On the beaches the sun is shining, people are sipping cool drinks and paddling in the shallow waters. But up here, high in the mountains, there is a cold wind and soft, silent snow.
The ruins of Hotel Berengaria in the Troodos Mountains of Cyprus are spooky at the best of times but the snowfalls of early spring add a hushed expectancy; a feeling that around every corner you might see shapes of the party-goers, lovers and guests who once ran through the halls and dived into the pool.
We love ghost towns and seek them out wherever we travel.
These abandoned places are the result of natural disasters, human interference and sometimes simply Old Father Time doing what he does best.
The UK is dotted with hauntingly beautiful ghost towns you can visit to reflect and breathe in the past.
But there are thousands more across the globe – old mining towns, abandoned film locations and places purposefully preserved, lest we forget.
Here are some of the most beautiful and inspiring ghost towns of the world.
Lovers of Victoria Hislop’s book The Island will need no introduction to this place.
Once a well-defended outpost on the great Venetian trade routes, it became a leper colony in the early 1900s.
A short boat ride from Plaka or a longer luxury cruise from Elounda, lands you where the lepers and their families were sent to keep them away from civilization.
If you arrive early, before the crowds, you’ll experience a strange and eerie feeling walking its tiny streets.
It’s all very sad and touching to wander in and out of the houses, read the stories of the people who lived there, isolated from friends and families, for so many years. Victims of a cruel disease they built a new life and community, helping each other and tending their own.
A stroll around the whole island takes no more than half an hour, giving plenty of time for quiet reflection.
But because this is Crete, where the sun shines, the waters are blue and people welcoming, it’s also uplifting and not at all depressing.
Hashima Island, Japan
Used as a location for the villain’s lair in the Skyfall Bond film, only part of this ‘ghost island’ is open to the public.
Behind its great sea-wall lie the high rise flats which housed the workers who once brought life to its undersea mine.
When it closed in 1974 everyone left, abandoning its concrete walks to nature. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, you can only set foot here if you take a guided tour from nearby Nagasaki.
An earthquake destroyed this town in the Belice valley in 1968. Rather than rebuild it, the authorities chose to relocate and rebuild a few miles away.
Now the picturesque ruins are framed by the nearby mountains.
The gates are locked, but nobody seems to stop you hopping over the low wall to explore, if you’re prepared to take the risk.
The ruins are often used as a film set for movies about the Second World War.
I will never forget the impact of this place when we first visited nearly four decades ago.
In 1944, just after the Allied forces landed in France, German soldiers marched into this village in the Haute-Vienne in central France. Within hours they had massacred 642 inhabitants – men, women and children, presumably in retaliation for French Resistance activity.
After the war it was decided to leave the village as it was, to stand as a memorial. Cars quietly rust away on the street, footsteps echo from tumbled-down walls, windows like sightless eyes follow your progress.
There’s a wonderful Memorial Centre that tells Oradour’s full story but it’s among the fire-twisted houses, the wrecked shops, the abandoned tram lines that run to nowhere that bring home the horror of war.
The long struggle between Greece and Turkey has led to hundreds of abandoned villages and towns in both countries. This is one of the most accessible, preserved as a museum and close by the popular resorts of Fethiye and Ölüdeniz.
It was originally called Livissi and was home to almost exclusively Greeks. At the end of the Greco-Turkish War the Treaty of Lausanne was signed in 1923 which led to the population exchange between Greece and Turkey. And so the last remaining inhabitants were forced to leave.
The ghost town has hundreds of rundown Greek-style houses and churches.
Another victim of strained relations between Greece and Turkey is the abandoned resort of Varosha.
Once a popular holiday destination – Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor loved the place – this part of Famagusta on the Mediterranean Sea was invaded by the Turks in 1974.
Until recently it was a total no-go area, forbidden by the Turkish authorities. It’s now possible to get to the beaches and walk the deserted streets, although there are still tensions in the area and some restrictions.
A horror story for modern times, the town was abandoned after the Chernobyl nuclear leak in April 1986. Once home to more than 350,000 people, only a few thousand remain.
It’s also a disturbing and potentially dangerous tourist attraction; visits are by guided tours only and time-limited to minimise the risk of exposure to the remaining radiation. Some parts are still strictly forbidden, where levels are much too high for safety.
