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A drive in the forested mountains of North Cyprus. The route takes you from the harbour of Kyrenia to the amazing, fairytale castle of Hilarion, and then along the very top of the ridge of the 5 finger mountains.
The road is mostly well surfaced tarmac, but the narrow road, and huge drops, which often have no barrier between the road and a long, long fall, make this a test of nerve, for all but the most confident mountain driver.
Hazards and warnings
The army checkpoint at the start may be closed, if the Turkish army are firing on the range by the castle. Check if the road if open before you go. If you are planning on visiting the castle in summer, setting off early, before it gets too hot is recommended. Stay clear of military installations on the mountains.
Note: Due to the particular political situation of the north of Cyprus, many places have both a greek and Turkish name. In the description the most common form is used, with the alternative name afterwards, ie. Kyrenia (Girne).
From the near the summit of the Kyrenia (Girne) to Nicosia (Lefosa) road, look for a small road on the right hand side if approaching from Kyrenia. Turn up the road and carry on until you reach the checkpoint. The hours the road is open vary, especially outside the tourist season, as the army may be using the range near the castle. In general the Turkish army don't trouble tourists, however, some parts of the island are militarily sensitive, and care should be taken to avoid photography and trespass near miltary installations including barracks, communications towers and the like.
Drive to the turn on the right for the castle, and park up and explore the castle, which may take several hours. In summer it's best to arrive early, with lots of drinking water to beat the crowds and heat. The castle is in ruins, but there's still plenty to see. The castle is the best preserved and busiest of the mountain castles on the island. The view from the top is amazing, as is the exposed walk out to St John's Tower. The walk to the top is steep and tiring especially in the heat of summer, but the path is good, with plenty of steeps. Do watch out for large, often poorly protected drops, holes in the floor and other hazards. Compared to similar structures in western Europe, the site is undeveloped, both terms of interpretive signs, and safety measure, which is part of the charm.
After you've had your fill of the castle, get back on the road which trends along the ridge. The area was once extensively forested, but a fire in the 90s burned many of the trees, which are gradually growing back. The surface is tarmac, and in reasonable shape. There are some big drops, and the barrier between you and those drops is in poor condition or absent, and the road is very narrow.
As you travel along either side of the ridge, you'll see views far below alternating between the hot, dry interiour plain of the island and the relatively lush coastal area. As you drive further away from Kyrenia, you will see the coastal region become less developed. The ridge gradually climbs, and the road comes near to the top of the highest peak. One point of interest shortly after this along the way is the remains of a destroyed tank, from the conflict of 1974. After this the road descends to the right of a steep mountain, and then turns towards the coast in a series of zig zags. You will pass a few small villages, and then arrive at the main coastal road, where you can turn right and head back to Kyrenia.
At the time I visited (2004) there was a nice, out of the way fish restaurant on the coast near the end of this route, who's name escapes me.
A trip up into the mountain offered the chance to see some sights, escape the heat of the coast, and test our rather worn out hire car and my nerve on some hilly and crazy roads.
Fortunatly traffic was light and by mediterranean standards the other drivers were sensible, even if a lot of the cars looked decidedly ropey. I certainly didn't want to share the narrow windy and above all airey road with many other drivers.
St Hilarion was of course the highlight, but the rest of the drive was lovely especially through the bits of the forest that had escaped the huge forest fires a few years before.
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