h2g2: Always on the go.
St Hilarion, Cyprus
On our recent trip to North Cyprus, one of the excursions went to the St Hilarion Castle, near Girne (Kyrenia). Legend claims that Saint Hilarion (from Syria, possibly) fled Palestine in the 7th century, and took residence here, also starting a monastery. Around the 10th century, the Byzantines fortified the site. A chapel remains in ruins since this era. In the 12th century, after Richard the Lionheart sold the island of Cyprus to the Lusignans, Hugh I was the king of Cyprus, and kept adding to the castle. In the 15th century, the Venetians dismantled parts of the castle, to reduce the work of maintaining a functional castle.
It's structured in three main levels. The lower level housed soldiers, and this is where locals came to trade with the castle folk.Second level was for the administration, and the third level, high on the mountain top, was the actual castle and royal quarters.
We came there in the afternoon, and it was unusually cloudy and misty. The climb up was a bit of an exercise, and I had selected the absolute worst shoes – flat sandals with plastic soles, and not a bit of grip. So once we had climbed the winding steps up to the beginning of the royal quarters, I kicked them off, and continued barefoot. That got me many consternated looks, and a number of comments, but as soon as I explained (and showed my useless shoes) they understood my choice. The top level is at 735 m over sea level, but I'm not sure of the level of the lower part/entrance gate.
It was really a steep and long climb, and the security level was pretty much "be careful, it's your own neck, and it's a long way down". Many sections did have metal railing to grab on to, so it never felt completely unsafe. Vertigo sufferers beware.
Even as we neared the peak viewing platform, there were clouds, but now we were above them. Only when we got down to the tour bus did all the clouds clear, and we got some nice photos from below. The viewing platform sticks out just to the right of the leftmost upper wall section. In real life, it's about 120 cm wide, on the picture it's about 2 pixels, I think...
The trip was an organized tour, with daily excursions to towns, Byzantine churches and monasteries, villages, an organic market in a little village that has decided to go farm all their produce without chemicals, and visits to the sponsors (Carpet, Leather, and Jewel factories/wholesalers). Those sponsors, and of course the North Cyprus tourist authorities made the price of the trip very affordable.
North Cyprus is only in the last few years focusing on building their tourist trade, so some things are still in progress, and in some ways they are still beginners, but it's very charming. North Cyprus is secular, and there are multiple universities in this section of the island, with lots of students. The attitude is open and accepting, and as soon as you veer off the main streets, the shopkeepers and restauranteurs are happy to communicate in sign/body language, as well as broken English. The official currency is Turkish Lire, but the Euro is widely accepted, and almost seems preferred.