But since the accident, nature has begun to reclaim the area and it’s become a sanctuary for wolves, deer, moose, wild boar, brown bears, lynx, and many bird species.
We understand the fascination, but it’s not on our When We Travel Again list!
Centralia, Pennsylvania, USA
A coal fire still burns underground at this abandoned mining town which dates from 1856.
The underground seam blaze in late 1960s raged so fiercely it couldn’t be extinguished and so the mine was simply closed down and almost all inhabitants of the town left in the 1980s.
Now there’s a cracked and buckled road, covered in graffiti, which locals still use, although all that’s left of the town itself is empty lots and abandoned houses.
Since COVID the local authorities have tried to discourage visitors and are covering up the colourful highway.
Bodie, California, USA
The term ‘ghost town’ conjures up visions of the wild west – and Bodie in the Sierra Nevada mountains is the perfect example.
Nearly 10,000 folk lived here at the height of the Californian Gold Rush of the late 1800s and only a small part of the town survives as an historical landmark.
The streets are deserted, like a western just before the final gunfight, and the buildings are preserved in what’s known as ‘an arrested state of decay’.
You can’t enter them without special permission but through the windows you can see tools still waiting for their owners and shop shelves stocked with goods.
Because it’s so high up in the mountains getting to Bodie requires a long drive in a suitable vehicle and winter visits are not advised unless you have a snowmobile, skis or snowshoes.
Copehill Down, Wiltshire, England
This is something of a rarity. It looks out of place on the edge of Salisbury Plain with its German-influenced architecture. Not your typical English village.
And that’s deliberate because Copehill Down was created during the Cold War, solely for British soldiers to practice urban warfare.
It’s on MOD land, with limited access and no tour parties allowed but you can see a lot of the village from nearby paths and roads.
Just be careful to follow all warning signs, particularly if exercises are in progress as the village is still in use for Fighting in Built-Up Areas training courses.
Not so much abandoned, more buried, Pompeii-style.
Once the capital of Montserrat, today no-one lives there because it was partially submerged after a volcano erupted in the summer of 1995. Some of its 4,000 residents tried to stay on but a further eruption in 1997 forced the town’s inhabitants to leave completely.
With the eruption so recent it’s eerily quiet, the animals and birds have yet to return, and volcanic ash is everywhere.
Most poignant of all are the belongings left behind in the mad rush to escape – typewriters and stationery in the offices, toys, books and clothing in homes.
The effects of the devastation are still felt across the whole island and the area was only opened up to visitors in 2016. A handful of companies are licensed to run tours there so check they have the necessary permits before booking anything.
Diamonds brought people to the Namib desert and diamonds are still a big part of the region’s heritage.
Most of the miners who came to Kolmanskop in the early 1900s were German and the village grew up around the mine. But wars and the discovery of diamonds in another mine nearby meant the village declined and by the 1950s was abandoned.
Whilst most of the buildings have been left as ruins, some have been renovated to give visitors an idea of what life was like. But the best way to experience this boom-and-bust ghost town is to wander through the decaying houses, stores, ballroom, gym and skittle alley all by yourself.
The De Beers company now runs it as a tourist attraction, with guided tours, but there’s plenty of time to explore by yourself and realise just how tough life was for those mining themselves a living in the arid desert.
Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Island (Ross Island), India
Mother Nature reclaims her own on this uninhabited island of the Anadamans, 800 miles away from the mainland.
Once known as The Paris of the East it was home to British government officials during the 1850s with dance halls, gentlemen’s clubs, shops and lush gardens.
But at its heart lay a brutal detention centre for political prisoners. Its homes and businesses built with prison labour.
In 1941 an earthquake all but destroyed the colonial outpost and the remaining Brits fled when the Japanese invaded a year later.
After WW2 the island was alternately claimed by The British and Japanese until the Indian Navy took over in 1979.
It was renamed in honour of the Indian nationalist Subhas Chandra Bose in 2018.
Now a short ferry ride from Port Blair brings tourists to reflect on its troubled past- while the native Ficus trees engulf bungalows and cells with equal disregard for human endeavour.
Just as a ghost town should be.
Main and feature images © Bert Kaufmann, Flickr
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