Karpaz Peninsula

To the north east of North Cyprus lies the 'Panhandle', or Karpas Peninsula. Alternatively spelled Karpaz, the region stretches from near Famagusta to the northern-most tip of Cyprus. The Karpas covers a substantial part of the island and extends to 80 kilometres in length and up to 20 in width.

One of the most unspoiled places anywhere in the whole of the Mediterranean region, the Karpas is home to an outstanding variety of wildlife and its northern and eastern shores have some of the most beautiful and deserted beaches in North Cyprus - in fact in the whole of the island.

The Karpas region is rich in subterranean water reservoirs, so crops including fruit, olives and tobacco are grown in abundance, although in many of the small villages dotted around the region a tractor is still a novelty and many jobs still rely on traditional horse-drawn tools. The other main source of income for the region now is fishing, with the villages of Bogaz and Kumyali being the main centres for fishing in the Karpas. During the 20th century, some mining was carried out along parts of the Karpas, which are rich in various minerals, but these mines closed long ago and little evidence of this industry remains today apart from a few deserted buildings.

Northern Cyprus' Karpas region is almost totally free from any concentration of industry and people, and is one of the least polluted regions in the Mediterranean. With pine, cypress and maquis trees covered hills that reach an altitude of about 1,000 metres, the Karpas is also North Cyprus' nature reserve. Escaping the last ice age, the island of Cyprus has managed to retain a substantial amount of biological diversity and the Karpas is home to much of this. Northern Cyprus has many endemic species - plant species number about 1,600 (22 endemic) and there are 26 reptile and amphibian species, for most of whom the Karpas is the natural home. Not to mention innumerable insects, including many species of butterflies. Being also on one of the main migration routes of birds between Eastern Europe and Africa, each year approximately 300 species, amounting to millions of birds, use this route in early spring.

Generally more well-known, about 46 sandy beaches in the Karpas comprise the main nesting ground in the eastern Mediterranean for the endangered Chelonia Mydas and Caretta Caretta sea turtles and it is normal for around 1,500 rare female turtles to lay their eggs on the shores of North Cyprus every year. The last colony of European Audouin seagulls nest on the small Klidhes isles at the tip of the Karpas Peninsula.

Architecturally, the area's small villages are home to some remarkable churches and mosques, as well as beautiful examples of small-scale middle eastern building. However to many, the highlight of the relatively few man-made structures in the Karpas Peninsula is the Apostolos Andreas Monastery. Situated near the very tip of North Cyprus, on the point known as the Cape of Saint Andrea, the monastery is dedicated to Saint Andrew (Apostle Andreas in the Orthodox Christian church). St Andrew was the brother of St Peter, who served John the Baptist and was the first of the apostles to be called to ministry by Jesus. The monastery is one of the major pilgrimage centres for the Orthodox Church of Cyprus and is considered a holy site by residents of both Northern Cyprus and the Republic.

A fortified monastery stood on the site in the 12th century, and it was here that St Andrew briefly landed in Cyprus on his final missionary journey back to his Palestinian homeland. His steps revealed a spring, whose waters were said to have restored the sight of the blind captain of his ship. The room under the modern church in which there are wells containing drinking water, is thought to have been a chapel belonging to the old monastery buildings. Writings on a bust in the courtyard of the building say it was built by Pope Ionnis Oicoromus.

Nearly all of the Karpas region is accessible, and although you will need at least a full day (with an early start!) to carry out any serious exploration, it really is a worthwhile expenditure of time. For beach lovers, the eastern coast-line of North Cyprus is the most favoured spot, though beaches on the north shore can be spectacular too. Not to mention spectacularly empty! For parts of the year, some beaches on the north coast of the Karpas are closed to visitors during marine turtle nesting and hatching.