Thursday, 31 December 2015

Cyprus: Island in the sun

Cyprus, North and South – The third largest island in the Mediterranean, the Republic of Cyprus is partitioned into two main parts, the northern sector – 36% of the land area – having been invaded by Turkey in 1974 and administered illegally by the so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus since then; an administration recognized only by Turkey. There are no direct flights from Europe to Northern Cyprus; all flights go via Turkey. The Green Line – the de facto boundary separating the northern and southern sectors of Cyprus – has seven crossing points, at which tourists staying in the Greek part can enter the Turkish-occupied sector freely. The information in this guide is exclusively about Southern Cyprus, which is in the Commonwealth and the European Union, and is the island’s main tourist region.

Rock of Aphrodite – A stack of rocks standing proud off the south-west coast of Cyprus, the UNESCO-listed Rock of Aphrodite is one of the island’s best-known landmarks and a popular side trip from nearby Paphos. Guarding the coastline since ancient times, Aphrodite’s Rock (also known as the Rock of the Greek) is more than just a geological wonder. The sacred rock takes its name from Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty who is said to have to have risen from the ocean at this spot. It’s part of the Aphrodite Cultural Route, with visitors taking the walking trail from the neighbouring Kokkali beach or a boat trip along the coast. One of the most popular pastimes is swimming around the rock, an easy feat thanks to the mostly calm waters. Circling the rock is alleged to bestow beauty and fertility on those swimmers who complete the loop.

Panagia Chrysopolitissa Church – Regarded as one of the most beautiful churches on the island, the Panagia Chrysopolitissa Church (now the Agia Kryiaki Church) has elaborate ancient floor mosaics, parts of which have been preserved and form a colourful addition to the medieval church. Built on the site of a Byzantine basilica in Paphos, the church dates back to the 13th-century and forms the centerpiece of number of historic ruins and relics.

Yeroskipou (Geroskipou) – Once famous for its gardens dedicated to Aphrodite, the village of Yeroskipou is best known for its production of Loukoumia, also known as Turkish delight. Other highlights are the 11th century Church of Agia Paraskevi, celebrated for its medieval paintings and icons, a folk art museum; and the nearby Luna Park amusement park. The village is four miles south-east of Paphos. 

St Paul’s Pillar – In the grounds of the Panagia Chrysopolitissa Church, St. Paul’s Pillar is one of Cyprus’ most important sites of pilgrimage, dating back to the early days of Christianity. Legend has it that St. Paul arrived in Paphos in 45 AD and was punished by the Romans for preaching Christianity, receiving 39 lashes while tied to the pillar. But Paul succeeded in converting Roman Governor Sergius Paulus to Christianity, making Cyprus one of the world’s first Christian territories. 

Paphos Archaeological Park – An open-air museum stretching along the coastal cliffs west of Paphos harbour, the UNESCO-listed site is home to some of island’s most impressive historic ruins, including monuments dating from prehistoric times. Most of the ruins date back to the late Roman period, with highlights including the Asklipion, a hospital and temple dedicated to the God of Medicine; a 2nd century Agora; the remains of a Byzantine castle; the Odeon amphitheater that’s a venue theatre and music performances during the summer months; and four Roman villas, the highlight of which is the largest, the House of Dionysos. The restored mosaics depict Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, returning from India on a chariot drawn by two panthers.

Coral Bay is a long, sandy beach for sunbathers, surfers, and scuba divers, and close to restaurants and bars.

The Aphrodite Water Park in Paphos has 26 water slides. It’s open from early May until October 31.

Polis – 30-minutes from the town of Paphos – is a small, quiet tourist resort at the north-west end of the island of Cyprus, at the centre of Chrysochous Bay and on the edge of the Akamas nature reserve. Its port – Latchi – is famed for fish restaurants, sea-sports, and boat rides up to Akamas. Α walk along the nearby nature trails provides panoramic views of the bay. Polis is rated as the best destination for nature lovers and those keen on active holidays, such as hiking, cycling, horse riding, and golf.

Ayia Napa is the island’s Party Central, renowned for its clubs, bars, restaurants … and 14 beaches, all of which have European Union blue flags.

The Cape Greko National Park is a ten-minute drive from Ayia Napa. With cliffs, caves, woods, and clear water, it’s popular with photographers, and with newly-married couples who want wedding photos taken there.

Kykkos Monastery – The richest and most lavish of the monasteries of Cyprus is on a mountain peak north-west of Troodos. It was founded between the end of the 11th century and the beginning of the 12th, but nothing remains of the original structure. The first President of the Republic of Cyprus, Archbishop Makarios, served here as a novice. The monastery produces a variety of alcoholic drinks and holds religious fairs on September 8 and August 15.

