The Essential Guide to Cyprus
For such a small island there’s a vast amount of history to uncover here. As one of the oldest civilisations in the Mediterranean, and at the crossroads of three continents, its geographic position has played an important part in its turbulent past. Phoenicians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Romans, Franks, Venetians, Ottomans and British all made the island their home at one point and have all left behind visible remnants of their passage, resulting in a fascinating mosaic of different cultures and periods.
Cyprus is an open-air museum of prehistoric settlements, classical Greek temples, Roman theatres and villas, early Christian basilicas, Byzantine churches and monasteries, Crusader castles, Gothic cathedrals, Venetian fortifications, Moslem mosques, and British colonial-style buildings. It is not surprising that UNESCO includes a number of these locations on its list of World Heritage Sites, and you don’t have to look far to find a piece of history and culture if that’s how you want to spend your holiday.
But for the sun seekers, Cyprus has lots of beautiful sandy beaches. Protaras and Limassol are beautiful, and crowds flock to Pissouri with its golden sand and clear water bookended by the spectacular white cliffs of Cape Aspro. At the western end of the bay is the Asprorotos headland with its small, sandy coves and spectacular view from the top of the rocky cliff. Ayia Thekla beach is within the specially protected area of the Natura 2000. The beach is named after the saint Agia Thekla, to whom the nearby carved temple and the new white church are dedicated. A pedestrian path takes you on a leisurely stroll from the beach either to the picturesque fishing harbour of Potamos tou Liopetriou in one direction, or the beach of Vathia Gonia in the other. The Blue Lagoon within the Akamas National Park is also worth a boat trip, where the clear sparkling water will tempt you in.
History buffs will be delighted to hear that special cultural tours make discovering the island’s 11,000-year history relatively simple. Follow in the footsteps of Aphrodite, the Ancient Greek Goddess of Love and Beauty and learn about her legend. A boat trip from Latchi will take you into rocky coves, whilst at the nearby Baths of Aphrodite, her grotto is surrounded by an idyllic landscape and walking trail dotted with fragrant flowers and herbs. The Antiquity Route starts at Larnaca and will take you back in time to the 13th century BC and on to the Neolithic settlement at Choirokoitia and the ancient Greco-Roman Kourion.
The western side of the island is home to hidden natural treasures. The small town of Polis Chrysochous is a peaceful oasis of seaside charm and the nearby traditional fishing village of Latchi is famous for its fresh fish. As you move further inland you’ll come across a labyrinth of tiny villages dotted in the Troodos Mountains, where time seemingly has stood still, and which rise to the summit of Mount Olympus.
If you’re in Paphos then visit the Tomb of the Kings, a UNESCO site dating back to the 4th century, but be warned there aren’t actually as many sandy beaches here compared to the east of the island, but there are various boat trips to help you explore the coast.
Café culture is a huge part of Cypriot life and it’s a great way to get the feel of the island so stop in any of the local bars for a caffeine hit and watch the world go by like the locals. When it comes to food, again there is plenty of choice with a blend of Arabic, Turkish and Greek flavours making eating out fun whether you are a foodie or not. Traditional souvlaki is a must try and is served pretty much everywhere. Halloumi is another Cypriot staple and it actually originated here. Made locally, it’s used in many traditional dishes but is usually best grilled and served as part of a meze. If you are staying in Nicosia try the kleftiko at Kyriacos, one of the most famous places to eat in the town. In Paphos head to Argo for their moussaka or Hondros, the oldest taverna in the city, for traditional stifado.
Where to Stay
Close to Limassol, Amara is a popular resort with its own private beach. It’s relatively large, with over 200 rooms, but if you are here with the family there’s a great kids’ club on site. You probably won’t treat them to the Michelin-star restaurant, but everyone will enjoy the sunsets from the terrace and the infinity pool. amarahotel.com
Choose from a spacious suite or villa right on the beach at the adult-only Constantinou Bros Asimina just outside Paphos. Some of the suites have their own private pools, but the hotel also has an indoor and outdoor pool, a fitness centre and spa, and if you eat on the terrace you’re almost on the beach amongst the palm trees. asimina-cbh.com
In the hills, the Ayii Anargyri Natural Healing Spa Resort is an adult-only romantic retreat set in a valley of mature trees. The calming colour palette of creamy white is the perfect canvas for the natural stone walls and wooden beams of the suites and bungalows of this former monastery at Miliou. There’s a small spa, a large pool with a terrace restaurant, and the cave-like Cava Gourmet, the retreat’s flagship restaurant. aasparesort.com