Unspoilt Bellapais in northern Cyprus has the perfect solution for anyone too wound up to chill out
Northern Cyprus is a step back in tourism time, to uncomplicated and undersubscribed hotels, beaches and beauty spots, where summer holidays are all about taking it easy, soaking up a generous helping of r 'n' r. How fabulous it is to simply drift through life for a while, a little light sightseeing, some sampling of local cuisine, and hours and hours spent by the pool in a lazy daze.
The village of Bellapais, four miles from the popular resort of Kyrenia (or Girne in Turkish), offers just such indulgence. I stayed at the delightful Abbey Inn
. Tucked away in a side street, it is blissfully peaceful, with only the buzz of cicadas breaking the silence. The inn has just 10 rooms on two storeys, surrounding a nice pool. With so few guests, and excellent, attentive staff, it felt like I was staying in my own private holiday villa – breakfast cooked to order whenever I felt like drifting down; personal advice on where to go and what to see in the nearby town of Kyrenia; even a ticking off for not drinking enough water in the heat!
Bellapais is reputedly the prettiest village in Cyprus. I wouldn’t argue with that. A settlement sitting proudly among citrus groves on the slopes of the Five Finger Mountains, its centrepiece is the12th-century Abbey, the ruins of which perch dramatically on a natural hillside terrace. The Abbey de la Paix (Peace Abbey, originally occupied by notoriously corrupt French monks) was one of the most important Gothic buildings in the Near East. Potter round it when the sun’s fierce heat has gone and take some snaps.
From the Abbey Inn
, a network of quiet narrow lanes runs downhill, dotted with guesthouses, private homes and restaurants. My favourite eaterie was most definitely the Tree of Idleness. It’s named in honour of the 200-year-old mulberry, so called by English writer Lawrence Durrell in his book, Bitter Lemons of Cyprus
Durrell lived here for three years in the Fifties and warned readers not to risk sitting under the tree as it shadow ‘incapacitates one for serious work’. The Tree of Idleness is still there – allegedly - and it’s difficult to avoid the influence of its extensive spread of leaves and branches.
Not that you feel like doing much after you’ve eaten, anyway. Food is one of the great joys of holidaying in Cyprus. Choose the Full Kebab set menu and you won’t need to eat again for a day.
First, you nibble through fourteen types of cold mezze, or appetisers, including houmous, plump olives, feta cheese, pickled veg. Next the hot mezze – scrummy fritters and marvellous grilled halloumi cheese that squeaks on your teeth. Then local fish called mineri, with spuds and veg and spicy rice and salad. I was flagging a bit by then, but pud arrived - fresh fruit with macun, a kind of mega-sweet glace fruit that instilled the instant energy boost needed to haul my overstuffed body back to the hotel.
Next day, I had intended to walk the three miles into picturesque Kyrenia to see the famous castle and harbour. But frankly, obviously thoroughly corrupted by that pesky tree, it was all I could do to drag myself poolside and straighten the towel on my lounger. But then surely this is what a holiday is all about.