A living museum with astonishing ancient ruins, romantic old towns and a fascinating culture that continues to be shaped by powerful legacies of the East and the West.
Selected departures September to November 2017
Take a direct flight to Larnaca, Erkan or Paphos, depending on your departure airport. We transfer to Kyrenia and your hotel for the next seven nights, the 4-star superior Arkin Colony Hotel.
This morning we have a guided orientation of Kyrenia, blessed with the most beautiful harbour in Cyprus and set against majestic mountains that bring cooler air and encourage greener landscapes. Kyrenia underwent a renaissance during British rule, as roads were built and the harbour was developed, turning it into a bustling port town.
Our excellent local guide will take you on a walking orientation tour, visiting the charming old town, harbour and Belediye Meydani, the town hall square. Included is entrance to the splendid 8th-century castle, first built by the Byzantines, possibly on the site of an earlier Roman fort and later strengthened by the Lusignans and the Venetians. You’ll also be able to access the castle museums, housing a range of archaeological finds and an impressive 3,000-year-old shipwreck.
The afternoon is free for you to relax or further explore Kyrenia’s serpentine alleys, where delights await at every turn. Why not visit the main mosque, the Ağa Cafer Paşa Camii? Remarkably, the distinctive minaret of this 16th-century structure is visible from wherever you are in the harbour area.
Today we head northwest, passing sleepy villages and unspoilt countryside to the ‘fruit basket of Cyprus’, Güzelyurt. It is nestled in the foothills of the Troodos Mountains, the massive block of igneous rock that rose 90 million years ago like Aphrodite from the sea, following a volcanic eruption. Here, a remarkable variety of trees bearing soft fruits, citrus and nuts flourish in abundance. There are astonishingly preserved ancient churches, such as the Agios Mamas Church and Monastery that was built on the site of a temple dedicated to Aphrodite. Important artefacts can be found in the Museum of Archaeology and Nature, including ones from the Neolithic period and Bronze Age.
Next we visit the spectacular ancient city of Soli, one of the most impressive sites on the island. The quality of information provided gives us great insights into life here during late Roman and early Byzantine times. Originally settled in early 11 BC, Soli was one of the most important Greek capitals of Cyprus and a vital location for Christianity, being the place where St Mark was baptised. Only a part of the site has been excavated but already there is so much to discover – the ruins of the Roman theatre, a nymphaeum, the temple of Athena, a palace, a necropolis, and a great basilica with marvellous 4th-century mosaics. Gold jewellery was recently unearthed from the tombs here and can be seen in the archaeological museum in Güzelyurt.
We then take a short drive and stop to see the extraordinary remains of the Palace of Vouni, set in an idyllic location facing the Mediterranean with splendid views. Its origins are shrouded in mystery but archaeologists have deduced that it was built in early 500 BC. Its historical significance simply cannot be overstated, as it was constructed during a time when the West was ruled by the Greeks, and the east by the Phoenicians with Vouni being their only stronghold in the area.
Our last stop for the day is historic Lefke, located next to the Green Line. First inhabited during the Neolithic period, the legacy of previous rulers can be seen in its buildings, some of which date back to the 7th century. The delightful town is known for its university, copper mines, and Jaffa orange groves.
Today we succumb to the romance of two storybook highlights. First, we visit St Hilarion castle that many say is the inspiration for two fairy-tale castles – Bavarian King Ludwig’s Neuschwanstein Castle and Snow White’s castle in Disneyland. Included with the tour is entrance to the castle, which is best enjoyed if you’re fairly mobile, but the breath-taking views can still be enjoyed from the easily accessible viewpoint at the entrance or from the castle’s café.
Then we visit the beautiful village of Bellapais. It is a sheer pleasure wandering through the tangle of narrow lanes past flower-bedecked buildings up the hill, where you’ll find outstanding views of Kyrenia harbour and the cerulean sea. A gem of the village is its medieval ‘Abbey of Peace’, the ruins of a monastery that once offered shelter to Augustinian monks who were expelled when Jerusalem fell to Saladin. The site also houses a museum, and the abbey’s Gothic refectory serves as a unique venue for concerts and lectures.
