Walking with Solos in Northern Cyprus – Part 1
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Walks, our group, our hotel
So run that by me again he’d said. You’re
married. Going on holiday with a group of single people. I’m not coming. Is
there something we need to talk about? Yes, can I borrow the small rucksack -
it’s a walking holiday so it’ll be very handy. No need for dramas.
Spoiler alert: 25% of people who holiday on
their own are not single. In fact, it’s a refreshing change travelling by
yourself, but within an organised group, as everyone makes much more effort to
chat. You can also dip in and out whenever you want to, which is not so easy
when travelling with the other-half, family or friends. Quite liberating,
actually. How often do we get to please ourselves? Turned out to be one of the
friendliest, inclusive and genuinely enjoyable holidays I have had for some
I’d joined a Solos walking
holiday in Northern Cyprus as part of a small group for four days of organised
walks with a couple of free days and optional excursions. As someone who begins
most days with a 40-minute walk around the local park, I was hopeful I would
manage the walking - 8/10 miles easy to medium level - without too much
When travelling to Northern Cyprus (Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus), unless via Istanbul, all flights go to the south portion of the island which is the Republic of Cyprus. We flew into Larnaca and travelled by mini-bus across the border and arrived at Lapida Garden Hotel in Lapta, near Kyrenia about 1.5 hours later. Cyprus, a country still divided with no resolution in sight after 46 years, more of which later.
The Lapida is a small 3-star family-run
hotel. It’s spotlessly clean with comfortable rooms, all with balconies and
good bathrooms, and, on the ground floor, an open-plan dining room, bar and
seating area around a log fire, very rustic. There’s a lovely rambling garden
with plenty of seating areas and sun loungers surrounding an inviting pool,
trees laden with oranges, lemons and other fruits. For warmer months there’s an
outdoor bar, bbq area and table tennis. A recent addition at the hotel is a
fabulous, spacious, hammam. However, it’s quite unlike anywhere I’ve ever
stayed before. To say the hotel is
quirky is rather an understatement. The owner, Feti, himself of Silver
Traveller vintage, has been collecting ‘stuff’ since he was 10 years old and
displays his ‘treasures’ all around the hotel. To say it is an eclectic
collection doesn’t really do justice to the hundreds, possibly thousands, of
genuine antiques and bric’a’brac or, as some would say, tat, he has
accumulated. A veritable museum of curiosity, which made the hotel all the more
My Solos companions were a friendly group
from a wide variety of backgrounds. Ranging in age from 42 to 76 years old, 8
women (including me) and 6 men, many had been on walking holidays with Solos or
other specialist operators previously. Our male guide Merrek, a local Turkish
Cypriot, who has worked as a guide for over 20 years, was very sociable,
knowledgeable and stayed with us throughout the week. He was everything you
want in a guide, receptive to the group’s needs and a mine of information about
everything from wild flowers, history and politics - of which there is aplenty
on this island.
The first day, Sunday, was a free day with
walking planned for Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and another free day
with optional excursion on Wednesday. After breakfast and our introductory
meeting we set off in glorious sunshine to a nearby beachside fish restaurant
where we enjoyed our first delicious Cypriot meal: meze, fresh sea bass, fruit
plate and almond cake washed down with a glass of local Efes beer. And the
grand total for this pretty spectacular feast - 70TL, about £10. Excellent
An afternoon rest before meeting in the bar
around 6.30 for a pre-dinner drink set a pattern for the rest of the week. Family-run,
the home-cooked food offered a good choice both at breakfast and supper with a
daily changing set menu: hot soup; large selection of cold meze and salads
(mostly vegetable based); two or three hot mezes; a main course, such as roast
chicken and potatoes, sea bream, meatballs, moussaka, chicken stew and, on the
final night, barbecued meats and halloumi. It has to be said, for anyone with a
sweet tooth, desserts were not the star of the show, though there was always
fresh fruit, cake or a light pudding. I was the only non-meat eater in the
group and there was always a good selection for me to choose from and enjoy.
