Attraction and lodging ideas, along with the island’s cultural highlights, for those traveling to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus.
When I was invited on a press trip to discover the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, I wondered why North American families would want to travel halfway around the world to a country known to many of us because of war. After all, more than 50 percent of Cyprus’ annual arrivals are from chilly northern European countries. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find a beautiful, prosperous country with warm friendly people, a dramatic coastline, crystal blue Mediterranean waters and sunny skies.
Our trip offered by the Cyprus Tourism Organization focused mainly on history and although Cyprus is rich in history, I personally think they missed the mark by not introducing us to the many family oriented activities, I learned about on my own – from donkey riding tours to water parks adventure.
Cyprus In History
Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean with a population of 754,000. The exotic island, whose capital is Nicosia, is 3,572 square miles (about twice the size of the state of Delaware) and lies at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa, tucked between Turkey and Egypt in the eastern Mediterranean.
Anna, our tour guide told us, “Cyprus’ first inhabitants date back to the Stone Age in 7000 BC. The Achaean Greeks settled in Cyprus during the late Bronze Age around 1100 BC.” Others to stake a claim on this land included the Phoenicians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians, Romans, Crusaders, Venetians, Ottomans and the British. Early tourists included Alexander The Great and Cleopatra, followed later by Richard the Lionhearted.
In 45 AD, Jesus Christ’s apostles Paul and Barnabas landed on the Island. When the Roman Empire was divided in 330 AD, Cyprus became part of the Byzantine Empire, with Christianity becoming the official religion. King Richard The Lion-Hearted, Leonardo da Vinci, and generations of European travelers followed. In 1960 Cyprus became a republic.
The Political Situation
To appreciate tourism in the Republic of Cyprus, it is important to understand the state of affairs today. For thousands of centuries, residents of Turkish and Greek background lived together peacefully. In 1974, Turkey violated the UN Charter when they occupied 37 percent of the land in the north of the island, and left the capital of Nicosia divided. Almost overnight, 200,000 Greek Cypriots were expelled to the south, becoming refugees in their own land, while the Turkish Cypriots were ordered to relocate north to the now occupied territory. Visitors to the island are able to cross the UN buffer zone but Greek Cypriots are not allowed the same pleasure.
Don’t be surprised if grieving relatives, who lost family to the trouble, approach you at the border and pressure you to support their cause by not crossing the Buffer Zone. The walls at the border are plastered with pictures of people who lost their lives from the Occupying Forces. If you are planning to include this site on your trip, I highly recommend letting your children know in advance what to expect, because even the adults in our group were taken aback by the photos we saw.
With this forced evacuation, the once-thriving north’s many Greek Cypriot landmarks were destroyed, and tourist hot spots deteriorated. Cyprus began focusing on building tourism, and the economy in what is considered by the world “Free Cyprus” has grown rapidly. In May 2004, Cyprus became a member of the European Union, which some continue to hope may pave the way for better relations with its much larger neighbor, Turkey.
Historic & Cultural Attractions
Due to the formation of the Department of Antiquities, a number of archaeological discoveries have been unearthed including the famous Mosaics of Pafos, found in a west coast port which has added several resort hotels and waterfront cafes to cope with tourists. Pafos (or Paphos)’ Tombs of the Kings, named for its majestic size, ironically holds no royalty laid to rest there. However, the town’s local Pafitika embroidered fabric is worthy of kings. Other places to visit on the island include St. Paul’s Pillar and the St. Neophytos Monastery.
Many of the country’s priceless treasures have been collected and housed in the Archaeological Museum in Nicosia. In Nicosia we also visited Famagusta, one of the gates of this walled city, and Liaiki Yitonia – a pedestrian quarter for great shopping. Stores included chain retailers like Woolworth and The Body Shop, as well as Cypriot-owned boutiques. We also stopped at the Byzantine Museum, a badly air-conditioned building filled with a number of two-dimensional religious paintings that all looked very similar and not too inspiring. Unless your children are students of religious art, I would skip this.
Not to be missed is Lefkosia, known for its silver and lace called Lefkaritica. Little girls especially will love the frilly parasols for sale. Also of interest is the quaint village of Omodos in Troodos Mountains, a region popular for hikers and outdoors-loving families. The Korion ancient site, with its amphitheater, is home to entertainment all year round. Singers in the family are free to try out the fabulous acoustics. Some in our group belted out a tune. I on the other hand, offered to dance, but nobody cared to find out if my tapping feet could be heard.
