Cyprus is a place where you can experience various different types of holidays. If you’re a lounging by the pool side kind of person, then a luxury holiday villa in Paphos might be for you, if you’re a beach holiday kind of person well Cyprus has them in abundance. Adventurous? Take to the Troodos mountains for nature trails or to Ayia Napa for scuba diving. As well as catering to a wide range of tourism, Cyprus is also a place with a very important and difficult history, one which I had no idea about before visiting. I had expected to experience the culture through the art, monuments, and food and whilst we most definitely did, the history of this ancient island was felt through the stories shared with us by the various Cypriots we met during our stay.
With that being said, I think our six day stay, although not nearly enough to explore the whole island exhaustively, enabled us to taste the different types of holidays that Cyprus has to offer.
History & Heritage:
Cyprus is an island with an ample history dating all the way back to the Paleolithic era, right through the Ancient, Byzantine and Medieval periods, up until modern times. There are monuments, places of worship, museums and archaeological parks– testimonies to the Island’s transformation waiting to be discovered on every region.
The two archaeological parks we visited were the Kourion Archaeological site sited in Limassol, on the southwestern coast of Cyprus and the Kato Paphos Archaeological park. Of the two, the site in Paphos is much more extensive and well preserved with the park housing numerous mosaics, the House(s) of Dionysus, and the Tombs of the Kings, just to name a few. The entry for both parks is €4.50 for a single visit with children under 12 gaining free entry.
After being ruled as a Roman colony, Cyprus came under the rule of Byzantium (Eastern Roman Empire) with the division of the Roman Empire into western and eastern domains. The remnants of this historical period are scattered around Cyprus, however are probably most evident in the Troodos mountain region which accommodates the largest groups of churches and monasteries from the former Byzantine Empire.
Whilst we didn’t get the chance to make it right into the heart of the Troodos Mountains, we did stop off at Lefkara, a small village in its southern slopes renowned for its lace, known as lekaritika and silver handicrafts. It has been listed as one of ‘The 30 most beautiful towns in Europe’ and it’s easy to see why, with its charming character, friendly locals, and endearing cobbled roads.
Another place that was recommended to us, which I wished we had time to see was Fikardou, a medieval village. Declared as a World Heritage site in 1978, it provides a perfect snapshot into Cyprus’ Medieval era with many of its traditional medieval characteristics greatly preserved.
Cyprus has been home for a long time to a bicultural community, and by extent to people of different faiths. Since it was Eid on Tuesday we decided to visit the Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque in Larnaca, the holiest mosque on the island and amongst the holiest sites for Muslims after Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem. Set right on the edge of a salt lake, the mosque was built in 648 AD, on the spot where one of the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) companion’s wife, Umm Haram died when she fell of her mule.
During our stay we also visited many breathtaking Orthodox churches, adorned with the traditional iconic art which came into maturity during the Byzantine era.
Cyprus Crisis (Greek-Turkish conflict):
The ‘Cyprus crisis’, a period characterised by political and violent conflict between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots was the most difficult part of Cyprus’ history to digest, yet the most necessary in truly understanding why Cyprus is the way it is today and acknowledging the trauma and tragedy that both Greek and Turkish Cypriots have to live with.
Cyprus has been a divided country since 1974 when Turkish government decided to invade the North in response to a military coup on the island which was backed by the Athens government. Since then, the island has effectively been partitioned into two separate ‘states’, with the northern part inhabited by the Turkish Cypriots and the Southern two-third by Greek Cypriots, whilst previously the two communities used to co-inhabit in peace. The United Nations troops patrol the ‘Green Line’, a buffer zone dividing the two parts of the Island. Although the Green Line has since been ‘demilitarised’ (though there remains both Greek and Turkish soldiers on patrol), the wall which has stood in Cyprus’ capital for over 40 years is a constant reminder of the painful political situation of the island. Seeing this zone first hand, and also looking over the haunted town of Famagusta from the Cultural Centre of Occupied Famagusta really brought home the reality of the devastating long-term effects of war.
Cyprus’ recent history is also important for the fact that it resonates with so many others modern day conflicts, such as the Palestinian- Israeli conflict, and indeed the scar which runs through the Island does, as I am told other have suggested, recall the Berlin wall. I understand that not everyone holidaying in Cyprus will be going with the intention of unlocking its grave history, and whilst it is arguably easy enough to turn a blind eye to the political climate during your stay, I would urge you to at least spend an afternoon finding out about this part of history which has informed the culture and country and which continues to shape Cyprus’ future.
