With beautiful villages surrounded by vineyards and cities full of trendy art galleries, spas and restaurants, to shipwreck diving, skiing on snow-covered mountains and strolls around fabulous archaeological sites, colourful Cyprus is every inch a sophisticated Mediterranean destination.
The island, which legend has it was where Aphrodite, the ancient Greek goddess of love and beauty, was born at the picturesque Petra Tou Romiou near Paphos, lies on the fringes of Europe at a point where Asian, Middle Eastern and European cultures merge. While giving the island a rich mix of traditions, cuisine and music, Cyprus’s strategic position has also made it desirable to countless powers over millennia. All have left their mark.
In fact, Cyprus’s history is legendary. More than 10,000 years of history has seen periods of rule by the ancient Mycenaean Greeks and Byzantines, and invasions by the Persians and Ottomans. The Romans, Venetians and the Lusignans, along with England’s Richard the Lionheart – who acquired Cyprus in the 12th century – have all ruled, before it became part of the British Empire in the 19th century, independent in 1960 and divided fourteen years later.
Nicosia is the capital and, famously, the only remaining divided city in the world. The south of the city, known as Lefkosia, is a modern metropolis and the governmental, business and financial hub of the Republic of Cyprus, while the north (Lefkoşa) is considered the capital of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Since the Turkish invasion of 1974, north Cyprus is internationally considered an occupied territory.
South Nicosia is characterised by wide boulevards lined with designer fashion shops, pavements cafés, offices and museums. It is dominated by huge city walls that separate its old town full of Venetian houses and the shiny new city around Eleftherias Square. Nicosia is a popular day excursion from the island’s other cities, Larnaca (Larnaka), Limassol (Lemesos) and Paphos (Pafos).
Cyprus embraces contrasts: old and new, traditional and contemporary. Sassy Larnaca, which lies on the island’s rugged south coast near the holiday resorts of Protaras and Agia Napa (locally Ayia Napa), has sandy beaches and modern hotels, while Limassol is best known for the famous Kourion. An ancient city, Kourion is one of the ‘must see’ archaeological attractions in Cyprus.
Limassol, and the gentle slopes that ascend from here to the island’s Troodos Mountains, is at the heart of Cyprus’s wine region. In fact, the deliciously sweet amber-coloured Commandaria made from the Mavro and Xynisteri grapes is one of the oldest wines in the world.
Paphos, like Limassol, has world famous archaeological sites, including its Greco-Roman mosaics showing scenes from mythology, its medieval castle and the site of the ancient kingdom of Palaipafos. Paphos is an UNESCO World Heritage Site in its entirety and set to be the European Capital of Culture in 2017.
Enjoying Cyprus’s heritage or sports, or simply relaxing over a glass of local wine in a taverna, whatever speed you choose to go Cyprus is guaranteed to leave you wanting more.