After a lovely day of sightseeing, we return to Kyrenia in the mid-afternoon.
Today we explore the world’s last divided capital, Nicosia, once a small town established by the Ptolemaic dynasty in 300 BC. Enjoy a guided tour of the old town, seeing the impressive Venetian city walls – Nicosia was a walled city for more than a millennium – and the superbly preserved Kyrenia gate, adorned with inscriptions left by past rulers including the British. Discover the main square, the Bandabuliya covered bazaar, and the staggering Venetian column, transported from the ruins of Salamis. See the mammoth Selimnye Mosque, visible from both sides of the capital and its most historically significant mosque. If it looks remarkably like a church, it’s because it was formerly St Sophia, a 13th-century Roman Catholic cathedral, before the Ottoman invasion introduced the twin minarets that tower above.
You can choose to explore more of the north – perhaps visit Büyük Han, the great 16th-century inn that was once used by the British as a prison, and now houses a vibrant collection of shops and cafés.
Should you wish, you can cross the Green Line into south Nicosia with your passport on hand, and experience the difference between the two sides. Visit the world-class Cyprus Museum, by far the best on the island and a real trove of archaeological treasures. Or head to the 11-storey Shacolas Tower, the tallest building in south Nicosia, once used to peer over the Buffer Zone into the north, but today serves as an observatory for enjoying spectacular views of the city.
You have a full day at leisure, and Kyrenia is the perfect place for further discovery. Why not take a stroll through town or a boat ride from the harbour? Perhaps go shopping at the Bandabuliya for a good selection of souvenirs and gifts, from textiles to pottery and jewellery. If you prefer to relax, take a refreshing swim in the rooftop pool or indulge in some pampering at the hotel spa.
This morning, we travel to the east coast, first visiting the Monastery of St Barnabas, once one of the most prominent Christian sites on the island. Today, it houses a religious icon and archaeological museum. There is a mausoleum said to house the tomb of St Barnabas himself, one of the great figures of early Christianity and the founder of the Cypriot Church.
We continue our journey, passing numerous relics from the past including the 7th-century Royal Tombs of the Kings, before arriving at one of the most thrilling highlights of our tour – ancient Salamis. This spectacular site is one of the Mediterranean’s most significant archaeological sites, bolstered by its scenic beachside setting. During Classical Greek and Roman times, Salamis was a chief cultural centre, as well as the richest and most important city on the island for 1,700 years. You can still see the original amphitheatre, the gymnasium built by Emperor Hadrian, the Greek and Roman baths, and wonderful mosaics. Even after a century of careful excavation, the site has yet to be fully excavated.
Next, we visit the charming town of Famagusta and enjoy a guided walking orientation tour, seeing the massive Othello’s Tower, the ruins of the Venetian palace, and the impressive city walls where British officers in the 1930s played golf along the tops. Possibly the most dominant landmark of the town is the 14th-century Lala Mustafa Paşa Mosque, originally a church modelled on the French cathedral at Reims. Threading between the photogenic remains of ruined churches are plenty of shops and restaurants.
Nearby is Varosha, once a lively resort dubbed the ‘Monte Carlo of the Middle East’, frequented by celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor, but it was abandoned during the war in 1974. Although it is now a shadow of its former self, the ‘modern’ ruins left behind are very much worth seeing to gain a better understanding of the island’s history and legacy.
After a fantastic day of sightseeing, we return to the hotel.
Today you take your direct flight home after a truly memorable tour.
Few places are as uniquely positioned as Cyprus, at the exhilarating crossroads between Europe, Asia and Africa. For thousands of years, the birthplace of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty, has seduced travellers with the promise of endless summers, windswept beaches, and romantic harbours. Successive invasions by powerful neighbouring empires, each leaving traces of their culture, have created a rich and complex heritage, plus some of the world’s most significant archaeological sites and best preserved villages.
