which are small, spicy and sausage-like. They are skewered and cooked over hot charcoal.
The definitive guide is "An Illustrated Flora of North Cyprus" which describes 1041 species which thrive in the wild. This may be a little heavy except for botanists or serious amateurs, but there are less scholarly books available which celebrate the beauty and colours of Cyprus flora. Or you can simply appreciate the flowers of the island by looking around at the house or hotel gardens which are usually a riot of colour at any time of the year. Or go for a walk through the fields which in the Spring are carpets of colour.
The brilliant and varied display of wild flowers which the visitor beholds in Feb, March and April begins to build up after the Autumn rains have given a good wetting to the soil, beginning with tiny grape hyacinth and narcissi, and climaxing in Feb and March with cyclamen and the many coloured anemones painting the fields in blue, red, pink, and white. A miniature iris and wild gladioli also abound. The verge of road and field are full of the tall asphodel, best felt unpicked, as they smell of tomcats. Olive orchards stand in lakes of acid-yellow oxalis, or blood-red poppies, dazzling in the sunlight. Waste areas are carpeted with the golden crown daisy (or wild chrysanthemum), often with the creamy, many branched scabious. The dark red Cyprus tulip is prolific in some western parts. Soon the fists of the giant fennel (some are ten feet tall) unfurl their feathery foliage and large yellow flower heads.
On the hillsides the rock roses, purple, pink and white, along with other flowering and aromatic shrubs, bloom over several months. Parasitic on the roots of the rock rose is the brilliant yellow Cytinus, its buds enclosed in scarlet scales, a solid clump of colour - worth looking out for.
As the summer approaches, the colourful echiums and other silver leaved plants appear, often still twined with the pink convulvulus, and three or four mallows.
Even in the long rainless summer, flowers are to be found, especially a succession of attractive thistles - pale yellow, purple, pink, royal blue, and bronze. Some form prickly electric-blue mats, some densely flowered mounds, while others tower six feet above the ground. The local thyme makes stiff twigged, aromatic hummocks, and the gorgeous white flowers of the caper bush, with their swirl of purple stamens, scent the evening air. Myrtles grow along the wadis, which are often full of the pink flowered, fragrant oleander bushes, and feathery tamarisk,while pungent lentisc and terebinth grow in rocky corners.
Very frequent on the slopes of the hills is the Arbutus, or strawberry tree, lovely at ebery season. The new branches are crimson barked, the leaves glossy green; clusters of creamy bells in the spring are followed by strawberry-like fruits.
The ultimate in hardiness is displayed by the Giant Squill, whose leafless stalk shoots up out of the parched earth in July/August, and the tall spikes of pale starry flowers, in the morning or evening light, seem like a procession of ghosts over the waste land.
'Street' trees are often spectacular. You can take your coffee under superb Jacarandas, shedding a bright mauve mat on the ground, opposite the Law Courts in Kyrenia. In front of the Old Police Station is a Persian lilac, with its black eyes lilac blooms.
In the villages, black and white mulberries feed people (fruit), pets and silkworms (leaves). The golden oriole, a visitor to Cyprus, is also rather partial to the berries. Purple flowered Judas trees, erupting at Easter, and the deep pink and mauve-trumpeted flowers of the Bauhinia last for ages on the tree, which is afterwards dripping with long thin bean pods.
At the time of writing towards the end of November, the lemons, oranges, grapefruits and pomegranites have ripened on the trees and are beginning to fall. The pomegranites have had the benefit of some rainfall in recent days and this may serve to make them a juicier crop. But of the citrus fruit there is a glut, as there has been every year since the trade embargo was imposed on Northern Cyprus, and many fruits, especially in Guzelyurt - the main fruit produing region - are destined to fall to the ground and be left to rot.
There are three basic types of orange tree : wild orange which tends to be very bitter but is useful for making marmalade, an orange that is refered to here as 'mandarin' which is a little sharp, and a sweet orange. The latter two are mixed to produce a lovely fresh orange juice.
The olives were shaken and combed from the trees a couple of weeks ago and taken to the mill where they will be processed for their oil. It is said that there are a millionand a half olive trees in Northern Cyprus, and I sure that this is no exaggeration. You will see olive trees where-ever you go and olive groves by almost every roadside Generally two products are derived from the crop ; olive oil and "Chakistez". The latter is a preparation exclusive to the Cypriot kitchen and is made using green olives which are cracked and left to marinade in olive oil, garlic and coriander seeds. The resulting dish is eaten as a meze or as an accompaniment to drinks.
The season for figs passed by about a month ago, which is a pity because it is difficult to find a finer fruit than a fresh fig. A wise old neighbour tells me that one should always peel a fig, because the pith is not good for the gums. This may or may not be true, but the fig tastes better peeled anyway. In England, one would pay a lot of money for figs. Here in Cyprus, they are cheap, as you would expect them to be when you can see fig trees growing in almost every other garden, and even growing wild.
The last of the grapes were harvested in August. Most vines in Cyprus are of the type suitable for wine making and so are not sweet enough to be eaten as dessert grapes, but of course there are vines which do produce sweet grapes. These can also be dried to produce sultanas.
Other fruits not often seen in England are also produced in Cyprus : quince being one, and a few others whose names I have not yet been able to establish!
Hazelnut, almond, pine-nut and walnut trees can be found growing in gardens all over Northern Cyprus. In some areas they are grown commercially.
The orchid enthusiast will be pleased to learn that there are about 35 different species of orchid which may be found in Northern Cyprus. A number of them flower in February, and the remainder in March/April, but there are some plants which flower well into the summer.
