Visiting Kyrenia North Cyprus

Visiting Kyrenia North Cyprus

Visiting Kyrenia – the Other side of Cyprus

30

August, 2018

Travel

Off-the-beaten path

Budget

Hidden behind a rugged mountain range, is a small harbour town with narrow, meandering streets, honey-coloured houses slouched under the weight of time, and bobbing masts of traditional Turkish boats. Kyrenia – a town that politically does not exist.

Across the Border

Since 1974, Girne (otherwise known Kyrenia) is subject to the Turkish rule, together with the rest of the occupied territory of North Cyprus, unrecognized by the Cypriot government, or the United Nations. For some Cypriots, the North side is taboo. For others, it is a weekend getaway destination, just a few hours’ drive away.

We arrive at the Ayios Dhometios border crossing at around 7pm on a Friday, to find a huge queue of cars, and spend the next 40 minutes edging our way across it.  I watch in amazement – rental cars, cars with Cypriot license plates, young couples, families with children, foreigners, locals, workers, and delivery vans. For a state that doesn’t exist, it certainly attracts a lot of visitors.

Past the Green Line, we are in a different country. The landscape has changed; it is much more disperse. Turkish flags are flapping in the twilight. The straight, and surprisingly smooth, road is sprinkled with bill-boards that have long been banned in the EU. After navigating our way to Kyrenia old town through Friday night traffic, we park up and walk the rest of the way to find our hotel.

In Karmi, North Cyprus

Sofia Boutique Hotel

Sofia Boutique Hotel

Nestled in the maze of cobbled streets, Sofia Boutique Hotel maintains a yesteryear charm, with a touch of modernity and extravagance. There is a well-stocked, round-the clock lobby bar with swish leather stools. A saltwater pool in the inside courtyard, that sends twinkling turquoise reflections onto the surrounding walls. The hotel is boutique par excellence. With just nine rooms, it can host up to 20 people. Each room has its own character and is equipped with a mini-bar, air-conditioning and double-glazed windows.

“The hotel is boutique par excellence.”

Out in Kyrenia

After settling in, we head out to Set Fish for dinner. It is an ambient seafood restaurant perched on the side of the harbor with direct views of the Kyrenia castle and the bustling walkway below. We enjoy some garlic-marinated grilled prawns, a few traditional dips, a huge salad, and a perfectly cooked grouper. We pair it with a bottle of crisp white wine. To our disbelief, this feast comes up to a little over fifty euros. A comparable meal in Limassol would cost well over a hundred.

The next morning begins with breakfast at the poolside – a choice between continental, English and Russian breakfast made to order. We sip strong coffee and fresh juice, sheltered by the courtyard from the intensifying sun. Then a lazy swim in the pool. The space is so comfortable, that it takes resolve to leave it and explore beyond.

Street in old town Kyrenia

Lunch in Karmi

With hunger being an undisputable motivator, we drive up for lunch at Levant. It is a charming restaurant with an outdoor patio, located in Karmi, a mountain village, some twenty minutes’ drive from Kyrenia. To our dismay, the lunch menu is a very limited. Seeing our disappointment at the prospect of having a sandwich, the waitress offers us their marinated sea-bream (off the menu and probably in preparation for dinner). We gladly accept and enjoy our lunch amidst the greenery, looking out onto Kyrenia beneath and the glistening blue beyond.

Back in town, we spend the afternoon exploring the shops on Ziya Rizki road that offer everything from chique summer dresses to gold and high-end knock-offs. The shopkeepers offer us coffee, we browse and haggle, and eventually, defeated by the heat, head back to the hotel.

As I lay on the sunbed in the undisturbed peace of the afternoon, I thought about the line of cars we saw at the border. Politics aside, Kyrenia is a great place for a holiday. Its affordable hotels and restaurants, obliging service, shopping, casinos and stunning beaches will set ticks on many a traveler’s list. While there is obviously progress, the pace is slow. And perhaps this is what many seek when they come up here – an old Cyprus – the quiet, languid island, steeped in Mediterranean sun.

Ambon Indonesia Quickguide

Ambon Indonesia Quickguide

24 Hours in Ambon, Indonesia

What do to?

08

June, 2018

Anastasia Pashkovetskaya

Tucked away far in the east of Indonesia, Ambon Island lies on the north side of the Banda Sea, part of a chain of volcanic islands, off the southwest coast of the larger Seram island. Today, Ambon is the Capital of the Maluku Islands (aka the Moluccas).  While avid naturists like David Attenborough travelled here in the 70s, this region isn’t particularly known to tourists. Today, Ambon serves as the gateway for those who seek to find adventure to the famous Banda Islands, Seram Island and even the Kei Islands.

