|The East Mediterranean island of Cyprus is one of the most popular tourist destinations in that ever-popular sea, a place where Europe meets the Near East. The island itself represents this mixture well, with its jointly Greek and Turkish identity and factious history. Cyprus continues to be divided between the ethnically Greek Republic of Cyprus, which controls two-thirds of the island, and the Turkish enclave in the north. However, open conflict between the Turkish and Greek Cypriots is a thing of the past, and the island has been a safe place to visit for decades. Despite (indeed, perhaps in part because of) the U.N. peacekeeping mission, Cyprus is not an international trouble spot waiting to happen.
Cyprus has a long and ancient history, which is demonstrated by its ruins and old buildings. The ancient Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Crusaders, Venetians, Turks and then finally British ruled the island, and each left behind fortresses, temples and churches to mark their presence. For the Greeks, Cyprus was the legendary birthplace of Aphrodite, who according to legend sprang from the sea foam. The Rock of Aphrodite can still be seen today, and is a 30 minute drive from the town of Limassol. Among the many other ancient ruins and archaeological sites of Cyprus are the Sanctuary and Temple of Apollo Hylates at Kourion, one of the most important centres of Cypriot pagan worship.
More recent yet still thoroughly antique is the medieval legacy of Cyprus. If anything, there are even more sites stemming from Cyprus's role as a centre for trade and staging area for war during the Middle Ages. Early examples include the Angeloktisti Church, an 11th Century Byzantine ruin. For those who prefer the martial side of the Middle Ages, there is the 13th Century Pafos Fort and the 15th Century Kolossi Castle. The latter was rebuilt on the ruins of far older fortifications that were once the home of two Crusading orders: the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem and the Templars. Kolossi is an impressive castle situated in the heart of the Cypriot wine country.
Most people, however, go to Cyprus for the sun and the sea. The south coast of the island is rimmed with popular beaches. Cyprus has so many beaches that many are still relatively undeveloped and unspoilt. Ergo, whether you are looking to enjoy a 5-star luxury resort with a private beach all its own, set up shop on a party beach bursting with bars and discos, or to enjoy a quieter and more rustic experience, you can find a Cypriot beach that will accommodate you. Also, with such a range of options, Cyprus offers all the seaside activities: sailing, scuba diving and snorkelling, para-sailing, surfing, jet and water skiing, and of course sunbathing and quick dips in the sea.
Avid hikers and mountain bikers will find that the Cypriot backcountry has a lot to offer. There are beautiful country trails that wind through quaint villages such as Kakopetria, Platres and Phini. There is also the challenge of scaling the Trodos Mountains, some rising to almost 2,000 meters. That might not sound very high, but one should remember that is 2,000 meters straight from the coast, not from a place far in the interior where the altitude is already 300 or 400 meters above sea level. Island mountains are always a great deal more imposing than their height would suggest.
No visit to Cyprus would be complete without taking in at least one mid-day snack of meze, and it would be better to take in several and even base a few meals on the dining style. Akin to Spanish tapas, meze is a style based on serving out several small dishes of food. Typical plates include olives, salad, bread, dips like skordalia (potato and garlic) or tzatziki (the cucumber and yoghurt dish so common in Greco-Turkish eateries), and items like minced meatballs, octopus in red wine or snails in tomato sauce.
For a more normal dining experience, Cypriot seafood is a good choice. Like so many Mediterranean cultures, the Cypriots love their baccalhau (salt cod), and often serve it roast potatoes and tomatoes. They are also fond of red mullet, sea bass and gilt-head bream (tsipoura). Other common seafood dishes include octopus done in a stew of red wine, carrots, tomatoes, and onions. Another is calamari, which will either have been cut into rings, battered and fried, or stuffed with rice, cumin, cloves and baked.
While Cypriot food does show a good deal of Greek and Turkish influence, it is a cuisine all its own and its meat dishes demonstrate this aptly. There is Tavvas, or lamb casserole, which is spiced with cumin and somewhat like a North African Tagine. Afelia is a dish of sautéed pork, red wine and coriander. Familiar to anyone who has had a Greek mother tending to them would be Psito, consisting of chunks of meat and potatoes roasted in the oven. All the favourites of East Mediterranean fare, from Mousakka to Dolma, can be found on Cyprus as well.
Cyprus has much to recommend it. It is a Mediterranean island that is extremely popular with vacationers, and therefore has a well-developed tourist infrastructure and few hassles. However, it is also a very big island, big enough that you can avoid the over-development and tawdry tourist traps if you choose to. With an expansive history, pleasant climate and countryside, lovely beaches and a rich cuisine, Cyprus makes for an ideal Southern European destination.