On a stay in Bellapais, actress Julia Morris basked in the happy haze of lemony Brandy Sours and grilled haloumi.
The past 15 years of my life seem to have dissolved almost as if
I was not watching. In that time I have not just travelled to, but
have actually lived in London, Avoca, Sydney, Los Angeles and
Melbourne, with countless side trips in between. However, it was
two glorious weeks spent in the tiny hilltop village of Bellapais,
in Northern Cyprus, I still daydream about.
Overlooking the twinkly harbour city of Kyrenia and its hurtful azure-blue backdrop of the Mediterranean Sea, Bellapais is one of those magical places where just being in situ makes you feel like you are a local. The actual locals are not only warm and welcoming, but everyone seems to have some sort of roadside café, complete with crate chairs.
It seems Bellapais has remained almost untouched since its colonial days and is home to the Bellapais Abbey, rumoured to be one of the most important gothic buildings in the Near East.
I must say, when I arrived I didn't know much about the food in Northern Cyprus other than it was a heady mix of Greek and Turkish delights. My first meal, at the suggestion of my gay companion, consisted of several Brandy Sours and a plate of grilled haloumi in a tiny bar that was not much wider than my bar stool.
The drink was a cloudy, lemon-scented fizzy water, with a cherry that had been transported from the late '70s, and the food was a plate of bleached rubber weirdness that looked like a grilled version of the shark poo we'd find on Terrigal Beach when we were kids.
While I consider myself quite the gourmet traveller, in no way am I a culinary connoisseur. I'm equally as thrilled by a no-name musk stick as I am by Saint-Émilion foie gras, so when such a simplistic combination hit my placemat, I wasn't ready to make myself available.
Well, it was then and there that I decided I was going to marry grilled haloumi. I don't know if it was the way the salty cheese squeaked along my teeth or its hot oil sliding down gently between my receptive gums, but I was in love. I just knew that the semi-hard, unripened brined cheese, made from a mixture of goat's and sheep's milk, and I would be very happy together.
The Brandy Sour, as I quickly found out, is known as the national drink of Cyprus, and is so insanely fun and delicious that you feel like you are hosting a rooftop party in your very own amused bouche.
Made with local Cypriot brandy and local bitters named Cock Drops (please note my restraint), soda water and fresh bitter-lemon squash, the Brandy Sour was created for the young King Farouk of Europe, who visited Cyprus regularly. The drink looks like iced tea and so was a neat way of disguising the Muslim monarch's preference for a tipple. These days it's used by travellers like me as a way of disguising how off our nuts we are while appearing to have only been drinking soft drinks. Nice. King Farouk and I, keeping things on the down-low.
The only way to beat a hangover while abroad is to seek out a substantial breakfast as close to your bed as possible. At the bottom of our driveway was a very sweet elderly woman who made bread each morning in her "open plan" garage oven. It was so fresh that even the butter refused to remain on the slices any longer than the journey from the plate to my mouth.
My friend's house was spread out along a dirt track, only a few doors away from where writer Lawrence Durrell penned his autobiographical work Bitter Lemons (the very same lemons that contributed to my hangover above). Durrell wrote about the passing of time while drinking coffee beneath the "tree of idleness" in Bellapais which, let's face it, was the main reason I had gone to Northern Cyprus in the first place.
Recommendations from locals can be tricky - they sometimes suggest places that are popular for visitors, but I prefer hitting the places the tourists don't know about. I found getting into the tiny lanes and narrow streets among the whitewashed buildings is the easiest way to stumble across the best shish kebab in the world.
These days, just seeing a sign that says "skewered meats grilled over charcoal" reminds me of my dream holiday in Bellapais and my time sampling the Cyprus of a bygone era.
Julia Morris stars in Channel Nine's House Husbands, which airs on Sundays at 9pm.
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