Cyprus is a deeply enjoyable holiday island that boasts myriad charms year round. Within one compact and sweepingly attractive island are a variety of rich landscapes and eclectic travel experiences. Cyprus as a destination is not just about its attractive beaches, as it also offers skiing and hiking in its voluminous mountains, charming hilltop villages and vine-blessed slopes with nearby towns where you can sample the seriously underrated Cypriot wine. Then there is the sweep of Roman and Greek remnants that scatter the island and sit dramatically amongst its coast and mountains. Moving into the towns and cities, there is a dash of Mediterranean swagger to go with the bright lights and buzzing nightlife.
The rich story of the island can be traced back over 10,000 years. Like many Mediterranean islands, Cyprus has long been seen as an important strategic base with various civilisations having swept through over the years from the Ottoman Turks to the British, the Greeks to the Romans.
While independence was achieved in August 1960, in 1974 Turkish troops arrived on the northern coast of Cyprus, having been ‘invited' by the Turkish Cypriot leader, Rauf Denktash, to intervene in order to protect the Turkish community. Since the Turkish army took control of the northern third of the island it has remained partitioned and UN peacekeeping forces maintain a truce between the two sides with all attempts to date to find a solution failing.
The landscape varies between rugged coastlines, sandy beaches, rocky hills and forest-covered mountains. The Troodos Mountains in the centre of the island rise to almost 1,952m (6,400ft) and provide skiing during the winter. Between these and the range of hills which run eastward along the north coast and the ‘panhandle' is the fertile Messaoria Plain. The Morphou Basin runs around the coast of Morphou Bay in the west.
Cyprus is a modern country that effortlessly marries European culture with indelible links to the past. Here, visitors can discover a compact world of clean beaches and rugged mountain peaks, vineyards studded with olive trees and ancient ruins that stir the imagination, citrus groves and old stone villages where 21st-century Europe seems a very long way away indeed.
Location: Europe, Eastern Mediterranean
Capital: Nicosia (Lefkosia).
Language Spoken: The majority (approximately 80%) speaks Greek and approximately 11% speak Turkish. The Greek Cypriot dialect is different from mainland Greek. Turkish is spoken by Turkish Cypriots. English, German and French are also spoken in tourist centres.
Country Dialling Code: +357
Currency & Money: Euro (EUR; symbol €)
Visitors wishing to obtain non-Cypriot currency at Cypriot banks for business purposes are advised that this is only possible by prior arrangement. All major credit cards are accepted at most places. There are ATMs in main towns and tourist areas. Travellers cheques may be cashed in all banks. To avoid additional exchange rate charges, travellers are advised to take traveller's cheques in Euros or Pounds Sterling.
Weather: The Cyprian climate is typically Mediterranean, with very hot summers in July and August. Inland temperatures can soar over 40°C (around 105°F) but refreshing respite can be found at higher altitudes and along the coasts. Cyprus can suffer drought years and summers are usually cloudless and almost always completely dry. Winters are usually moderately wet with temperatures averaging between 5°C (42°F) and 15°C (59°F).
WHEN TO GO
The best time to go to Cyprus depends on the kind of experience you wish to have. With its intense Mediterranean climate, the island's weather is easy to predict. The summer months of June to September are hot and action-packed. August in particular is the peak of Cyprus' tourist season when locals squeeze up next to tourists on beaches and restaurant benches. Accommodation prices go up quite a lot during these months so if you're on a budget, avoid the height of summer and go for the shoulder seasons - April/May and September/October - instead
TOP THINGS TO DO
• Celebrate the feast of Kataklysmos (the Greek Orthodox Whitsun); although celebrated throughout Cyprus, there is special enthusiasm in Larnaca, where crowds throng the shore for watersports, singing, dancing, eating, and drinking.
• Hike through the many unspoiled areas in Cyprus. Recommended nature trails include Atalante, Kaledonia and Persephone in the Troodos area and Aphrodite and Adonis in the Akamas area, with other trails in the forests of Machairas and Limassol.
• Go skiing: both Platres and Kakopetria are conveniently placed for the skiing season on Mount Olympus, which usually lasts from January to mid March, but Troodos is actually the nearest resort to the skiing area. There are four ski lifts on Mount Olympus.
• Get wet: opportunities abound for windsurfing, paragliding and swimming. Recommended beaches include Geroskipou, Dasoudi, Larnaca, Dassoudi Beach and Germasogeia (the latter two at Limassol).
