CYPRUS: The Mediterranean Paradise We Often Overlook

Maybe we never think of it because it’s so awfully close. Kind of like being a native of Paris but never ascending the Eiffel Tower, say. Or having a swimming pool in your backyard but rarely venturing out for a dip.

Cyprus is a stone’s throw from Lebanon, yet we rarely think of it as a vacation destination. Larnaca and Limassol lose out to Lisbon, London, and Barcelona every time we brainstorm hotspots for a European getaway.

The truth of the matter is, Cyprus may very well be a hidden gem. And I had the privilege to unravel its islandic mystique two weeks ago on a brief three-day excursion.


Deep blue seas, clear skies, fresh air, and a beautiful landscape: what's not to love about Cyprus?


City Guide

Agia Napa (in the region of Famagusta)

Deplaning in Larnaca after a half-hour flight from Beirut, we zipped through the quiet international airport to catch a coach that shuttled us to Agia Napa. Many consider the seaside resort city to be the cradle of hen and stag reveries (aka bachelor parties), but in fact it is really a small, cozy town that caters to every traveler’s whims.

Agia Napa sits in the heart of Famagusta, a coastal paradise lush with idyllic waters, clean air, spotless skies, and powdery white sands. We lodged at the beautiful Grecian Bay, a four-star property that, like most Cypriot hotels, undergoes constant maintenance and renovation in the off season. 


View from my room at the Grecian Bay Hotel in Ayia Napa

Whitewashed walls, spacious rooms, stunning views of the sea, a hearty breakfast comprising Cypriot and international buffet fare, and congenial staff together make a winning combination. You’re tempted to simply lay low and soak up the sun’s rays.


Grecian Bay Hotel


The hotel's lavish breakfast buffet encompasses both Cypriot and international fare


But you’d be missing out on the local scenery, including Cape Gkreko, a national forest park excellent for hiking, as well as the Agia Napa Monastery, which boasts Venetian architecture and a medieval castle. There’s also the contemporary Thalassa Museum that entices lovers of all things nautical, and the nearby villages of Protaras, Deryneia, and Sotira are dotted with spectacular vistas.


A small church on the Sotira coast, in Famagusta


For a traditional Cypriot meal, check in at the Hungry Horse and do right by the meze, from the grilled halloumi to the bean and lentil stews and the irresistible fried colocasia (you’ll mistake them for French fries!). In the evening, Taverna Napa will bring out the dancer in you, featuring live entertainment and a selection of classic meze dishes housed inside autograph-scrawled walls.


Taverna Napa in Ayia Napa


Framed photos plaster the walls of Taverna Napa


Lekosia (Nicosia)

Drive west from Agia Napa for about 40 minutes, and you’ll arrive to Cyprus’ capital. The only major city to be located inland, Nicosia is a haven for gourmets and retail therapists alike (they’ve got IKEA!). The central downtown area has a modern vibe, paved with shops and eateries. Who would have guessed it is the world’s last divided capital? A demarcation line separates Turkish and Greek Cyprus, but the entire area is unified by winding pebbled streets and a grandiose Venetian wall.

After admiring the artisanship on display in the shops, stop for lunch at To Anamma along the main shopping drag, Ledra Street. Don’t be deceived by the façade, evocative of a fast-food joint. Instead, make your way past the counter to the inner courtyard. A sanctuary housing terracotta pots, a traditional clay oven, and even private dining rooms, Anamma offers a quaint backdrop for an authentic Greek-Cypriot culinary experience. Vegetarians will have a ball dipping tasty zucchini and feta cheese balls (“kolokithokeftedes”) in creamy yogurt-and-cucumber dip, better known as “tzatziki.”


Cypriot cuisine caters to vegetarians, too! 


Pafos

Navigate southwest from Nicosia to the rocky coastline of the glorious west coast, where Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty, is famed to have risen from the shores (Petra tou Romiou). Further west, you’ll reach Pafos, a town recognized by UNESCO for its rich cultural and world heritage. Indeed, the Pafos Mosaics preserved in the arid landscape speak their own tales from the ancient Greek world.

It’s no wonder Pafos will be heralded as the European Capital of Culture in 2017, playing host to a multinational open-air celebration filled with world-class performers, groups, artists, shows and events.


The rocky coastline leading to Pafos.
Spot Petra tou Romiou from where Aphrodite is rumored to have risen


Lemesos (Limassol)

Turn your wheels east and steer to the island's second largest city, Lemesos, straddling the two ancient city-states of Amathous and Kourion. Lemesos stretches across a 17-km strip with an unparalleled seafront, where an 8-km walkway allows pedestrians to stroll at the water’s edge. Winding through an array of funky beachside bars and luxury hotels, you'll be convinced you need nothing more in life than this view, this sunset, and perhaps a cocktail in hand to savor the magic.

