Boutique hotel in northern Cyprus

As you admire the sunset from the balcony of your room at the Çelebi Garden Hotel in northern Cyprus, down below the aromas of grilling meat and haloumi mingle in the air with happy laughter as wine bottles are uncorked. It’s dinner time.

If you like your food fresh, you’re in for a real treat here. Almost everything on your plate (and in your wine glass too) will have come from farms and gardens within a few kilometres of where you’re sitting. Often from the very village – Mehmetçik – where the hotel is located.

Mehmetçik has historically been the heart of wine production on the island. And now, thanks to the efforts and ideas of a young generation of local people such as the hotel’s general manager, Buse Çelebi, this peaceful village has also become a pioneer of agrotourism and slow food in Cyprus.

“Ninety-five percent of the ingredients we use come from this area,” says Buse. “The seasonal farm-to-fork ethos is what makes us so special, and it’s what many of our guests are here to learn about, especially the families.” The boutique hotel in northern Cyprus she runs is perfect for family vacations, and not only because of the large swimming pool (with convenient cocktail bar for grown-ups to get a refill). Kids can help feed the goats, build sandcastles on long, quiet beaches, and – during harvest season – help press the grapes in their bare feet.

Wine tourism in North Cyprus

Long renowned for its vineyards, and its annual grape festival, Mehmetçik has struggled to export its wines and spirits such due to the ongoing trade embargo against Northern Cyprus, which has forced many people to look for other work. Yet although cultivating the grape no longer generated much of an income, it remained an integral part of the culture here. Then Buse, recognising the limitations and also the potential of traditional grape-growing and wine production in Mehmetçik, had an idea.

The community came together to build a Zivania distillery. By standardising the process and quality of the Cypriot brandy they were able to make it a commercial success. Now, it is the only EU-certified distillery in northern Cyprus.

Guests at the Çelebi Garden Hotel are invited to tour the Zivania distillery and learn how the drink is made. They’re also warmly encouraged to explore the farms, gardens and vineyards of Mehmetçik and the wider area to meet the people producing their food, and discover how agrotourism is creating jobs, preserving traditional culture, and persuading young people to stay in the area rather than move elsewhere looking for work. These vacations are organised by local people, for the benefit of local people, and they’re so immersive that they make you feel as though you’re part of the community yourself.

Slow food, low carbon & a changing climate

The carbon emissions emitted in producing the food you eat on vacation can often surpass those emitted by the plane you use to get there, and the accommodation you stay at. But not at this northern Cyprus eco hotel. Because so many of the ingredients come from within a few kilometres, your carbon ‘food-print’ is miniscule. And that environmental accolade is a key principle of the slow food movement of which the Çelebi Garden Hotel is a member.

Slow food is a global, grassroots movement that originated in Italy, that aims to celebrate local food culture and traditions, and challenge their disappearance. Cittaslow, meanwhile, the network to which the village of Mehmetçik belongs, seeks to expand the ‘eco-gastronomy’ and community enhancing ideals of the Slow Food Movement to local government.

“We want to provide our guests with organic meals as far as possible because we’re part of slow food movement,” says Buse, whose mother is an agricultural engineer. “Historically people here have planted unsuitable trees from the Aegean region and Turkey that require a lot of water as well as high usage of pesticides. So, we took traditional Cypriot olive, carob and grape seeds to the government’s agri-research department and distributed them to local people which helps them get better yields while using less water and chemicals. I’m a board member of the regional olive cooperative and every year we plant around 80,000 trees. In 2022 all of them were grown from our seeds.”

Helping farmers use less water has never been so important. Cyprus is among the most parched countries in Europe, and with climate change will come hotter weather and significantly decreased rainfall. If Mehmetçik’s grape and olive harvests are to continue through the generations as they have done to date, it’s vital that the farming isn’t so water-intensive in future.
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When to visit

Northern Cyprus hotels including Çelebi Garden Hotel welcome guests all year-round. May to June, before the heat of summer, is a good time to go for warm weather and seas, though since 1960 Mehmetçik has in the first week of August held its annual Grape Festival. Buse and her family organise vineyard tours in July and August to explore different grape varieties, and how villagers make wine, Zivania and other drinks.

Autumn (September and October) is another lovely time to be in northern Cyprus. Come for the pomegranate harvest in October to help your hosts as they pick the fruit, and taste the freshest of fresh pomegranate juice and wine. Olives, so bound up in Cypriot culture and identity as a symbol of peace, resistance and survival, are also harvested in autumn.

Between January and March, when daytime temperatures are still a comfortable 10-20°C, some 1,000 or so pink flamingos take up residence at a natural lake nearby, where birdwatchers can observe them and many other species, migratory and resident, from a couple of hides.

Northern Cyprus sees nowhere near the amount of tourists as the Greek part of the country below the ‘Green Line’. The efforts of Buse and others are not only helping cultural tourism here to develop, but also for its financial benefits to be spread more evenly throughout the year.

Things to do near Mehmetçik

The peaceful village of Mehmetçik is a pleasure to walk around just exchanging greetings with local people. You may be invited for a stroll in someone’s garden or greenhouse to see what they’ve got growing. When you stay at boutique hotels in northern Cyprus your hosts can also help arrange car hire which greatly expands your horizons. There are a number of beautiful Mediterranean beaches in the vicinity including Karpaz, Bafra and Balalan. It’s also just a short drive to the historic port city of Famagusta with its 15th century Venetian walls.

“Mehmetçik was already a Turkish village before the war,” says Buse. “So afterwards, when Turkish people moved north and Greek people to the south, here people were able to stay in their homes and no one new came from outside so unusually we were able to preserve our existing ways of life.” Like a hardy olive tree with deep roots, the food traditions in this area will be around for generations to come – through the determination of people like Buse and friends to protect and promote them.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Celebi Garden] [Intro: Celebi Garden] [Grappling with the grape: Celebi Garden] [Slow food, low carbon & a changing climate: Celebi Garden] [When to visit: Celebi Garden] [Things to do near Mehmetcik: Manfred & Barbara Aulbach]