Strike out beyond the sun-soaked stretches of sand to discover an island of compelling culture and landscapes, steeped in myth and riddled with ancient riches.
Crossing the Line
Crossing the line between the South and the North allows you not only to gain some understanding of the island's complex and painful modern-day history, but also experience the two Cypriot communities. Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot societies are intrinsically different yet incredibly similar, linked by the still-strong role of traditional family life and a rich history where food cultures and folk customs have intermingled, but divided by belief. One thing's for sure wherever you are on the island: the naturally warm Cypriot hospitality is much in evidence on both sides of the Green Line.
The Great Outdoors
The landscape and Mediterranean climate mean that outside is where it’s at – and where you should be. Sun-soaked stretches of sand are Cyprus' calling card and there's a beach for everyone here, from wild and windswept to family-friendly and packed. Every conceivable water sport is on offer, from scuba diving to skimming the surface on a kite- or windsurf board. And if you tire of all that blue, strike out into the interior, where wildflower-studded meadows and valleys of densely planted vineyards sweep up to a pine-clad mountain spine offering hiking, biking and, yes, even winter skiing.
A Sense of the Past
Steeped in myth, coveted by every conqueror with an eye for a prize, Cyprus' tumultuous and multilayered past has left ancient riches strewn across this island. Neolithic dwellings, Bronze Age and Phoenician tombs, remnants of once-mighty city-kingdoms, Roman mosaics, mountaintop castles and Byzantine churches – home to a glut of renowned frescos – lay scattered through the countryside. While strolling the cities you can spot the preserved architectural legacy of the Lusignan, Venetian and Ottoman periods. Cyprus may welcome you to flop out on the beach, but dig into the past here and you'll unearth the entire history of the Mediterranean.
A Culinary Feast
Meze is a delicious way to acquaint yourself with the local cuisine, tantalising the taste buds with a feast of small dishes, from creamy hummus to kebabs or afelia (pork cooked in red wine) and everything in between. Heavily influenced by Turkish, Greek and Middle Eastern food cultures, Cypriot cooking has some of its own culinary stars, including haloumi (hellim in Turkish) and kebab favourite sheftalia (şeftali kebap in Turkish; grilled sausages wrapped in caul fat). And don't forget the desserts. Flavoured with almonds, rose water and pistachios, sweet treats range from comforting rice puddings to gloriously sticky baklava.
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Nea Pafos (New Pafos) is, ironically, the name given to the sprawling Pafos Archaeological Site, to the west of Kato Pafos. Nea Pafos was the ancient city of Pafos, founded in the late 4th century BC and originally encircled by massive walls. Despite being ceded to the Romans in 58 BC, it remained the centre of all political and administrative life in Cyprus. It is most famed today for its mesmerising collection of intricate and colourful mosaics based on ancient Greek myths.
Defiantly perched on a hillside, with a sweeping view of the surrounding patchwork fields and the sea, Ancient Kourion is a spectacular site. Most likely founded in neolithic times due to its strategic position high on a bluff, it became a permanent settlement in about the 13th century BC, when Mycenaean colonisers established themselves here. There’s a small visitors centre where you can see a scale model of the whole site, which will help orientate your visit.
Imagine yourself surrounded by ancient tombs in a desertlike landscape where the only sounds are waves crashing on rocks. The Tombs of the Kings, a Unesco World Heritage Site, contains a set of well-preserved underground tombs and chambers used by residents of Nea Pafos during the Hellenistic and Roman periods, from the 3rd century BC to the 3rd century AD. Despite the name, the tombs were not actually used by royalty; they earned the title from their grand appearance.
For divers, the one reason to come to Larnaka is to explore the Zenobia, a Swedish-built cargo ship that sank just off the coast of Larnaka in 1980. Classed as one of the top five wreck dives in the world, the Zenobia and its cargo of trucks lie scattered across the sea floor like a bizarre underwater scrapyard. Various routes through the ship's decks and halls can be explored, according to your level of dive experience.
The full fairy-tale outline of St Hilarion Castle only becomes apparent once you’re directly beneath it. The stone walls and half-ruined buildings blend into the rocky landscape, creating a dreamscape castle plucked from a child’s imagination, complete with hidden rooms, tunnels and crumbling towers. The site has three main parts: the lower enceinte (fortified defensive enclosure), the upper enceinte and Prince John’s Tower, all linked by steep staircases. The stunning views are well worth the arduous climb to the top.
North Nicosia’s most prominent landmark (also clearly visible from the southern half of the city), the Selimiye Mosque is a beautiful building. A cross between a French Gothic church and a mosque, its fascinating history stretches back to the 13th century. Although it's a working place of worship, non-Muslims may visit, except during prayer time. For the most atmosphere, time your visit either just before or after one of the five daily prayer sessions.
Defining the Old Town, these imposing ramparts were constructed by the Venetians in the early 16th century. Although over 15m high and up to 8m thick, and surrounded by a now-waterless moat, the ramparts failed to keep the Ottomans at bay in 1571. Like their counterpart in Nicosia (Lefkosia), Famagusta’s walls comprised 14 bastions and five gates. Unlike in Nicosia, you can walk on sections of the walls here and get a sense of the sheer bulk of the fortifications.
This fascinating site was home to one of Pafos’ largest religious structures. What remains are the foundations of a 4th-century Christian basilica, which aptly demonstrates the size and magnificence of the original church, destroyed during Arab raids in 653. Several magnificent marble columns remain from the colonnades, while others lie scattered around the site, and mosaics are still visible.
This stunning unspoilt beach has clean, calm water and pristine sands for those who want to escape people and parasols. The beach is most famous, however, for being home to a turtle hatchery; this is one of the world's few remaining havens for green and logger-head turtles to nest. Volunteers monitor the female turtles and around June and July collect their eggs to place in the hatchery, to protect them from predators and inquisitive tots. Monk seals also dwell in the sea caves around the peninsula.