Probably the most famous orchid on the island is the Ophrys kotschyi which grows only in Cyprus, and is most commonly found on the lower slopes of the Kyrenia mountains. The flower is bee-shaped and pink.
One of the most intriguing orchids is the monkey orchid or Orchis simia of which one of the petals divides into what look like the arms and legs of a monkey.
There are commercially organised orchid tours and you will need to ask at the Tourist Information Office for details.
Northern Cyprus hosts over 1600 plant specia of which 22 are endemic, 350 species of birds, of which 7 are endemic, and 26 different species of reptile and amphibia.
With an average of only 51 people per square kilometre, Northern Cyprus holds the enviable reputation of being relatively free of pollution, industry or high concentrations of population. And with 387 km of coastline and pine, cypress and marquis covered hillsides, Northern Cyprus is something of a haven for wldlife.
The two main reasons for this amazing diversity are, firstly, that Cyprus was not affected by the last ice-age (which wiped out many species from areas further north), and secondly, that Cyprus forms a resting and nesting station for birds migrating between Africa and Eastern Europe.
During spring (March to May) and late summer (August to October) 300 species of birds (amounting to millions of birds) call at Cyrpus along their migratory route. Some notable examples are the Griffon Vulture, Hirundelle, Golden Oriole, Pochard, and the Cyprus Pied Wheatear. Some areas where birdwatching is particularly fruitful are the lake areas of Gonyeli, Kanlikoy, Famagusta and Glapsides. There is a Society for the Protection of Bird in Northern Cyprus and they will advise you of where and when to go. Tel: +90 (0)392 815 7337 (only the last 7 digits are required if phoning within the Kyrenia area).For an in-depth view visit http://northcyprusbirds.iecnc.org
For an in-depth view visit http://northcyprusbirds.iecnc.org/butterflies.htm
Two endangered species of sea turtle (Chelonia mydas and Caretta caretta) every year use 80 of Northern Cyprus' beaches for laying their eggs. The Chelonia mydas turtle derives its green hue from the green sea-weed on which it feeds. The smaller Caretta caretta feeds on small fish and crustacea. The fact that these turtles are highly sensitive to pollution and human presence shows just how remoten and undeveloped much of Northern Cyprus' coastline is, particularly in the Karpaz region. The turtles lay their eggs in the sand between June and October. If you wish to join a group to watch them, or to actively help out in the task of protecting them, please contact the Turtle Protection Society on (+90 (0)392) 815 2496 or 815 5135.For more info on turtles visit : http://www.seaturtle.org/mtrg/projects/cyprus
In the Karpaz National Park area (Pan handle) live donkeys which roam wild and number about 250. Generally they are black, but are sometimes ginger and are of a breed unique to Cyprus. Approach with care.
There are several species of small lizard which on warm days (which is most days) you will see scurrying about in pursuit of insects. In most countries these are affectionately known as Geckos. If you are very sharp eyed you may spot a chameleon, camouflaged to the colour of whatever he might happen to be sitting on, eyeing you back with his swivelling eyes. And yes, there are some snakes. The most common is perfectly harmless. It is black and tends to quickly get out of your way if you should disturb it. But another, the blunt-nosed viper, which is sandy coloured and tends to stand its ground when approached, is highly poisonous. The rule is, if the snake gets out of the way, don't worry about it. If it doesn't, then you're the one that gets out!
There are about 200 varieties of fish in the waters around Northern Cyprus. For this reason you will find many fishing boats in the harbour of Kyrenia and elsewhere. Large specimens of tuna fish are often caught. Usually the fishermen sell their catch as soon as it is landed directly to whichever local restaurant is first to hear about the catch. This also means that you can always find daily fresh fish in the market places.
The visitor may count himself lucky if he sees a moufflon - a symbol of Cyprus - in captivity, let alone in the wild. The indigenous species of cow still exists, and attempts are being made to preserve it in an animal park in Catalkoy.Foxes and hares abound, and hedgehogs are common. The species in Cyprus has long ears and is a colonist from North Africa.
St Hilarion Castle, Kyrenia - Girne
The castle is named after St. Hilarion, a hermit monk who fled from persecution in the Holy Land and lived and died in a cave on the mountain. Later in the 10th century the Byzantines built a church and monastery here. Along with Kantara and Buffavento, St. Hilarion Castle was originally built as a watch tower to give warning of approaching Arab pirates who launched a continuous series of raids on Cyprus and the coasts of Anatolia from the 7th to the 10th centuries. Some 400 years after it was first built, the castle became a place of refuge and also a summer residence for the Lusignans. When the Venetians captured Cyprus in 1489, they relied on Girne (Kyrenia) Nicosia and Famagusta for the defence of the island and St. Hilarion was neglected and fell into oblivion.
The Palace of Vouni
The main thing that The Palace of Vouni has going for it, after a brief life of eighty years (about 480-400 BC), is the journey there. I set out with my wife and our friends on a warm sunny morning - 13th January 2001, travelling out on the Lapta road. There is the sea on your right and the mountains on your left, but the real scenery begins beyond Lapta, where it becomes greener, and then, as the road goes up into the mountains, it becomes unexpectedly spectacular.
Quite some distance before Guzelyurt (which is the fruit growing region), the orange trees are in evidence. Field upon field, the trees are planted in close rows, laden with ripening fruit. There are also fields of strawberries, neatly covered with the white flowers poking above the cloches (don't ask me how they do that). And some fields of banana trees. Not to mention the odd prickly pear.
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