Limassol Zoo – The island’s only zoo is on Limassol’s coastal road, and has birds, lions, tigers, bears, panthers, zebras, and monkeys, plus a natural history museum and an educational centre which screens wildlife and nature films.

Limassol’s beaches – Limassol has the longest coastline of all the cities and beach resorts in Cyprus. These are some of its most popular beaches: Lady's Mile; Kourion; and Flo Cafe Beach Cove.

Larnaca is the island's third-largest town, and claims to be its oldest ‘living city’, with a continuous history going back more than 6,000 years. It has six museums, an artist’s quarter, a marina and a fort. Nearby is the village of Lefkara, famous for lace making.

Nicosia is approximately at the centre of the island, and is the world’s only remaining divided capital city. It’s surrounded by a massive 16th century fortress, which houses museums, ancient churches, medieval buildings and monuments, plus shops, cafes, and tavernas. A must-see is the Omeriye Hamam is a Turkish bath in Nicosia's old town, restored and operating again in its 14th century premises.

Classic Motorcycle Museum – A collection of more than 150 machines from between 1914 and 1983.

Cyprus for divers – Most dive sites are a few minutes boat journey and there are a number of shore dives available. Diving is most popular in the south around Ayia-Napa and Paphos, while Larnaca has the wreck Zenobia, one of the world’s wreck dives. For more pristine dive sites, go to the north-west tip of the island around the Akamas Peninsula. There are artefacts such as Roman pottery on the seabed, but taking them is strictly forbidden. Nitrox is available at some dive centres, and there are decompression chambers at Larnaca Makarion General Hospital and the UK’s RAF base of Akrotiri.

Tee off! – All four 18-hole golf courses in the southern (Greek) part of the island are within easy reach of Paphos. The Aphrodite Hills course in the hills above Paphos is challenging, and the Elea Golf Club course was designed by Nick Faldo.

Cyprus for cyclists – The island is a popular holiday destination for serious cyclists. It has pine forest trails, mule paths, challenging single tracks, mountain roads, smooth dirt roads, and flat coast roads and paths.

Carnival time!
– Around late February or early March (the dates are movable, depending on the date of the Greek Orthodox Easter) there are ten days of carnival, with feasts, fancy-dress parties, and parades. Carnival is celebrated in every town and village, but Limassol has the liveliest and most entertaining events.

Limassol Wine Festival
– It happens in the city’s Municipal Gardens along the sea-front near the old town. Founded in 1961 to promote the island’s wines it’s the largest of Cyprus festivals. There’s music, dancing, food and, of course, almost unlimited wine.
Pafos Aphrodite Opera Festival – Held in September – a month after the Ancient Greek drama festival – in front of the city’s medieval castle, it’s is one of the highlights of Cyprus's cultural calendar, providing opera lovers with three days of love, passion, and tragedy under the stars.

Troodos Mountains – The highest peak is 6,500ft and is snow-covered in the winter. A cool alternative in the summer to the heat of the coast, the Troodos range has four main walking trails: Atalante goes round Mount Olympus; Persephone leads to a spectacular viewpoint; Kalidonia leads to the Caledonian Waterfalls; and Artemis encircles the Chionistra summit. Some of the mountain trails lead to monasteries or painted Byzantine churches, ten of which have been put on the UNESCO World Heritage List for their wall frescoes and unique architecture. Birdwatchers might spot the rare and protected eagle and the griffon vulture.

Airports – Southern Cyprus has two international airports, at Larnaca and Paphos. Flights from Britain are provided by Aegean Airlines, British Airways, easyJet, Jet2, Monarch, Norwegian, Thomas Cook, and Thomson Airlines. Britain has two military air bases on the island.

The weather
– Cyprus has an intense Mediterranean climate of hot dry summers starting in mid-May and lasting until mid-September, and rainy, mild winters from November to mid-March. Spring and autumn are short intervals in between. With almost year-round clear skies and sunshine, daylight length ranges from 9.8 hours in December to 14.5 hours in June.

On the road – Cyprus drives on the left, but speed limits are given in kilometres per hour, not miles.

Accommodation options include 5-star, beachside hotels, hotel apartments, self-catering villas with pools, and family-run rural guest houses. The Cyprus Agro-tourism Programme promotes the restoration of traditional rural houses that can be rented by independent holidaymakers in search of a distinctly Cypriot atmosphere at a modest cost.

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