St Hilarion Castle: a huge adventure in the North
7th April 2018
Cyprus is divided into the Greek South and the Turkish North. Our houses are based in the South but every trip, we (OK, I) can’t resist at least one little foray over the border. It’s not without complexities. As described in our local guide book, there is a border crossing, paperwork and a distinct lack of proper car insurance on the other side.
You may well decide you’d rather stay at the beach than risk it. But if the call of adventure is too strong, then take on all the warnings and cautions, pack your lunch, and head due North.
There are maps and sign posts but neither are great and, through experience, we’ve learnt to put the destination into Google maps and pay the data charge rather than risk wasting time on a wrong turning. If you do get lost, people are very helpful. The currency in the North is the Turkish Lira but everywhere happily accepts Euros albeit with a rather cheeky exchange rate.
There are lots of places you could go but top of my list is the thousand-plus year old St Hilaron Castle, which is perched on the top of the Kyrenia mountain range. It has everything. Romantic collapsing towers, arches, the kind of gruesome history the kids love (see Prince John throwing his armed guard out of the window when he thought they were plotting against him and then being murdered by his sister-in-law over dinner) and majestic views as far as Turkey. What is wonderful is how the ‘round-the-next-corner’ layout draws the children to climb and climb to explore the next rooms, the next tower, the next view. They hardly notice how far they have gone, even when they have quite little legs. They say that the way the turrets are arranged over the mountain ridge inspired Walt Disney for Snow White. Certainly you can easily picture being a medieval king or queen up there as you survey the whole of the land from a picturesque window at the top.
Now it’s a decent drive from the villas so, including border crossing, allow two hours. It’s a grand old scramble once you get here, it’ll take a few hours to properly enjoy it. Don’t even think of taking a buggy or a baby in a sling (trust me, I tried years ago and only made the second stage which is missing the star attraction at the top). Everyone needs good shoes – ideally socks and trainers, although I do everything in Birkenstocks. It’s cooler up the top so take a jumper if in the off season and suncream whatever the season, as well as lots of drinks and treats for the end of the climb (there is cafe but it is more for snacks than meals, definitely a good spot for an ice-cream at the end). Don’t imagine any sort of National Trust red-roped control here: you can climb and run and explore everywhere. If you have a child that’s inclined to hare off and scare you out of your wits (don’t we all) then wait until next year. We recently did it with our three, aged eight, six and four and, at the cost of a few Euros, and entirely without queues or rollercoasters to test my dodgy pelvic floor, it wins over Disneyland every time.
Afterwards, its a few miles drive down the hill to beautiful Kyrenia harbour for a meal before heading back. There is a nice playground at the far Western side of the port, near the tourist office. The shortage of parking and one way system there gives even Brighton a run for its money. Our advice is to shove the car into the nearest paid carpark and walk. Check restaurant reviews and choose either adventurous and super local or more tourist-friendly (which the kids may find easier – the usual chicken kebab, fried calamari, etc).
Potter home with exhausted kids for a good night’s sleep.