Travel in Cyprus
This island country possesses a fractured identity, a passionate people, and a culture, landscape and lifestyle that capture the imagination and produce plenty of surprises.
This is not your standard Mediterranean island cliché; Cyprus reflects its proximity to Asia and the Middle East in its culture, cuisine and history. Similarly evocative is the contrast between old and new, particularly evident in the capital, Nicosia (Lefkosia), where dilapidated buildings sit round the corner from smart boutiques and arty bars.
And yet with a stunning landscape and overall mild climate outside is where it’s at. From the varied beaches to the pine-clad interior, you can swim, dive, hike, bike, wine and dine, and, in winter, even ski.
Digging into the island’s past has unearthed extraordinary relics, including Neolithic dwellings, Bronze Age and Phoenician tombs and exquisite Roman mosaics. And while on the streets, keep your eyes peeled for Venetian walls, Byzantine castles and churches, Roman monasteries and Islamic mosques.
Experiencing the intrinsically different Greek and Turkish societies of the island’s present is increasingly easy for visitors – and will give a fuller picture of the complex and fractured Cypriot identity.
Kyrenia’s Old Harbour
With the romantic silhouette of the mountains providing the backdrop, the slow pace of modern life in Northern Cyprus doesn’t get any more idyllic than by Kyrenia’s U-shaped Old Harbour. Its charming elevated buildings and well-kept storehouses once stockpiled tonnes of raw carob, then considered black gold by the locals. Now these edifices proffer trendy cafes and restaurants, where you can sit for hours with a Cypriot coffee or experience the nargileh (water pipes) as Turkish gulets (traditional wooden ships) bob sporadically, moored around the harbour’s landing and castle.
Pafos Archaeological Site
One of the island’s most mesmerising archaeological sites is located in the southerly resort of Pafos. A vast, sprawling site (take a hat in summer), the ancient city dates back to the late 4th century BC and what you see now is believed to be only a modest part of what remains to be excavated. Highlights include the intricate and colourful Roman floor mosaics at the heart of the original complex, first unearthed by a farmer ploughing his field in 1962.
Petra tou Romiou
Also known as Aphrodite’s Rock & Beach, this is possibly the most famous and mythical beach in Cyprus and it’s certainly one of its most unusual and impressive. It’s said that waves break over Aphrodite’s Rock to form a pillar of foam with an almost human shape. For the best shot to impress the folks at home, come to the strategically positioned tourist pavilion at sunset.
North Nicosia’s Old City
Crossing the Green Line from Lefkosia into North Nicosia, the Turkish area north of the city, is an extraordinary experience. Extending like a tangled web from the Republic’s smart Ledra St, oldfashioned shops selling faded jeans and frilly shirts are flanked by kebab kiosks, coffee shops and sweet stalls, their counters piled high with freshly made halva. Visit the extraordinary mosque, a tranquil hammam and the various museums, or just wander the streets, staying until the evening, when the minarets’ crescent moons are silhouetted against a backdrop of twinkling stars.
Wine Villages Around Omodos
The far-reaching vineyards of the krasohoria (wine villages) dominate Omodos’ surrounding slopes. Navigating this region, where every house was once said to have its own wine-making tools, is an adventure that requires discipline and good use of the spittoon. Boutique wineries now number over 50 here, across six or seven traditional villages, with a vast array of wines and grapes. The most famous indigenous varieties derive from the mavro (dark-red grape) and xynisteri (white grape) vines, along with another 10 varieties.
St Hilarion Castle
Legend has it that this dreamy fortress was the inspiration for the spectacularly animated palace of the wicked queen in Walt Disney’s Snow White. Its ruins now form a jagged outline across the rocky landscape, exuding the Gothic charm of the Lusignan court that once convened here during the summer. The castle’s precipitous staircases and overrun gardens and paths form an arduous climb to its tower. From here, though, the spectacular views across the sea to the Anatolian coast only add to its magical quality.
Hiking in the Troödos
These mountains offer an expanse of flora, fauna and geology across a range of pine forests, waterfalls, rocky crags and babbling brooks. The massif and summit of Mt Olympus, at an altitude of 1952m, provide spectacular views of the southern coastline and welcome respite from the summer heat. Ramblers, campers, flower spotters and birdwatchers alike will be absorbed by the ridges, peaks and valleys that make up the lushest and most diverse hiking and nature trails on the island.
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