Just a stone’s throw from the Middle East, but with a distinct Grecian flavour and buckets of culture, Cyprus is the perfect place to get a taste of Europe without travelling too far from home. The eastern Mediterranean island nation has had a turbulent past, with tensions between the Greek Cypriot majority of the population and Turkish Cypriot minority resulting in a UN buffer zone between the Turkish-administered north and the south in the early 70s. Despite this, reunification talks are inching forward, with increased involvement from the UN and the EU.
Politics aside, Cyprus is the complete holiday package. Its year-round warmth makes it great for a visit at any time and the island offers the prospect of lazy mornings spent on sun drenched beaches, followed by an afternoon of delving into the unique multi-layered culture before sampling some traditional Cypriot mezze, which some restaurants regard as an art form. For those who prefer a bit more adventure, Cyprus will not let you down either. You could explore the crystal-clear watery depths with a spot of snorkelling or scuba diving and then climb a rugged mountain – all in the same day!
Limassol is the second largest city in Cyprus after the capital Nicosia and as a hub of international business, has a largely cosmopolitan feel. Nevertheless, the city still retains its old town flavour, with dozens of streets and lanes radiating out from the small but perfectly formed castle in the centre. It’s the perfect place for pottering in and out of tiny shops in the day, picking up knick-knacks and souvenirs as you go, while the evenings can be spent hopping between tavernas, most of which offer live music and are as popular with the locals as they are the tourists. Limassol is also a great place to base yourself as it is within striking distance of many of the island’s other attractions and offerings.
Cyprus is a historical melting pot and you’ll find traces of several cultures across the ages, from Phoenician tombs and Roman villas to Venetian walls and Byzantine castles. If history is your thing, then Paphos is the place to be. The coastal town to the south of the island offers the sprawling archaeological playground of Nea Pafos, with houses, tombs, military buildings and catacombs dating back to Hellenistic and Roman periods. If you’re an outdoor explorer then make sure you take a trip into the Troodos Mountains, where the highest peak stands at nearly 2,000 metres and even sees snow in the winter. Several hiking paths cover the mountains and provide access to stunning viewpoints, waterfalls and forests. The capital of Nicosia is divided into the Turkish north and the Greek Cypriot south, offering visitors the unique opportunity the sample two very different cultures within the same city. Treading the line between the two offers a fascinating contrast, with museums and traditional cafés available either side of the Green Line – the boundary that divides the city’s two halves.
Watch out for the “cabarets”, most of which are fronts for nefarious businesses often associated with organised crime, and always buy your own drinks, as there have been cases of spiking in the past. Providing you employ good common sense you should experience no problems as a tourist.
Lefkara is an unspoilt little town in the foothills of the Troodos Mountains famous for its lacework. Even if you can’t make it to the village itself, lace items are available in towns and villages around the country. Leather goods and jewellery are also popular and if you are in Limassol, make sure you pick up some sea sponges, which can be used as bath and face scrubs.
We stayed with some family based in Episkopi, but if you don’t have that luxury, the nearby city of Limassol is a good place to start. Cypriot hospitality is legendary and if you want the best, check into the Amathus Beach Hotel. If you’re looking for a good all-rounder, try the Atlantica Bay Hotel or Kapetanios Odyssia.
1) Walk around the old streets of Limassol
2) Take the hiking trails in the Troodos Mountains
3) Head back in time at Nea Pafos
4) Sample some traditional Cypriot mezze
5) Explore Nicosia both sides of the Green Line