North Cyprus Holiday Journal - Newbies in North Cyprus - Day 5
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St Hilarion Castle Outside
St Hilarion Castle Outside
photo by: Kenan Erden
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Newbies in North Cyprus, Day 5

Day 5: Saturday

If I had one 'must see' on my North Cyprus villa holiday, it was the Abbey at Bellapais. I had expected, after reading Lawrence Durrell's famous book "Bitter Lemons", that the road up the mountains to this ruined Augustinian abbey would be a tortuous one. Instead, a modern wide road swept up the mountainside to an army camp just below the town, where a sharp left turn suddenly took us into the narrow village streets that Durrell himself would have still recognised 50 years on.

Bellapais Abbey North Cyprus

To say Bellapais Abbey is atmospheric is an understatement; the abbey site overlooks a sheer drop down to fields below, and then sweeping views to the coast beyond. Perhaps we were lucky in that when we arrived there was no coach party, but for 20 minutes or so, we had the abbey totally to ourselves. The original abbey itself must have been magnificent, built over three levels with impressive arches, a cloistered central courtyard, and twisting staircases leading up to the upper levels. The bell tower even still has one bell in it, although the only parts of the abbey that remain totally intact are the impressive refectory hall (used for concerts during the Bellapais Music Festival) and the original church.

Stopping for a rest from the North Cyprus midday in the shade of the church porch, we were joined by Abe, the senior guide at the Abbey, who was a fascinating source of information on all things North Cyprus. His passion, apart from his native North Cyprus and his beloved Abbey, were the mountain wildflower walks he organised during the spring months. He told us that eco-tourism is growing in North Cyprus and certainly this was a theme we found occurring all through the holiday. Certainly, dramatic as the mountains were after a very long hot summer, they would have been absolutely astounding when carpeted with the native North Cyprus wildflowers and orchids that burst into colour during the spring months. I have a feeling we will be returning to Bellapais just to see these.

Wandering into the back streets of Bellapais village after lunch, we left the tourists behind to discover genuine Turkish Cypriot life. Families were enjoying extended lunches, or listening to the football on television, while outside cats and dogs slept in the shade of bright red bougainvillea bushes. Here, history and modern day mixed, with restored houses side by side with sympathetic new villas. One home still had its original doomed outside privy in the back yard!

With so many expat British living in North Cyprus, it was hardly a surprise to find that the popular Indian restaurant Jashan's had opened a second restaurant just opposite our holiday villa on the main road. By 8pm, the restaurant was filled the chattering locals and tourists alike, all enjoying some truly excellent curries. My lamb rogan josh with peshwari nan was one of the best I've had since moving from north London.