You’d be remiss if you didn’t make Limassol home for several days, indulging in its tranquil oasis. Amathus Beach is first-rate and a member of the Leading Hotels of the World, offering a fabulous range of fine dining restaurants, swanky service, and an award-winning spa. Honeymooners will take comfort in its sedate pampering, from the gourmet inspirations on the beach to a couple’s massage in the serenity center.


Amathus Beach Hotel


Not far off, Elias Beach Hotel and St. Raphael Resort bestow true Cypriot hospitality on all visitors. The former furnishes a plethora of backgrounds and venues conducive to an unforgettable seaside wedding. The latter was established in 1987 by a Lebanese businessman and continues to operate under his ownership. Among the three – Amathus, Elias Beach, and St. Raphael – an experience can be carved out to suit every budget, objective, and atmosphere.


Classic Cypriot treats served to guests as a sign of welcome:
Soujouko (corner left) and carob drink

It should be noted that Lemesos is the island’s main port and the center of Cyprus’ wine industry, hosting a vibrant wine festival every September.


Larnaca

Come back full circle to Larnaca, the entry-point of the island with an unbeatable location on the Mediterranean. Often characterized by its stunning seaside promenade studded with palm trees and dozens of modern cafes, the city is conveniently compact and captures 10,000 years of civilization. St. Lazarus Church is a fine example of Byzantine architecture, and the fort by the sea dates back to the Middle Ages, today housing the District Medieval Museum and a quaint courtyard for summer weddings.

The real highlight of the town may be the salt lake (“aliki”), home to nearly 80 migratory birds with flamingos flocking to the area every February through April. The lake bestrides the magnificent Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque, which draws out thousands of pilgrims each year.

For lunch with a view, saunter up the coast to Gevsis en Lefko, tucked behind the fort. A tantalizing spread of Cypriot fare awaits you.


Traditional Cypriot meze. Clockwise from top right:
Greek salad, beets in lemon juice, tahini, and tzatziki dip

Quince jam, candied orange peel, and carrots in syrup can be served as a sweet finish to a meal

All four seasons are embraced in Larnaca. The Cyprus Tourism Organization puts on a weekly program of activities free of charge for guests staying in Larnaca hotels during the off-peak months of November through April. Bird watching, basket weaving, halloumi making, camel ogling, and guided exploring figure into the culture calendar.




Logistics

Aegean Airlines

Aegean Airlines operates three afternoon flights a week all year round from Beirut to Larnaca. Aegean, a member of the Star Alliance partnership, is Greece’s largest airline, with 61 aircraft in its fleet, 145 destinations (of which 111 are international), and 16 years of service under its belt (er, fuselage). The flight to Larnaca is swift, but you still get an impression of why this airline has been named Europe’s best regional airline for six years running.


Transportation

Getting around the island by car is effortless. Decent roads and motorways link all major towns, and English signposts guide your path. Of note, Cyprus was a British colony until 1960, so folks drive on the left (or wrong!) side of the road. If you’d prefer relying on interurban and in-town buses, Cyprus boasts a streamlined bus service facilitating public transport both within towns and to and from Larnaca International Airport.


Concluding Remarks

Cyprus is situated at the crossroads of three continents: Europe, Asia, and Africa. This geographic location constitutes a cultural bridge between people of different religions, cultures and ways of life, and that is perhaps the single most important living treasure: its heritage.

The beauty of the landscape and the charm of the local people make it an alluring destination, whether as a wedding backdrop, a honeymoon cradle, a family vacation, or even a solo adventure for the nomad seeking solace in nature.





Time stands still here, and every area has its own secrets to tell. Age-old customs and pulsating contemporary towns make Cyprus a dichotomous haven, where the ancient blends with the modern and the past and present coexist in perfect harmony. 

360 days of sunshine, virtually no traffic, advanced infrastructure, clear waters, unquestionable safety... Try as hard as you might, but you won’t be able to find fault with this little paradise. And thank goodness for that, because it couldn’t be any closer.




This trip was organized by the Cyprus Tourism Organization (CTO), in cooperation with Aegean AirlinesAegean operates three afternoon flights per week from Beirut to Larnaca all year round.

Practical information for couples planning a wedding or honeymoon in Cyprus can be viewed here

More images from the trip can be found on my Instagram account.

Comments

  1. The only time i went to Cyprus was in 2006 to escape the July war and catch a plane to Canada. I think it is time to revisit, but for a weekend getaway!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I love Cyprus! Its great that its only half an hour away for a quick getaway any time of the year!!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I was there around 4 years ago... Great escape!

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Divvy Dividing & Conquering Beirut's Food Scene

Sexy, Smart, and Serious: How Amal Alamuddin May Have Charmed George Clooney

5 Things That Peeve Me About Beirut