• Find more sun, sea and sand: South of Limassol, on the Akrotiri Peninsula, at Lady's Mile Beach is a long stretch of excellent sand. On the coast north of Pafos, Coral Bay is a fast-growing resort around a good beach. On the north coast, Polis is now a bustling resort.
• Take the kids to family-friendly spots: on the coast south of Famagusta lie busy resorts, speckled with golden sand beaches, that are ideal for children, like those at Fig Tree Bay and Flamingo Bay. Family-oriented Protaras and Pernera resorts have good beaches, with cafes and beach bars.
• Party hard in Agia Napa , which has an increasingly boisterous reputation as a major clubbing resort. It also attracts families to its beaches, Waterworld leisure centre and Go-Karts track.
• Around Cape Gkreko, the coastline becomes indented with rocky coves and small sandy beaches, so enjoy snorkelling and scuba-diving, explorations by boat and picnics. The Cyprus Federation of Underwater Activities (tel: (22) 754 647) and Cydive (website: www.cydive.com) can provide information.
• Practise fishing: note that a licence needs to obtained from the Department of Fisheries. Those who do not fish can still taste freshly caught fish in one of the tavernas around the harbour at the fishing port and resort of Latchi (Lakki).
• In September, enjoy free wine during Limassol's wine festival. During the pre-Lenten Carnival, Limassol also bursts into celebration, with bands, gaily decorated floats and dancing.
• Southeast of Pafos, try some Greek Delight (like Turkish Delight) at Geroskipou village, which also has a small Folk Museum.
• Taste Cyprus' best produce: apples from Prodromos, the highest village on Cyprus; cherries from Pedoulas in the fertile Marathasa Valley; mineral water from Moutoullas; rose water, mineral water and wine from Agros; and sweet red dessert wine made from grapes grown in the Commandaria Region.
TOP THINGS TO SEE
• In Nicosia, the capital since the 12th century, visit the attractions of the Cyprus Museum, a storehouse of the island's archaeological treasures; the Folk Art Museum; the new Archbishop's Palace; St John's Cathedral; Byzantine churches; the Byzantine Museum/Makarios Cultural Centre; and the Ömeriye Mosque.
• From Nicosia, go on an excursion to the Royal Tombs and Agios Irakleidios Monastery at Tamassos; the five-dome church and the mosque in Peristerona; and the Panagia Chrysospiliotissa Church, in a cliff-side cave near Deftera.
• In the resort town of Larnaca visit the Agios Lazaros Church and its associated Byzantine Museum; Larnaca Fort; the District Archaeological Museum; the Pierides Museum (a private archaeological museum); the Natural History Museum; the Tornaritis-Pierides Palaeontology Museum; and the scant ruins of ancient Kition.
• Near Larnaca's airport enjoy the Hala Sultan Tekkesi, a historic mosque standing in beautiful gardens on the edge of Larnaca Salt Lake (dry in summer), a winter home of migratory flamingos.
• In the hills to the west venture to the village of Lefkara, famous for its handmade lace, and the Convent of Agios Minas. Off the Limassol-Nicosia road are the hilltop Stavrovouni Monastery, and the Crusader-era Chapelle Royal near Pyrga.
• Head for Limassol Castle which stands guard over the old harbour and houses the Cyprus Medieval Museum. There is also a Folk Art Museum, the Limassol District Archaeological Museum and, in the Municipal Gardens, a small zoo.
• In the ancient city of Kourion, on a steep hillside near Episkopi, discover a superbly sited Graeco-Roman theatre where concerts and Shakespearean plays are performed in summer. See also the House of Eustolios, which has beautiful mosaics; the Acropolis; the ruins of the Roman-era forum; and the Christian Basilica.
• Beyond Kourion to the west are the city's ancient stadium and the Sanctuary of Apollo Ylatis. All of these sites lie within the Akrotiri-Episkopi British Sovereign Base Area.
• Do not miss Paphos, the booming main town and year-round resort in the west. Pafos is rich in ancient sites, in particular a cluster of excavated Roman villas near the harbour, among them the House of Dionysos and the Villa of Theseus, and the Tombs of the Kings.
• At the edge of the Akamas Peninsula, witness where, according to legend, the Greek goddess of love bathed at the Baths of Aphrodite, a grotto containing a freshwater pool.
• At Kouklia visit the ruins of ancient Palaia Pafos and the Temple of Aphrodite. At the coast is Petra tou Romiou (Rock of Aphrodite).
• Explore the scenery in the forested (or, more accurately, reforested) Troodos Mountains, which is spectacular. Platres, 1,200m (3,937ft) above sea level on the southern slopes, is the ideal base for excursions. It lies on the approaches to Mount Olympus, at 1,952m (6,404ft), the highest peak in Cyprus.