The first settlers arrived in 7000 BC, followed by waves of Mycenaean Greeks. Next came raids by the Assyrians, Egyptians and Persians, before Roman rule brought peace and prosperity. In AD 330 Cyprus became part of the Byzantine Empire, leaving an astounding Christian legacy. The island was then conquered in 1197 by Richard the Lionheart and sold to his lieutenant, Guy de Lusignan, turning it into a Crusader state. Over the next centuries Cyprus fell under Venetian, Ottoman and even British rule in 1878. At long last, independence was granted and the Republic of Cyprus was formed in 1960. However, the nation was divided – the Greek Cypriots were optimistic for a union with Greece, whilst Turkish Cypriots pushed for a Turkish state. This led to the formation of the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC), separate to the republic in the south. The Green Line, set up by the UN to keep the peace, still divides the island, but the relationship between both sides has vastly improved with ongoing attempts at reunification. A growing number of crossing points on the line also makes travel between north and south much easier, encouraging residents and visitors alike to explore this remarkable island.
Join us on this wonderful tour as we discover spectacular northern Cyprus, dominated by the impressive Kyrenia Mountains that keep watch over the pristine coastal strip, dotted with lovely seaside towns. We stay in one of the island’s most beautiful towns, ancient Kyrenia, one of the ten kingdoms of Cyprus during the Classical Greek period, complete with its own magnificent castle.
We head northwest to Güzelyurt, an area less frequented by visitors but unmissable because of the astonishing ancient sites, incredible Soli and the mysterious Palace of Vouni. Nothing can prepare you for the sheer scale of the ruins here, some dating as far back as 500 BC. Further inland stretches the island’s main mountain range, the lofty Troodos Massif, and at the foothills lies the university town of Lefke, where you will see the legacy of its past rulers.
On our eye-opening tour we take you to renowned St Hilarion, which is said to have inspired several more famous fairy-tale castles. Perched atop a craggy peak, the views from the top are absolutely incredible. We also enjoy a drive to Bellapais village, renowned for its medieval ‘Abbey of Peace’, one of the most beautiful in the eastern Mediterranean.
A tour of Cyprus would not be complete without a visit to bustling Nicosia, the divided capital city and last of its kind in the world after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The northern half, Lefkoşa, is occupied by the TRNC, whilst the southern half, Lefkosia, is the capital of the Republic of Cyprus. You will have the opportunity to cross the Green Line, with your passport on hand of course, to visit south Nicosia and experience the difference between both sides.
Finally, we head east to coastal Famagusta, the charming and atmospheric old town with the deepest harbour of the island, surrounded by 15th-century Venetian walls. You will see the ghost town of Varosha, left as it was when it was abandoned in 1974, as well as ancient Salamis, one of the most significant and stunning archaeological sites in the Mediterranean.
When it comes to Cypriot cuisine, it is very similar to that of Greece and Turkey but with small differences that the Cypriots would be quick to point out. The absence of international fast food chains has been filled by Turkish fare, and the Cypriots take great pride in serving locally grown produce. The island’s long history of winemaking since Lusignan rule also means you’ll find a good selection of local wines.
Step back in time on our wonderful tour and visit this living, breathing museum to get a real sense of civilisations past, with its plethora of ancient ruins, religious remains and medieval sites. At the same time, you will experience the wonderful culture, climate, and hospitality, and perhaps most intriguing of all, how history has influenced and shaped the Cypriots today.
The price of this holiday is based on two people sharing a twin room. Single rooms are available for £169 per person. The price includes return flights, seven nights’ accommodation at Arkin Colony Hotel with breakfast and four dinners, return transfers, all touring as mentioned, entrance to Kyrenia Castle and Museum, Güzelyurt Archaeological Museum, Ancient Soli, remains of the Palace of Vouni, St Hilarion Castle, Bellapais Abbey, Monastery of St Barnabus & icon museum, Ancient Salamis, Othello’s tower and the services of a Riviera Travel tour manager.
Judith and Murray Petrie
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