The old harbour seemed to have it all. It was small, cute even. You could stroll from one end of the horseshoe to the other in a few minutes, the little Customs House on one side, the imposing walls of the Venetian castle on the other. Its original stone carob warehouses houses were transformed into bars and restaurants, fresh fish the order of the day. At night a garland of white candle lights spelled romance.
Head for the harbour – that was always our first port of call when my wife and I started coming to North Cyprus many years ago.
Then, as now, planes from Europe arrived in the late evening. A taxi dash from Ercan airport to Kyrenia (Girne) allowed just enough time to drop the bags at the colonial outpost of the Dome Hotel, followed by a brisk walk along the seafront in time for last drinks at the harbour.
Caressed by the gentle sound of a guitarist singing somewhere in the background and wrapped in the warm night air once again, we toasted our return to our favourite place.
After we finally settled here, the harbour continued to weave its spell. Not for nothing was it known as “The Jewel in the Crown,” of North Cyprus tourism. I can’t quite remember when we fell out of love with it. It was sometime after they tried to make it big. The little restaurants expanded, pushing more and more tables out on to makeshift decking jutting into the water. The waiters became more aggressive, hassling passers-by to try their now-stale offerings. The guitarist was replaced by booming rap music and giant screen TV screens. Worst of all, the place began to smell, the unmistakable odour of sewage putting paid to any lingering hopes of an al fresco dinner. We stopped going and clung to our memories.
But now I am delighted to say that we are planning a longed-for return to Kyrenia harbour this summer, as a much-needed renovation is underway. Backed by the Ministry of Tourism, the entire area has been sealed off for the winter to allow teams of builders to rip apart years of abuse.
Gone are the hideous facades that masked the lovely old buildings, out has come the tarmac to be replaced by cobbles and away are the rickety wooden structures that sprang up over the years along the waterfront. The government and the local mayor have promised a return to the glory days. Restaurateurs and shopkeepers must pledge to abide by strict new rules. One can only hope they have learned a valuable lesson; people come to North Cyprus for its unique charm and old ways, not because they want another bog-standard, noisy, tacky holiday resort. We’re heading back this summer- see you there!