• Visit Omodos, a restored conservation village, which has the Stavros Monastery and a small Folk Art Museum. Foini is a center of local craft pottery.
• Visit the nine Byzantine churches in the Troodos mountains listed by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites for their magnificently frescoed interiors.
TRAVEL TO CYPRUS
Flying, access to Cyprus from Ireland, Uk, and mainland Europe is available with a selection of major low cost and full scheduled airlines, including Ryanair , Easyjet, British Airways, and Cyprus Airways.
Larnaca (LCA) is 5km (3 miles) south of Larnaca and 50km (31 miles) from Nicosia. To/from the airport: Taxis are available outside the airport terminal. Facilities: Duty-free shop, tourist information, bank/bureau de change, bars and restaurants, Cyprus Hotel Information and Reservation Office, car hire and post office.
Pafos (PFO) is 15km (9 miles) east of the city (journey time - 25 minutes). To/from the airport: Taxis are available outside the airport terminal. Facilities: Tourist information, duty-free shop, Cyprus Hotel Information, cafeteria and car hire.
Main ports: Passenger ships from the ports of Limassol and Larnaca (website: www.cpa.gov.cy) connect Cyprus with various Greek and Middle Eastern ports, including Piraeus, Rhodes, Heraklion, Haifa, Port Said, Jounieh and many Greek islands. Services are reduced during the winter months.
For detailed information on ferry boats and shipping lines, contact the Cyprus Tourism Organisation (see Contact Addresses). One-day cruises are organised from May to October, weather permitting. Several cruise lines call at Cyprus.
Note: Since 1974, the Cyprus government declared the ports of Famagusta (Ammochostos) and Kyrenia, and the airport of Ercan, all in the northern part of the island, as illegal ports of entry to Cyprus.
TRAVEL AROUND CYPRUS
Traffic drives on the left.
Bus: Services connect all towns and villages on the island every day except Sunday and public holidays (limited services only). The main operators include Inter City Buses (tel: (24) 643 492; website: www.intercitybuses.com) and Nicosia Buses (tel: (22) 778 841; website: www.nicosiabuses.com.cy).
Rural buses: Limited to one or two services each day and can be slow; however, they are a good way of seeing the more remote villages.
Taxi: These run 24 hours between all the main towns on the island. Fares are regulated by the government and all taxis have meters. Rural taxis can only be hired from the base station and do not have a meter.
Car hire: Cars are one of the best ways to explore the island. They should be reserved well in advance during the summer season.
Motorcycles: Riders and pillion passengers must wear crash helmets if the motorcycle is over 50cc.
Regulations: The minimum driving age is 18, but drivers often need to be 21 years old to hire a car. The maximum speed limit is 100kph (63mph) on highways, 80kph (50mph) on most other roads and 50kph (32mph) in built-up areas. Road signs are in both Greek and English. There are strict repercussions for those not wearing seat belts or a crash helmet, or using a mobile telephone/under the influence of alcohol whilst driving.
Documentation: An International Driving Permit or national driving licence is valid for one year. Visitors wishing to bring their car to Cyprus can do so for up to three months provided the car has a valid registration licence for its country of origin.
Town and City Transport
Nicosia Buses operates an efficient bus service in the capital. Services in Limassol are run by the Limassol Urban Bus Company (E.A.L.) Limited. Smaller operations service other Cypriot towns and cities, though few services are frequent or used often by tourists. Taxis are widely available; a 15% surcharge is in operation from 2300-0600. Tipping is expected.
POPULAR PLACES TO VISIT
Lefkosia (Nicosia): the island's capital was once enclosed by a star-shaped wall, and its boundaries today are dictated by the UN's Green Line, which makes the city the world's divided capital. Lefkosia remains a friendly, laid-back place, with good restaurants, museums, and a lively art scene. It combines both old and new; the centre of the city is its old quarter surrounded by a Venetian sandstone fortress wall with a moat and heart-shaped bastions. The new town spreads beyond the walls with a modern Europeanised centre of high-rise buildings, office blocks, shops and pavement cafes, expanding into suburban residential areas.
Paphos: The charming west coast town of Pafos is situated around an attractive little harbour whose picturesque open air fish restaurants line a quayside of bright fishing boats and pleasure crafts. With a population of just 28.000 Pafos nestles In the lee of the Western Troodos Mountains, which add another dimension to this area of scenic beauty. The recent addition of its own international airport nearby has opened up the Pafos area, and the resort is graced with some luxury hotels along the coastline.