Ambon Island

Interestingly, Seram, Ambon, and most of Maluku are part of Wallacea, the group of Indonesian islands that are separated by deep water from both the Asian and Australian continents and have never been linked to the continents by land. Wild areas of Ambon Island are covered by tropical rainforest. This is the birthplace of incredible wildlife, including the legendary Bird of Paradise. Once upon a time, this was also the only place on the planet where the Nutmeg and Cloves grew. Indeed, these spices, were once more valuable than gold to the ship faring nations of colonial Europe. The Spice Islands were a place sought by many captains, both under nations’ and pirate flags. But more on those later…

Unfortunately, I cannot recommend Ambon as a destination in itself. In my opinion, the benefits of civilization and city life have largely swallowed what was once Ambon Manise. However, if you are on your way to Seram or the Banda Islands and you will have a day or two to spare. Here is what I recommend you to do.

THINGS TO DO IN AMBON

 

Visit the food Market

Not far from the city center, you’ll find a huge traditional market selling everything from fruits and vegetables to meat and fish. The market is a kaleidoscope of colors, textures and smells. Watch traders carefully dusting off the dirt collected between the spikes of durian fruit, or better yet, how they use a machete the pry it open and extract the white flesh. Bargain for a piece of fresh-caught fish at the fishmonger, or try the local delicacy of sundried fish. Buy a dragon fruit, a papaya and enjoy it later with a sprinkle of lime. Tucked inside the smaller streets, you will find stalls selling clothing including pieces made from traditional batik.

“Ambon, and most of Maluku are part of Wallacea, the group of Indonesian islands that are separated by deep water from both the Asian and Australian continents and have never been linked to the continents by land”

Taste a Rujak

Rujak is a famous Indonesian dish that sits somewhere between a fruit salad and a peanut curry. It is sold in traditional marketplaces, warungs or travelling gerobak pushcart by locals. Other than referring to the dish, the term rojak also means “eclectic mix” in colloquial Malay.

The rujak buah (fruit rujak) is made by crushing peanuts with sugarcane sugar, chili pepper and mixing in a selection of tropical fruit –most of which, I have to confess, I don’t know the name of.

It’s sweet, spicy, tangy and very filling!

It is trully Enak! (read: delicious in Indonesian)

Women selling dried fish at the food market

Fresh spices

Ride a Bemos

Bemos are public transport minivans, running pre-determined routes up and down the island. It is a popular form of transport for locals and an experience in itself if you’re a foreigner. There are no fixed stops, so you just flag one down in the street.

Usually they are lime green, with electro music blaring through the open doors and windows. Look at the sign on top of the bus to make sure it’s the route you want. Get in, find a spot and enjoy the view. Let the driver know when you want to get out by saying “minggir”. Each ride costs IDR 3,000 for in-town route and you pay when you get out.

 

Go see the Ring Makers

Tucked away behind one of the main avenues in the city center is a small street where you will find artisan ring-makers who sit along side the road cutting and polishing stones to fit them into a setting of your choice. While the designs might not be everyone’s cup of tea, it’s a really interesting process to observe. To find this little street, go to the city centre where all the shopping is and ask locals for directions.

 

Go Sightseeing

History and culture buffs should head to see the World Peace Gong that was installed in the city center to commemorate the ethnic riots between Christians and Muslims that happened in Ambon between 1996 – 2002. Some say the landmark looks better at night lit up by the lights and there is a small museum under the gong displaying historical pictures. You may want to add this to your Wold Peace Gongs list, especially if you have seen the ones in China, Switzerland and Hungary.

Another famous landmark is the 8-meter tall statue of Martha Christina Tiahahu – a national heroine who fought against the Dutch colonial government. Born to a military captain, she was active in military matters from a young age. After being captured at 17, she was released on account of her age. She continued to fight, was captured again and sent off to Java to be a slave labourer.  She fell ill on the way and died on a ship in the Banda Sea. The statue is a symbol of appreciation and a legacy of this brave young woman.

Tour Ambon’s Many Beaches

This is last on my list because I found the beaches and waters in Ambon to be sub-par in comparison to the waters around Banda Islands. Due to the fact that this is very much a city, there is a lot of pollution, including rivers of plastic that float endlessly in the sea. In spite of this there are still many interesting beaches. One of my favourite is the forsaken Dutch resort next to Collin Beach on the outskirts of the city. It’s an eerie remnant of the colonial luxuries that has been worn down by the elements and lack of care.

There is also the Huluwa Beach, punctuated by natural swimming pool and Bonsai Trees. It’s said that these bonsai trees are decades, or even hundreds of years.

