Bellapais Village

By: Richard Bowles

In terms of recent history, Northern Cyprus enjoys a unique position in the Mediterranean region. The political animosity between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot factions ended with the island of Cyprus being divided in 1974 and the result was the effective isolation of the Turkish community, living in the north of the island. Economically, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), as it became known, could trade only with mainland Turkey, slowing the pace of development dramatically. The admission of Cyprus into the EC in the last few years was originally to have depended on a settlement of what has become known worldwide as ‘the Cyprus problem’ and both parts of the island held referenda to accept a UN plan. The Turkish Cypriot community voted in favour, but whilst the Greek Cypriots rejected the solution, EC membership was still granted. However, subsequent to this, external political aid has been granted to the TRNC and the border between the two parts of the island is now fully open.

No area of life in Northern Cyprus illustrates this relative lack of development as markedly as tourism.

And probably, no better illustration is available than the village of Bellapais. Tucked high into the mountains, but only a few miles from the Mediterranean coast, the village was originally called Bellapaix and is best known throughout the world for its remarkable abbey. Today, it is remarkable for how little it has changed over the last centuries. Built in the twelfth century, is one of the best examples of Lusignan period architecture in the world and remains in excellent order. The hall of the abbey is still in use today as a wonderfully atmospheric venue for music concerts. There is an annual festival held here, which attracts world-renowned musicians.

Although the abbey is the best-known part of Bellapais, it has many other aspects. The writer Lawrence Durrell made his home in Bellapais for years and his acclaimed novel ‘Bitter Lemons of Cyprus’ describes his time in Cyprus and in Bellapais. His house is a private residence and, like the rest of the village, remains much as it was during the writer’s time. Bellapais is a conservation area and whilst there has been development of housing closer to the coast, within the boundaries of Bellapais, only renovation has been allowed for many years.

This lack of development means that are hard to find and impossible to build. There are a number of properties outside the village, but of the three within an easy walk, the Residence at Bellapaix stands out as something different. It has only ten rooms and sits at the very heart of the village. The rest of any commercial activity in Bellapais revolves around a few, small tourist shops and a handful of restaurants. Of the latter, nearly all are in the middle of the village and particularly at night, when the abbey is lit, the atmosphere of eating out here is absolutely captivating.

Lawrence Durrell wrote much of the ‘tree of idleness’. Overlooking the village square, it seems to cast a potent spell and legend has it that those who sit under its spreading branches will never do any productive work again. The effect still seems evident today and is highly recommended as an antidote for 21st century living!

Travel and Leisure
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 

» More on Travel and Leisure
 



Share this article :
Click to see more related articles