Birthplace of Aphrodite and crossroads between three continents, Cyprus has seduced and inspired generations of travellers for hundreds of years. And it continues to do so today. The promise of Cyprus is one of dazzling beaches, shimmering blue seas, endless summers and tables groaning under heaped platters of mezé and bottles of sweet chilled wine.
On the cusp between West and East, between Christian and Muslim, and with towns and cities that are vibrantly modern yet bear witness to the island’s long and culturally diverse history, Cyprus is blessed with a balmy climate and a rugged landscape of coast and mountains dotted with vineyards, villages and monasteries. Cyprus has earned its place as one of Europe’s tourist hotspots. From quaint, rustic cottages to luxury hotel complexes, from welcoming village tavernas to burgeoning fine-dining restaurants, from coastal resorts with all the tourist bells and whistles to empty wilderness peninsulas and forested mountains, Cyprus can cater for all tastes. And native Cypriots, whether Greek or Turkish, are famous for the warmth of their hospitality.
Venture beyond the resorts, with their karaoke bars and restaurants knocking out fish and chips, pizza and, more recently, Russian stroganoff, and it’s not hard to find another Cyprus. Traces of the exotic and Levantine are never far away, from ruined Lusignan and Venetian castles and elegant Islamic minarets to cool mountain villages hiding sacred icons from the very first days of Christianity.
No stranger to turbulence and strife, Cyprus has suffered waves of foreign invaders, from Mycenaean Greeks and Persians to sunburnt Crusaders, Ottoman pashas, and British Empire-builders. More recently, it has attracted numerous Russian expats. Internal division, too, has left its mark on the island. First, in the 1950s and 60s, came the struggle by Greek Cypriots for independence and union with Greece, then intercommunal violence prompted by fears among the minority Turkish Cypriots regarding what union with Greece might mean for them, and finally the Turkish invasion of the island in 1974 which resulted in its de facto partition between a Turkish Cypriot north and a Greek Cypriot south. Bitterness caused by the split lives on today. However, in recent years the easing of tensions and the gradual opening up of the Green Line has made it easier for travellers to explore the island as a whole. It is now possible to experience both sides of the divide in one day, and in the capital you can immerse yourself in two distinct cultures – Greek and Turkish, Christian and Muslim – simply by walking down a street and crossing between the two halves of the city.
Cyprus, then, offers the traveller not only a welcome whose warmth is legendary, but both hedonistic pleasure and cultural diversity out of all proportion to its size.