Point to note: Ambon is a largely Muslim island and it is customary for women to wear modest clothing and a headscarf. If you’re a woman, wear long skirts or pants when out and about in the city. Inevitably, you will attract attention because visitors are rare, but you will feel more comfortable in conservative clothes while also being respectful to local custom.

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The Realities of Large Group Travel

The Realities of Large Group Travel

GUEST POST

The Realities of Large Group Travel

Keeley Dority , Missouri, USA

Keeley Dority graduated in 2017 with a magazine journalism degree from the University of Missouri. She has been published in local newspapers, magazines and national blogs. She currently works for the Missouri Press Association as a media coordinator and is a freelance writer.

3 April 2018

The curated pictures of a large group of friends at the beach, on a boat, or at some national landmark can seem endearing. It’s easy to look and think, “wow, how careless and fun.” Just like a lot of social media, there is often a behind the scenes reality composed of chaos and bad attitudes. As an experienced group traveler, Keeley has some practical tips for us on how to enjoy group vacations and not let petty arguments get in the way.

How simple is it for everyone in that group of twelve to pose for the shot? How many shots did it take for everyone to agree on one image? After pondering the situation, the truth reveals something more like a nightmare.

Yet, traveling with a large group is possible. There’s a reason people keep doing it. The question is, how do you make it through a long weekend or even double digit days without hating your crew? The key is to prepare like you would for any other trip. You don’t want to go into the event thinking that because there are more people, there is less worry about. It’s usual quite the opposite.

How many tries does it take to get the photo right?

Keeley with friends in Italy

1/ KNOW THE PERSONALITIES

First, it’s important to think about who you’re traveling with. What is your relationship with these people before this adventure? If you’re acquaintances, you can’t expect them to know your habits or expectations for the trip without clear communications. If you’re going with a group of longtime friends, you can’t forget that people change, and if you haven’t vacationed in a few years, it might not be the same. Think about these personality traits before you jump into itinerary planning. Talk through major topics such as sobriety and eating restrictions. You don’t want things to be uncomfortable before they even begin.

 

2/ MANAGE YOUR EXPECTATIONS

After you’ve figured out the structure of your travel group, think about what you’re expecting out of the trip. For example, when I travel with my group of girlfriends, I always map out my own agenda. There will be things you want to do that others don’t.  So, you either should plan for time to explore by yourself, or accept that you might make another trip later. For me, I usually arrive the night before the rest of my group. It gives me time to get settled, eat at a restaurant of my choice or do some shopping. Arriving at the same time as everyone else can be overwhelming. You often hit the ground running without having time to feel comfortable in your environment.

“Don’t feel like you’re being selfish, if you’re spending time and money to travel, you deserve to see and do what you want. You just should do it in a way that’s not going to interfere with the rest of the trip.”

Having this alone time at the beginning can also allow you to be more open during the rest of the vacation. If you already feel satisfied with your time, you won’t be disappointed when your group decides to alter plans, or cancel an activity. You have that reassurance that you didn’t miss out. Don’t feel like you’re being selfish, if you’re spending time and money to travel, you deserve to see and do what you want. You just should do it in a way that’s not going to interfere with the rest of the trip. This can also be reversed, book an extra day at the end of the trip. If you’re having a party-style vacation, you might need a day to relax before heading home.

It’s all about managing your expectations.

Keeley and her friends in Nashville, USA.

3/ MONEY MATTERS

No matter how well you know your travel group, do not let the topic of finances be left until the end. The one thing that can truly derail a nice vacation is the awkwardness of unpaid bills. This might come as an end of the night tab that nobody wants to cover. Once again, you must practice preparation and communication. My travel group uses the same money transferring app, and isn’t afraid to request money from an Uber ride or late night delivery order. We also make large financial purchases before the trip.

If you’re planning on doing certain activities, why not book them in advance? Everyone can pay on their own terms and you’re likely going to get a better rate than the day off. Plus, who wants to be the person that had to miss out because it’s day five and the cash flow is low? Keep this in mind when you’re traveling internationally as well. For example, many small, family restaurants in Europe will not split checks. Either take turns with a card, or always have cash. For my group of eight, we found that carrying an array of Euro’s was easier than dealing with international charge cards.

At the end of the day, everyone is going to travel different and that applies to large groups as well. It’s important to remember that traveling with friends and family enhances the experience.  But, the perfect vacation is not going to happen on its own. Really think about the people you choose to travel with. The most important thing isn’t that they have the same priorities or expectations as you, but that there is mutual respect in the group for everyone’s travel styles. Being honest about how you feel only makes your group stronger, and by the end of the trip, those group pictures feel like second nature. Traveling, whether it’s out of town or out of the country, is all about enjoyment, so plan and prepare, but don’t forget to just have fun!