If you’re a foodie, Cyprus is not lacking in many interesting dishes and sweet treats to waken your taste buds.
For the majority of the good suggestions, I have to shout out to my friend, Nicolas, who pointed us in the right direction. When we was showing us around Nicosia, we stopped off for a Halloumi pie (a halloumi panini with mint) at an Armenian restaurant. Not only was the halloumi authentic, but the price was more than right too, costing €1 per pie. Later that evening we were treated to an authentic Cypriot style meze, courtesy of our host.
Zygi, a small fishing village located 35km from Limassol offers a wide range of seafood and fresh fish dishes. The only thing i would say is to be wary of being ripped off. Naturally, locals will try and up the price by €3-5 euros when they see you’re a tourist. We ended up eating at a place called Diana Fish Restaurant which not only had reasonable prices but also delicious, fresh fish. There was also free bread and dessert on the house. A deal breaker to entice anyone back.
When it came to sweet treats, we tried some Cyprian delights (virtually the same thing as Turkish delights), Karidaki Glyko which is a walnut spoon sweet, preserved in a kind of syrup as well as another variation of spoon sweet made with baby aubergines. Whilst in Nicosia, Nicolas also brought us to a café where we tried a variety of different Cypriot dessert, amongst which we tried Mahalepi, a refreshing summer pudding recipe, simply made with corn starch, rose syrup/water and ice cubes.
If you are in Nicosia and would like a local to show you around, please feel free to get in touch with my friend Nicolas (firstname.lastname@example.org). It’s a great way to get a better insight into the culture and community, as well as avoid a lot of tourist traps.
During our stay we went to three different beaches, recommended by locals. The first one was Glyki Nero beach in Ayia Napa. The main reason we went to this beach was to see the love bridge. The beach itself was clean and the waters were clear, however there were a lot of tourists and I wouldn’t recommend it, if not for the fact that you want to see this interesting rock formation.
The next beach we went to was Governor’s beach in Limassol. We actually stumbled across this beach by accident when trying to get to Kalymnos beach to see (yes, you guessed it) these stunning white cliff formations that resemble La Scala dei turchi in Agrigento, Sicily. And thank goodness we did as it turned out to be a gem in the rough. The beach is much more quieter (there seemed to be predominately locals) and there is also a grass area if you don’t want to get all sandy. The only downside to this is that there is quite a bit of seaweed and in fact people were even fishing for crabs and small fish.
The final beach we went to was called Sirena Bay in Paralimini. This beach is perfect if you’re looking for a quieter beach, given the size of the beach area and also because many of the tourists from the surrounding hotels tend to stay on the hotels’ sunbeds rather than on the very beach front. The beach is situated in a kind of gulf so the water was warmer and it was also seaweed free. Since it’s got an enclosed rock feature it has a softer tide, making it safe for young children to swim around in the water.
Accommodation/ Car rental:
When it comes to practical details of our stay, we opted to take an Airbnb apartment in Larnaca as this was the most central place for our planned day trips to Nicosia, Limassol, villages near the Troodos mountains etc.
We also decided to rent a car as there were five of us travelling, it worked out cheaper than taking intercity buses (although these are still very affordable around €5-7 pp each way) and not to mention it was also more convenient that we were able to set off whenever we wanted. We used the KEM car rental company which I would highly recommend. Not only were their staff very friendly, but there were no hidden costs to their car hires as I’ve experienced with other companies in the past.
And last, but not least, my thoughts about our reception in Cyprus. Being in Cyprus reminded me of being in the South of Italy. Cypriots are so friendly, hospitable and willing to help out wherever and whenever they can. I know there is a saying (and apparently now scientific proof!) that people from warmer climates tend to generally have warmer characters, and I honestly think that there is truth in this. The only thing that I wish was otherwise would be to see the country unified. Having also visited Istanbul and experienced the hospitality there, I can see that these two people have a culture, way of life and hospitality that is so similar. I can imagine what it must have been like when they did live in harmony before the war and how much richer their culture and island would be reunited.
Whilst I’ve touched upon the painful part of Cyprus’ recent history, I both want to and have to end this post with the optimism that I know this country to have. Though talks of reunification have proceeded slowly, I believe that they are heading in the right direction. In 2007, Greek and Turkish Cypriots demolished barriers dividing the old city of Nicosia. In 2017, the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders met at UN in Geneva for talks on reunification and whilst this did not come into fruition, I could tell from the Cypriots we talked to about the matter that hope still lingers.
It’s with this hope that I wish to one day return to reunified Cyprus and experience its whole soul through the richness of its bicultural community.