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Northern Cyprus by Ronald Saunders, Flickr, 2014Photo by Ronald Saunders licensed under CC

With beautiful scenery, plenty of sunshine and very few tourists, northern Cyprus turned out to be the ideal destination for a solo holiday for silver traveller Dinah Holland. Read about her experiences.

Rain, rain and more rain. Time to get away to the sunshine. I didn’t want to go too far or stay in a busy resort, nor did it appeal to me to go somewhere completely isolated. Northern Cyprus, the Turkish part, was my choice and I flew to Larnaca and onwards to Kyrenia in late December.

With the aid of my trusty Berlitz guide, I studied the history of Cyprus before leaving home. and I recalled the 1950s, the armed struggle for Enosis and remembered the names of Colonel Grivas and Archbishop Makarios. In 1960, Cyprus became independent and a year later became a member of the Commonwealth.

The island was divided in 1974 after Turkey invaded the north in response to a military coup on the island which was backed by the Athens government. The southern parts of the island were effectively inhabited by Greeks while the northern third Turks, and a UN buffer zone, commonly referred to as the 'Green Line', separated the two. Since then the north and south have followed different paths. While the south has embraced tourism, the north has stayed more traditional.

Joining the group

We arrived as a group of just 6 single travellers, but this increased to 14 after we were joined by a second group that had arrived the previous week to spend Christmas in Kyrenia, the main town of northern Cyprus. The scenery in this area was truly breathtaking, and we enjoyed our drives, both east and west along the coast and up into the mountains.

There are 3 Crusader castles in the north and we visited 2 of these: St Hilarion and Kantara, both located on mountain tops and offering stunning views. Although partly in ruins, it was well worth the effort of climbing the many steps to the top. However, the views at the base were also wonderful for those who were less able.

Another visit was to Belapais to see the remains of the Abbey, described as a 'masterpiece of Gothic art' and claims to be the most beautiful Gothic building in the Near East.

Kyrenia has a delightful harbour and it was warm enough to sit outside for lunch by the water’s edge – a real treat in December - and watch the world go by. The town has its own castle with many historical displays, including one which showcased one of the oldest vessels ever recovered from the sea. This Greek trading ship sank near Cyprus around 300 BC and was discovered in 1965 by a sponge diver. It was surprising just how well it has been preserved over the hundreds of years.

Famagusta, on the south eastern coast of northern Cyprus, used to be the most important port of the whole island, and it was a major destination for tourism until 1974. That’s no longer the case, but there is still a great deal to see, such as St Nicholas Cathedral, now a mosque (since 1571), and Othello’s Tower, a huge Venetian fortress named after a 16th century governor of Cyprus and is said to be the model for Shakespeare’s play.

The nearby Salamis is also a big attraction. Its impressive ruins date back to 11th century BC, and in its heyday the theatre would have boasted 50 rows of seats and held over 15,000 spectators. Earthquakes, raids and looting have unfortunately had an impact, but there is much to see and the whole area is well worth a visit.

Another day took us west to Vouni and Soli to see yet more ruins. En route we stopped at Guzelyurt, a small town with an interesting church and monastery dedicated to St Mamas, who is apparently regarded as the protector of tax avoiders! The little church is full of interesting icons, and apparently there are no fewer than 14 churches around the island dedicated to St Mamas.

One other drive we took was along a spectacular route through the Kyrenia Mountains, crossing miles of beautiful orange orchards with the Troodos Mountains visible to the south in the distance.

Local traditions

We visited Nicosia, the town now divided into north and south. This was a part sightseeing, part shopping morning. The shops were not very inviting but curiously several were selling red underwear - we were told it was tradition in these parts for men and women to wear red underwear on New Year’s Eve for good luck.

I enjoyed my week in northern Cyprus as a single traveller as part of a small and friendly group. The scenery alone was worth the visit and we came across very few tourists, although I imagine there would be more in the spring and summer months. Our excellent guide made the visits to the castles, cathedrals, monasteries, Roman and Greek ruins and other towns and villages really interesting.

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