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Skiing in Mzaar Kfardebian Lebanon

Skiing in Mzaar Kfardebian Lebanon

Skiing in Lebanon – the unexpected side of the Mediterranean
13
MARCH, 2018
Anastasia Pashkovetskaya

Sitting on the coast of the Mediterranean and known more for its complicated past than its charming mountain villages, Lebanon is not most people’s choice for a ski holiday.  However, given that we are currently based in Cyprus and Lebanon is a sweet 20 minutes flight away, we decided to try something new this skiing season. Here is what we have discovered.

 

Mzaar Kfardebian Ski Resort

The Mzaar Ski Resort is reportedly the best equipped and most popular resort of Lebanon, located in Kfardebian village, an hours drive from Beirut. According to the official website, there are 42 slopes and 80 kilometers of ski tracks. I’m assuming by slopes they don’t mean actual pistes, because the official map only marks 18, plus 2 private pistes which belong to the Intercontinental hotel. Regardless, there is plenty of room for skiers at all levels and beautiful unpisted runs for those looking for a bit more excitement. The peak of Mzaar is at 2465m peak of Mzaar and offers stunning views over the Bekaa valley, Mount Hermon of the Anti-Lebanon and other peaks like Laqlouq and the Cedars. On a clear day, you can even catch a glimpse of Beirut and Jounieh beneath, as well as the sparkling Mediterranean beyond. The other peak, Jabal Dib at 2296m, is home to the heighest restaurant in Lebanon “Auberge le Valais” that offers interpretations of alpine staples such as raclette, rosti, fondue and vin chaud. To make things more exciting, they also offer nargile. Needless to say, we had to have one. Here is a 360° video where you can get a good feel for a typical day skiing in Mzaar, Lebanon.

“On a clear day, you can even catch a glimpse of Beirut and Jounieh beneath, as well as the sparkling Mediterranean beyond.”

Where to stay

We stayed at Urban Faqra Hotel, in a small village just below the ski resort. It is a small boutique hotel of 8 rooms, a lounge and a restaurant. It’s perfectly charming with plenty of rugs, cushions, mountain views to sooth you after a day of skiing. They serve a generous Lebanese breakfasts and even bring you dinner to the room at no extra charge if you don’t have the energy to get out of your bathrobe and venture out to find food. The staff is super friendly and helpful, speaking English and French. Roland, the manager had introduced us to his friends so we could rent out skis and snowmobiles. It felt like a home away from home. At the very end of our stay, we discovered the ODOM Camp, which is now at the top of my wish-list for our next visit! It is owned by the same family who run Urban Faqra, so I trust we will be in good hands.

Feeling like a James Bond girl
Skidoo in Mzaar Lebanon

Snowmobile Expeditions

Another really cool thing to do in Mzaar is to hire a snowmobile to explore the vast mountain valleys away from the main ski area. It seems that every self-respecting local entrepreneur offers skidoo tours – ranging between 100 and 150 USD for the hour. We got ours from Roland’s friend, who also happened to be the ski champion of Lebanon.  Kitted out with all the necessary gear (and feeling rather cool about ourselves), we raced our guide through the valeys, arriving at a plateau to watch the sun set behind the mountain range with noone else in sight. While it was all very romantic, patches of barbed wire on the ground and several “Caution: Mine field” signs served as a stark reminder of the country’s turbulent past. Back at the shop, decorated with photographs of the owner’s victory, we were offered tea (and cigarettes – everybody smokes, everywhere) and chatted to in French about our impressions of Lebanon and all the things we must do during our stay. Chaleureux. That’s one word that comes to mind when I think of Lebanon.

In Summary

Skiing in Lebanon is safe, fun and affordable! We found that everything (accomodation, ski passes and ski hire) is much cheaper than anywhere in Europe. The downside of this, is of course the infrastructure, which is not as modern as in some of the hot ski resorts in Europe. So forget cosy, heated capsule lifts of Courchavel. This is the old school baby. If that doesn’t bother you too much, I would highly recommend it. The resort is big enough for a solid few days of skiing, there is plenty of nice accomodation, good food, friendly people and fun things to do off-piste.

Besides, where else can you have shisha on top of a mountain, without ever taking off your ski boots?

Booking.com
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Vegas on a Budget, or what to do there if you don’t Gamble?

Vegas on a Budget, or what to do there if you don’t Gamble?

