The Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus has received some negative press in the last year. The well-documented economic problems with the EU affected the country severely. It also produced plenty of negative TV coverage of the protests on the streets of the capital Nicosia, as well as financial penalties for many who had money in Cyprus.
In some ways the recent image that has been portrayed has been skewed, as this is a wonderful, charming and beautiful location that has far more to it than European financial restructuring issues. A place of history, wonderful food, a fabulous climate and charming people, deserves far more than being regarded as a financial basket case.
It’s often quoted that Cyprus is one of the few places where you can ski in the morning and swim in the sea in the afternoon. It’s true, I’ve done it more than once – but the seawater around February and March is far from warm, and the mountain snow is not always guaranteed. To travel from the Troodos Mountains to beaches of Limassol and Paphos, is to occasionally move through more than one climate zone, and to wonder why you have taken your ski jacket to have lunch by the beach.
The Charm of Cyprus
To define what is charming and beguiling about the island is a daunting task. It appears to be one of those places that has an abundance of qualities cherished by travellers and holidaymakers alike. I used to love its old world charm, captured so well by Lawrence Durrell in ‘Bitter Lemons’, his book about life in the village of Bellapais in the 1950’s. His description of village ways and characters was not exactly an exaggeration either. Some thirty years later, I knew a mechanic who used to insist on being paid for work in bottles of whisky rather than money, and a local friend who told me that driving in Cyprus was a joy because we like to ‘drive in the shade’. His way of telling me to be wary of the then more relaxed ways of the road. In years of coming and going I never failed to be impressed by the hospitality across the island.
Accession to the EU in 2004 did alter a few things. The driving became far more staid and, I am presuming, far safer with longer, straighter motorways linking the main centres of Nicosia, Larnaca, Limassol and Paphos, while the new airport at Larnaca would grace any modern country.
Part of the Union?
Opinions on financial union may be somewhat altered in light of the Euro bailout last year but despite it’s current problems, this is a country that has always had serious issues that it has overcome with aplomb. None quite as devastating in recent times as the partition of the island by Turkish forces in 1974. In a brutal but short conflict the island was torn into two communities. The Northern Turkish enclave still remains a pariah in international law, recognised by Turkey alone.
The island is still divided, and talks remain on going to reunify the two distinct halves of Cyprus but compared to years gone by, relations are far better. You can quite easily walk through from Greek to Turkish Cyprus at Ledra Street in central Nicosia, and that, in itself, is an interesting trip given the contrasts between the communities. (There was a time when this journey would have been exceedingly difficult and fraught without a military or diplomatic ID).
In fact, the way Cyprus rebuilt itself in the years after division is to be admired. It even lost its only international airport in 1974 which became stranded in a United Nations buffer zone between the two warring sides in Nicosia. For years, a constant reminder of the conflict was images of abandoned and bullet-holed airliners on the runway.
Rich in history
This is merely recent history compared to what Cyprus has experienced before. If you are seeking history, there is so much located within a small area, notably the stunning Roman amphitheatre and ruins of Kourion overlooking the sea on the southern coast, one of the most beautiful locations for a theatre I have seen. But seeing as Cyprus is a land that has been occupied by Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians, Alexander the Great, the Romans, Ottomans and the British to name a few, this is a place humming with historical back stories.
The British presence is still everywhere and the links are exceedingly strong. Not only because of the tourists who visit and expatriates who settle there, but also down to the thousands of Cypriots who made the UK their home over the years. It a rather odd post independence agreement, where Britain still owns two vast chunks of Cyprus in the East and West of the island where there are military bases.
You may not know it when driving around, but at various times you will find yourself on roads where you come under British sovereign laws, and where there is a separate police force and judiciary.
In a land that has in recent times built its economy on mass tourism it’s worth stressing that there is more to the island than package tours and holidaymakers. It may be a great place to lounge on the beach or by a pool, but the timeless beauty of Cyprus exists in the hills and mountains. The coastlines around Limassol and Platres have been developed over the years, but within 20 minutes or so you can be in the most gorgeous villages that have barely changed down the ages.
Food and other joys
The town of Kakopetria is worth a visit with some wonderful local food on offer, the Mill hotel and restaurant is one well-known place to visit and the mountain trout that is served here is highly recommended.
Just below the top of Mount Troodos is Platres, another location worth seeing. It’s built on the side of the hill so has steep roads, but again is humming with charm and the abundant smell of wood smoke in the air. It’s a lovely place to stop après ski in deepest winter.
Lefkara is renowned as a centre of lace making, and is not too far from either Limassol or Larnaca and the main highway that links the cities, whilst two particular favourites are the villages of Lofou where the Agrovino Inn is highly regarded, and Omodhos village.
And if you head west past the tourist areas of Paphos, you can’t really go wrong with visits to places like Latchi, Polis and the quite stunning Akamas peninsula nature reserve, where Land rover trips are easily organised.
You will also be near the Baths of Aphrodite where the Goddess of love was said to have bathed. It’s a beautiful coastal area, but Cyprus is a place where beauty and charm is rarely far from the eye.