Greek mythology buffs will enjoy the Sanctuary of Apollo. At Petra tou Romiou or Aphrodite’s Rock, which is the legendary birthplace of the Goddess of Love and the Baths of Aphrodite, it is said that a splash of the water from this grotto promises eternal beauty, so most grandparents are seen running up the hilly trail!
Cypriot Dining & Nightlife
It may not be the food that brings your family to this exotic island for a holiday, but the delicious 20-30 little messa dishes may bring you back.
There are messa restaurants that specialize in meat dishes, and others offering just fish. Don’t worry if you are a vegetarian, there are plenty of vegetable dishes included. Although baklava, the sticky Greek honey and wheat pastry is available, Cypriots usually end their messa meal with fresh fruit. Be forewarned: make sure your little ones know that a lot of food is coming so they don’t load up on the first few courses.
Of course, no messa meal is complete without some Cypriot entertainment, similar to athletic Greek dancing, but with a little more pizzazz. At one Pafos eatery, unsuspecting children in the audience were brought up to join the dancers. A number of moms and daughters in the audience were invited to stand on a chair and take turns placing one drinking glass on top of another on a male performer’s head. To our delight, not one of the 21 glasses sitting on his head moved when he floated across the stage.
Details, Details: Paphos Family Lodging
There are a number of wonderful beachfront hotels with extensive children’s programs, family entertainment and sports activities. Tours around the island, guided day hikes, and two to three day cruises to nearby Israel, Egypt and Lebanon can be booked through most hotels.
New construction has brought several five-star hotels to Paphos, including the Anassa and the Annabelle. Favorite properties include Cypria Maris Beach Hotel (357/26-932857) and the Leptos Coral Beach Hotel & Resort (357/26-881000), both in Pafos. The Coral Beach, located on Cyprus’ prettiest beach, has an arts and crafts center, very popular with older children, where one can create their own Cypriot Grecian pottery.
Elias Beach Hotel & Country Club (357/05-636000) is located in the bustling city of Limassol, along the narrow, gray, crowded beachfront. However, they offer guests a free shuttle to their inland country club 10 minutes away for horseback riding and golf on a Middle Eastern-style sand and oil golf course. For hotel guests, there is no green fee – or should we say, brown fee. I’m not a golfer, but I would think this very hilly course would be too challenging to most North American golfers.
New for 2005 is the £10 million renovation of the very luxurious Four Seasons Hotel (357/25-858000), not to be confused with the North America-based luxury chain. This posh resort is about 10 minutes east of Limassol on a Blue-Flag rated beach, and boasts of new outdoor and indoor pools and the island’s first Thalassotherapy Spa. There are 40 new suites done in a sophisticated black & white decor, and more than 70 “family rooms” with twin beds, a large sofabed in a spacious sitting area, separate shower stall and full bath, and a seaview balcony. Typical of British resorts, this hotel offers baby monitoring through its phone service, so that parents dining in any of the four eateries can be alerted when baby stirs from its nap.
Also in Limassol is Fasouri Watermania Waterpark (357/25-714235), a cool diversion from the heat that I would have appreciated stopping at during our visit to this built-up city.
For very rustic accommodations and an introduction to the island’s traditional villages, where wine and lace handcrafts are the principal industries, contact the Cyprus Tourism Organisation at the New York office (212/683-5280) for information about their agro-tourism village programs.
A Few Facts About Cyprus
- Temperatures range from 60° F in winter to high 80’s F in summer.
- 1 Cyprus Pound (CYP) = $2.35 US (2007)
- Greek and Turkish are the official languages, but English is widely spoken.
- Ferries connect Cyprus with the Greek Islands, mainland and Israel.
- Water is safe to drink.
- There are over 22 American and 18 Canadian tour operators serving Cyprus. However, the most economical way to travel there is by taking an air charter to London, then book a British package to Larnkaka or Pafos airports.
- Flight times: from Toronto, 11 hours; from London, 4.5 hours; from Athens, 1.45 hours (Cyprus Airways, +357 22 365700)
- Local time: 7 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.
- Driving is on the left-hand side.
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