I’m not a gambler, so when I had to go to Las Vegas for CES this January, I had to do some serious research on how to spend my free time out there. Turns out, there’s plenty to do! Here are my findings and tips I gathered from locals on what to do in Vegas if you don’t gamble. Or if you lost all your money.

1 / Explore The Hotels

Las Vegas Hotels are unlike anything I have ever seen. They are not just a place where you lodge during your stay. Nor are they  a place where simply you dine, party, gamble, shop, or go to the spa. Las Vegas Hotels are a Production. There’s no other word for it. They are massive, impressive, and are done with so much attention to detail, they fill you with wonder at what man can do with enough money and creative liberty.

Each hotel has it’s own character and feel, so exploring them is an experience in itself. You never know what discoveries you will make…

Price: Free

2/ Watch the Bellagio Fountain Show

No, this is not a sponsored post. I just think it’s one of those iconic and really impressive things that you absolutely must do when you’re in Las Vegas. They run every 20 minutes and every time it’s to a different tune. Stand on the side of the Bellagio Hotel to get the stunning views of the strip and the local Eiffel Tower.

Price: Free

3 / Ride a Gondola

Always wanted to take a romantic trip down a canal in Venice while the gondolier serenades you and your lover? Well you can do that right at the Venetian in Las Vegas for just $29! Step back in time and surrender to the romance of a serenade being a total tourist as you float along the Grand Canal that runs through one of Las Vegas’ most renowned resorts. Float beneath bridges, beside cafes, under balconies, and through the vibrant Venetian streetscape. You can choose between the outdoor or indoor ride, and if you’re really into it, you can even get pro tips on how to become a Gondolier. The daily program, limited to nine participants, shares the “ins and outs” of piloting a gondola. Upon completion, you will receive a gondola hat and t-shirt, a souvenir photo and a degree certificate from Gondola University. It’s like a parody of itself. So bad that it’s good.

Price:

Shared Gondola (Seats Four): $29.00 per person
Private Gondola (For Two):$116.00

4/ See at least one Show

As you probably already know Vegas is one huge, elaborate and extraordinary expensive production. So when in Vegas, seeing an actual show is a must! With so many to chose from, all you have to do is decide which one.

I am a huge fan of Cirque du Soleil, so of course, I went to see “O” (from the french eau ) –  the aquatic show inspired by the “infinity and elegance of water’s pure form”. A group of 150 stage technicians assist in the production of the show, the cast of which consists of 85 performers: international acrobats, synchronized swimmers, and divers. I sat in the 3rd row (splash zone) and spent most of the show catching my breath and emitting pathetic squeals as the performers launched themselves into the 1.5-million gallon pool that transforms into to a stage at the drop of a hat. Worth every penny.

Tip: Check this website for special offers and discounts. Also, some theaters will do discounts if you book at least 7 days in advance, so check their websites if you’re booking ahead of your trip.

Price: from $60

 

4 / Visit the Art Galleries

There is art everywhere you look in Las Vegas. For example there’s a casual $28 million statue of Popeye by Jeff Koons standing in one of the hallways at the Wynn. Check out the famous Bellagio Gallery Fine Art, where you can gain new knowledge of different techniques. There is also the Peter Lik Fine Art Gallery, which has locations around the city (including a new one at Caesars). The gallery carries photographs by Peter Lik himself and works from artists all over the world, like Dale Chihuly, Richard MacDonald and Brett Wesley.

If you’re feeling adventurous and have wheels, why not venture off the Strip and into the desert to check out Ugo Rondinone’s Seven Magic Mountains? These neon rock installations measure 30- to 35-feet high and are particularly beautiful at dusk (or dawn). A little longer drive is the ghost town of Rhyolite, which has a unique collection of outdoor sculptures.

Price: Free

5 / Eat in one of the Food Courts

Like everything else in Vegas, even a food court is not your average dining experience. While it may not seem very glamorous at first, it’s a fun and ironically, authentic way to dine in Vegas without blowing the bank.

While exploring the Venetian, I stumbled upon a place called Lobster Me and couldn’t resist the temptation. Their menu has everything lobster – from rolls, to sandwiches, bisques and lobster mac & cheese.

Quick, cheap and cheerful.

Oh and also much tastier than the $40 pasta I had in one of the “real” hotel restaurants.

Bon apps!

6 / Head Downtown!

Sadly, most people never make it off the Strip when they come to Vegas, which is understandable, given all that’s on offer.  But Downtown is the original Vegas and while it underwent a significant renovation, it still retains that old charm. It is also where all the locals go out. I was actually lucky to befriend one local who took me out and gave me a tour of the place. But that’s a story for another day…

 

Have you been to Vegas? What’s your favourite thing to do out there outside of the casinos? Let me know in the comments!

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