On deciding to take a quick break to the sun, I judged Cyprus to be the destination that promised the best bet, in terms of sunshine and temperatures in May, so I decided my husband and I should sample the Turkish area, having visited the south many times in the past. This was prompted by the fact that we could now fly into Larnaca, on a non-stop flight from the UK and cross the border with ease. The transfer from Larnaca Airport (LCA) to Famagusta in the Turkish side took approximately one hour.
What I noted during our stay in Famagusta was the numbers of tourists arriving from the Greek side on day trips to visit Famagusta's spectacular Old Town. The town developed as a result of its strategic position, facing the Middle East and became a melting pot of cultures. Everything about the Old Town is atmospheric, from the crumbling Venetian walls, the beautiful Gothic cathedral- now a Mosque, to the ruins of the churches and the narrow maze of streets. There's even more to see in the surrounding area so it is well worth a visit.
During the day, the streets, bars and cafes are filled with visitors. It is compact and perfect for a relaxed cultural experience. We preferred to visit the Old Town in the evening when the tourists had left. We could enjoy a drink, whilst the sun set and the ‘call to prayer' resounded through the streets. The local draft and bottled beer, aptly named Efes, according to my husband was excellent, I preferred a gin and tonic. This was followed by sampling the local cuisine.
Our favourite restaurant was Aspava, but ‘be warned', fish isn't on the menu, however the range of Meze would be perfect for any non meat eater or vegetarian. Both cold and hot Meze served could match any I have tasted in Turkey and the Middle East, simply delicious. The menu is a set one, and meat kebabs are served as a main dish, followed by delicious deserts. I would also mention the lack of choice on the wine list, however in Aspava you can trust the local wine, which is inexpensive and quite palatable.
Another worthwhile restaurant is Historia, and we chose a table on the square, a perfect location for watching the locals gather to chat whilst the children played. The menu offered a greater variety and fish was on the menu. Don't risk the house wine here, pay a little more and go for the alternatives.
The most famous port in the north is Kyrenia, complete with a picture postcard harbour, flanked by a Venetian castle and a bay with fishing boats and restaurants. The mountain backdrop finishes a perfect scene. We opted for a late lunch in Sandal, one of the many restaurants that line the waterfront and what a joy it was, for the location as well as the fish we chose. The service was excellent, we weren't rushed to order and everything we selected was delicious and obviously cooked from fresh. We selected a Meze of humous, deep fried mussels on a skewer, and pickled octopus which was unusual but tasty. We chose a crisp white wine, labelled Angora, which was delicious and similar to a superior Pinot Grigio. We decided on sea bream for our entree, accompanied by a fresh salad.
I couldn't resist trying ice cream to finish but must admit, although very good, it didn't compare to Italian ice cream!
Northern Cyprus doesn't rate in my books as a gourmet paradise; it has its plusses with the range of Meze dishes on offer, the fresh vegetables and fish. Meat dishes consist of kebabs and some slow cooked meats which are tender and tasty. As with many destinations the menu is frequently geared to the general taste of an International tourist – I would say stick with the traditions and serve what is local.
In my opinion North Cyprus is well worth a visit, particularly because mass tourist hasn't yet hit the region. It's a little like stepping back in time so enjoy the island's unique charm and beauty.