Overview of Kyrenia
The first view many people get of Kyrenia is the stunning vista that suddenly presents itself as the main highway from Nicosia rounds a sharp bend in the Kyrenia mountains and the whole of the town and a large proportion of the coastline to the east stretches away before one. In the sunshine it’s a beautiful sight which also serves to show how much the city has developed and spread over the coastal plain over the last few years. Over this time though, Kyrenia has managed to escape the straitjacket of cliched sun, sea and sand tourism to become an important destination for alternative escapes such as special interest tourism, eco-tourism and activity tourism.
The Kyrenia coastline and its surroundings have always been considered the most beautiful and most spectacular part of all Cyprus. The coastal strip which separates the high mountain peaks from the sea is narrow enough to ensure that you can be swimming or snorkelling in the crystal blue of the Mediterranean or enjoying a meal of freshly caught local fish in a sea-front restaurant barely half an hour after gazing down on them from the spectacular heights of the crusader castles perched precariously atop spectacular limestone crags. And this is more or less the case for the full extent of the mountain range
Unless you’re planning to stay for quite a while, you might have to be a bit choosy about the sights you visit and the activities you take part (and that’s where we come in. We can help you to design an itinerary that will allow you to see and do as much as possible during your stay here).
There are, of course, the must see’s and the must do’s and to make it easier and more understandable, we’ve divided our sights as Kyrenia (West), Kyrenia (East) and Kyrenia (Central).
Kyrenia is firmly centred on its picturesque and colourful harbour. Throughout its history, until the modern era, the town limits never strayed more than a few hundred metres from the harbour which, typical of many Mediterranean horseshoe-shaped harbours is surrounded by narrow, twisting lanes. However, no other pretty Mediterranean harbour has the dominating presence of a huge mediaeval castle in whose shade the harbour sits in the early morning. Thus, a visit to both the castle and the harbour usually take place on the same day. The castle itself is the largest on the island and in stunningly good repair considering its age. It’s an amalgam of Byzantine, Lusignan and, finally Venetian styles. Its roll call of kings, queens, barons and knights – some lords of the manor here, some prisoners – reads like a casting list of Game of Thrones. The castle never fell in an attack, though in 1570 the castle capitulated to the Ottomans, heralding nearly four-hundred years of Ottoman rule on the island.
The castle contains within it another must-see – the Shipwreck Museum – a 2,400 year old cargo vessel which sank off the Kyrenia coast and is now carefully preserved in a dimly lit and cooled special environment. The wares of the ship plus the victuals of its crew are now on display.
The old harbour has always been the obvious place to go for eating and drinking, but the last few years has seen an explosion of new and bold ideas in dining spread liberally around the town. Traditional Turkish/Cypriot cuisine is firmly based on the many ways to cook and serve meat, and the town boasts far too many excellent kebab restaurants to mention. But for those who like to explore cuisine as well as locations, Kyrenia is richly endowed with a bewildering variety of styles;-chic bistros, French patisseries, cafés, brasseries, fast food, pub-grub and fine dining, etc.
The harbour is at its languid best in the early morning: take your morning coffee there before your visit to the castle, or in the early evening when the sun is setting and the sea is calm. It will get a little noisier later when the restaurants and bars begin to fill.
In the immediate vicinity of Kyrenia is St. Hilarion Castle, a couple of kilometres up the Nicosia highway, the best-preserved of the Kyrenia Range’s three mountain-top citadels. Transport can only get you so far here:-there’s still plenty to do on foot. Nonetheless, the spectacular views of Kyrenia and the entire northern coast are ample reward for your exertions. From here you can easily pick out the Taurus Mountains on Turkey’s southern shore, forty miles away across the sea. Myth and legend mingle with verifiable history here but it’s not always clear which is which. It’s true that due to its near-impregnability – and you’ll certainly understand why that was the case when you see it close-up – it was one of the last places to fall to the Crusaders in the twelfth-century, but the legend that this was the castle that inspired Walt Disney’s in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, is on built on less firm foundations.
In the shade of St. Hilarion is the picture-postcard village of Karaman, or Karmi, to use the pre-74 name by which it is still popularly known and which is probably the prettiest of the northern range’s hill villages. It’s houses were lovingly restored in the early nineteen-eighties and they sit now- whitewashed on terraces, surrounded by luxuriant bougainvillea and citrus.