Visitors to Cyprus, whether just stopping for the day or staying for a lengthy break, will all notice the one thing that makes the island a bit special – the genuine warmth and friendliness of the Cypriot people.
This is all the more endearing given the recent historic difficulties with the Northern part of the country. Thankfully, the recent thawing of relations means the tourist industry can look to fully exploit the delights of the country without a background of political difficulties.
At the moment, the beaches and hotels of the southern coast spanning Larnaca, Limassol down to Paphos and the cool Troodos Mountains remain the main holiday playground. In fact, Cyprus has a huge advantage for the visitor by cruise ship as all these main attractions, as well as the capital Nicosia, are within an hour or so of the main ports on the southern coast.
Despite some recent un-seasonal hailstorms, the island offers year-round sunshine to visitors arriving to enjoy the natural scenery, rich cultural heritage, mouth-watering meze, golf courses and spas.
Those interested in history will also be enthralled, as Cyprus is effectively an open-air museum. The island is the birthplace of the goddess Aphrodite and has a historical heritage dating back more than 10,000 years.
Paphos, in the south-west corner, holds so many cultural and natural treasures the whole city has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Kato Paphos, located near the harbour, is home to an ancient city containing some of the finest Roman mosaics dating from the 3rd to 5th centuries AD.
Don’t miss the amazing floors that depict scenes from Greek Mythology in the House of Dionysos, House of Theses and the recently excavated House of Aeon. It’s also worth seeing the Tombs of the Kings, underground burial sites dating back to the 4th century BC and carved out of solid rock decorated with Doric pillars.
One trip worth taking is the Byzantine Route that takes in the ten Byzantine churches on the UNESCO World Heritage list situated throughout the central Troodos region. These stunning painted churches, dating from the 12th to the 15th century, feature exquisite Byzantine art depicted through icons, frescos and architecture. The largest and most famous is the Kykkos monastery, which has an excellent Byzantine museum and a golden icon of the Virgin Mary, allegedly painted by Saint Luke.
Culture enthusiasts can enjoy a huge variety of international artists as well as the many local annual festivals that take place. One of the most popular is the annual Paphos Aphrodite Festival every September. The medieval square is the magical setting for the operatic masterpieces and some more traditionally lively Greek Cypriot dancing and singing.
The number of people visiting Cyprus from cruise ships has increased from 119,00 in 2004 to last year’s 246,000, and the figure is expected to keep rising, according to Christos Moustras, marketing officer for the Cypriot Tourism Organisation.
He says it is the CTO’s objective to make Cyprus the cruise ‘centre’ of the Eastern Med, and, with average passenger spend of 100euro per visit, the benefits to the local economy are tangible. Some 36 ships made international calls in 2007, with lines such as MSC and Costa regular visitors.
Many mini-cruises also depart from Cyprus for local short trips. Companies such as Louis Cruises (www.louiscruises.com) and Salamis Tours (www.salamis-tours.com) operate short breaks to Israel, Egypt and the Greek Islands. These are great value and can be incorporated into a standard two-week break.
If hiking and walking are more your thing, Cyprus features more than 200km of well-marked trails of varying difficulties, which offer a great way to see the flora and fauna, and perhaps a rare chance to see the almost mythical moufflon, a native wild sheep.
Be warned, though, temperatures soar to 40?C in mid-summer, although it’s cooler in the mountains of Troodos. Adventurous hikers should head for the Troodos or the Akamas Peninsular, a nature reserve of gorges, cliffs, beaches and forests. On the Aphrodite Trail hikers have spectacular views of rock formations, cliffs and boulders sculpted into strange shapes suspended over the sea.
The Troodos Mountains offer an unusual contrast to the golden beaches, with an alpine setting and lush green forests. During the short snow season from January to March, it is possible to soak up the sun on the beach in the morning and then be skiing or snowboarding on Mount Olympus within the hour (although I’d suggest doing this the other way around!). See www.cyprusski.com for details and some unlikely-looking photographs.
Cypriot cuisine is a natural fusion of European, African and Middle Eastern dishes. Over the centuries, various empires have swept through, leaving behind their recipes to add to the pot-pourri of food culture that emphasises the use of fresh ingredients, local herbs and spices and lots of lovely olive oil.
Be sure to sample the culinary adventure of mezedes or “little delicacies,” where you might be served with a selection of up to 30 dishes, from savoury dips to vegetables and a wide range of fish and meat dishes. However, don’t be fooled – it’s not all healthy eating as the Cypriot love of life extends to rich pastries and puddings as well as plenty of rich local wines!
In fact, the world’s oldest wine, Commanderia, is from Cyprus and available at every bar and restaurant. Try the brand St Johns; it has a rich, almost sherry-like quality but is to be drunk in small quantities!
Cyprus has also a variety of different wine regions and has developed a reputation for a number of quality brands. The annual Limassol Wine Festival in September presents the visitor with the opportunity to witness traditional barefoot pressing of the grapes, all for the honour of Dionysus.
Nicosia, the only divided capital city in the world, is surrounded by a 16th century fortress and contains a wealth of attractions, including the Cyprus Museum with treasures from the Neolithic Age to the Roman period, and Famagusta Gate, which is one of the original entrances to the old city, restored and is now used for events and exhibitions. There are some excellent cafes and very sophisticated modern restaurants for the discerning international traveller to enjoy as well.
Home to the island’s largest airport, Larnaca offers most visitors their first taste of Cyprus and is an excellent base for shopping and exploring. The palm-fringed seafront promenade provides an elegant ‘cafe culture’ ambience, ideal for relaxing and watching the world go by.
As one of the worlds’ longest continually inhabited cities, Larnaca offers a wealth of history and culture. Its Patron Saint is Lazarus, who was its first Bishop. He settled here after being resurrected, and visitors can visit his tomb in the crypt of the Church of St Lazarus in the city centre.
On the east coast, Agia Napa and Protaras are famed for their crystal clear waters and golden sandy beaches, ideal for all kinds of sea sports. Discover the charming medieval Agia Napa Monastery and the ‘Thalassa’ Museum of the sea, whose centrepiece is the lifesize replica of the ancient ship Kyrenia II.
All in all, Cyprus offers great value and variety for all tastes, and all within such a compact area. For more information, log on to www.visitcyprus.com or call the Cyprus Tourism Organisation in London on 0207 569 8800.
Cyprus Restaurant Guide
NICOSIA: Algaio Ektros 40, Old Nicosia (tel. 224 33297), traditional Cypriot fare and one of the best in Nicosia;
LIMASSOL: Mavromatis Four Seasons Hotel, Amanthountos Ave (tel. 258 58000, traditional Greek and Cypriot food with a twist;
LARNACA: Varoshiotis Sea Food, Piyale Pasha 7 (tel. 777 77708), a fish tavern popular with Larnaca’s elite;
PAPHOS: Kanali Pomos Harbour (tel. 263 42191), lovely fish tavern right by the harbour, specialising in barbecued octopus;
DEMETRION: Liopetri River (tel. 239 92020), one of the best seaside tavernas on the island.