Two drinks - your choice - were included
each evening with anything extra on top chargeable. A couple of the guys
(mentioning no names Peter and Mike) it’s probably fair to say, over the week,
had quite a few ‘additional’ drinks. They were both surprised and delighted to
find at the end of the week their extras bills were 49E and 52E, around £45 -
what a bargain! Also, the Turkish house wine was delicious - both white and red
– and served in very large glasses, so no skimping on that front.
On walking days we collected our picnic
lunch, which included: a piece of fruit; carton of juice; sweet cake or
biscuit; and a large Borek (filo pastry with fillings such as feta cheese,
spinach, olives etc., topped with sesame seeds). Delicious, substantial - just what was
Ah, yes, walking. Let’s not forget the
purpose of the holiday and why I borrowed my husband’s rucksack!
We set off from the hotel at 9am each day,
mostly by small mini-bus, to reach the area for the day’s walk, returning to
the hotel about 5 hours later. Due to the hotel’s location, with the backdrop
of the impressive Five Finger Kyrenia mountain range close by, the mini-bus
transfers were relatively short and on Thursday we set off directly from the
hotel. The itinerary included walks around the impressive Gecitkoy water reservoir,
through ancient olive groves, pretty countryside carpeted with wild flowers and
pine forests to the ruins of the Byzantine Sinai Monastery. Interestingly, our
very own Lord Kitchener, tasked with the cartography of the island between
1881-3, held a birthday picnic in this beautiful spot. I’m guessing he didn’t
have to carry the food and equipment up the rather steep path to the monastery!
Sadly, Friday’s plans to hillside vineyards, followed by wine-tasting, had to
be abandoned due to storms of almost biblical dimensions.
For those interested in stats, the walks
ranged from 8-10 miles, averaging between 21-25,000 steps – enough not to worry
about extra calories from the previous night’s supper. I have to admit, though,
I found myself getting a bit out of puff with aching limbs climbing up some of
the inclines, especially on Thursday to the Sinai monastery, done in pretty
torrential rain which made for quite difficult walking. However, I think that’s
more to do with my fitness than anything else, as the eldest member of the
group (76) always seemed to be at the front and joyfully scampered up the
inclines like an elegant mountain goat – an inspiration to us all Sarah!
The group consisted of many people who were
Solo regulars - always a good sign - some regular hill walkers and
not-so-serious amblers like me. It must be
a challenge to grade and assess the level of ease or difficulty. On chatting to
the group, some thought the walking was moderate rather than easy, whereas
others thought, in comparison to previous experiences, the grading was accurate.
I’d nothing to compare it with so don’t feel qualified to express an opinion.
It’s worth mentioning, though, to enjoy the holiday a reasonable level of
fitness is required. What I can reveal, however, is that each day I set off and
returned with no serious aches, pains or blisters – result!
I’m not a ‘twitcher’ but given Cyprus is
one of the major migration routes across the Mediterranean for over 300
different birds, with 46 species native to the island, I was rather surprised
to see so few birds or hear birdsong as we ambled along. Maybe, unlike living
under the Heathrow flight-path (on which I am an expert), we were not directly
under their migratory flyway, though, like some other areas of Europe this may
be due (in part) to illegal hunting and poaching. The island is also known for
its fantastic flora, particularly the beautiful Cyprus Bee Orchid. Home to many
wild flowers, with about 30 species of orchids only found on the island, not
surprisingly there were a few keen botanists amongst the group. Although we
were a couple of weeks early to see many of the rare orchids in full bloom, we
saw quite a few different species, including the Cyprus Bee and fields carpeted
with spring flowers across the landscape.
For me, the walking was hugely enjoyable
and I felt a tremendous sense of achievement. Ok it wasn’t Everest or
Kilimanjaro, but still. Small steps. I also loved the ambience amongst the
group as we mingled and chatted – you can learn a lot about people on a long
walk! However, a huge and unexpected bonus of the trip was the fascinating
insight we gained into the island’s history and politics during the excursions.
With Merrek’s unique knowledge and commentary promoting much debate and
discussion, particularly over supper and late into the night. So pour yourself a glass of wine and read on.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Solos Holidays.
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