After driving past impressive villas and slowly winding up the Kyrenia Mountains, we arrived in a tranquil village that overlooked the Mediterranean Sea.
One look at Bellapais, located in the Turkish-controlled North Cyprus, and I thought I could easily spend a long holiday here. The village is also known as Beylerbeyi in Turkish.
The village offers breathtaking sea views, tiny streets to explore, charming cafés, small boutique hotels and bed and breakfasts as well as ancient buildings to admire.
The most notable ancient building here is the Bellapais Abbey or “The Abbey of Peace,” translated from French Abbaye de la Belle Paix. Reaching back to my Spanish skills, I would translate it as “beautiful country.” I think the Spanish translation sums up this village rather nicely.
The Bellapais Abbey is known as one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture in the Eastern Mediterranean. The monastery’s first settlers were the priests of the Augustinian order who migrated from Jerusalem. They constructed the first monastery building between 1198-1205.
|A side view of the Bellapais Abbey with the Mediterranean Sea in the background.|
|The monastery's beautifully restored exterior walls.|
But most of the buildings that remain standing today were built by the French King Hugh III between 1267-1284. The pavilions around the courtyard and the refectory were constructed during the reign of King Hugh IV (1324-1359). After the Ottomans conquered Cyprus in 1570, the monastery was plundered and given to the Greek Orthodox Church.
The church, next to the courtyard with two large mandalina trees, is the part which appears to be in the best condition and is still used for special events. For some reason, the monastery and church were not open on the day that we visited back in February. You can learn more about the Bellapais Abbey’s interesting history here.
|The courtyard of the church at Bellapais, North Cyprus.|
We took our time taking photos of the monastery and then wandered around the old cobblestone streets of Bellapais with our Cypriot and Turkish friends. Cherry trees were blossoming as well as several colorful varieties of wild flowers. We bought a huge bag of local mandalina that we immediately ate along the side of the road. The day really was perfect!
While the village of Bellapais is only 4 kilometres from the city of Kyrenia, it is about 45 minutes away from the Ercan Airport. You’re pretty much required to rent a car.
After seeing what I have of North Cyprus so far, I would have no problem renting a car and spending a week or more exploring the Turkish side of this beautiful island.
For further reading, check out “Bitter Lemons of Cyprus,” written by author Lawrence Durrell who lived in Bellapais during the 1950s and chronicled his time in Cyprus. I’ve just downloaded the book to my Kindle.
|The stone arches in front of the Bellapais Abbey.|
|My husband, Jason, posing with our friends: Umut, Huseyin and Ceren.|
|A single arch leading into the Bellapais Abbey.|