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Introducing Kyrenia (Girne)

As Northern Cyprus is being touted as ‘pure Mediterranean’ in tourist brochures, images of Kyrenia (Girne) harbour and castle are flooding the advertising spaces on Europe’s urban buses and billboards. So potent is the romantic appeal of Kyrenia’s harbour that it ranks as Cyprus’ most beautiful vista. And although it’s now commercialised and in reality not so romantic, the harbour is the centre of most tourist activity in the North, and the Gothic Kyrenia mountain range and the north coast have a strangely bewitching effect on the visitor.

The area was long ago ‘discovered’ by retired British civil servants, many of whom settled here after years of service in scattered lands throughout the former British Empire, to enjoy the region’s mild climate. Kyrenia became a literary starlet in Bitter Lemons of Cyprus, written by Britain’s most famous colonial son, Lawrence Durrell, who lived in Bellapais (Beylerbeyi), where he wrote his slow-paced nostalgic novel.

Bellapais, one of the island’s most mesmerising villages, features the fascinating ruins of Bellapais Abbey, built in the 12th century by exiled Augustinian monks. Along the Kyrenia (Girne) Range, a displaced French dynasty left behind three Gothic castles, so dreamlike in appearance that one apparently inspired a fairytale production. The strategic position of the castles on the vertebra of the mountain range was carefully arranged, so that the three forts could communicate and warn each other of dangers by lighting torches.

Driving along the north coast from Kyrenia to Kaplıca (Davlos), you can catch the last of ‘how Cyprus used to be’: green, empty fields and a few village houses; unpicked olives soaking up the sun; the space and solitude of a rural Mediterranean landscape that has ceased to exist on much of the island. Unfortunately, the hollow skeletons of luxury villas are starting to flesh out here too. So hurry, before it’s all over.