by Denise Mattia
From craggy paths leading to sun-bleached ancient villas and hilltop monasteries to narrow cobblestone streets leading to wineries and taverns, to luxurious beach resorts, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, Cyprus ripples with life and light. First time visitors will find that yesterday’s culture blends with today’s lifestyle as smoothly as the curves of an Aphrodite statue.
JAXFAX was among the six journalists participating in a press trip to Cyprus during March of 2008. From Lamaka International Airport we were transported to Agia (holy) Napa in the southeast. The area, built around a 16th century monastery, has become a popular seaside resort town. The 326-room Aeneas Hotel, where we stayed, recently completed an on-the-property Anglican and Catholic denominational church, which is used for weddings and can hold up to 120 guests. Currently the hotel is getting ready for the holidays with a Christmas and New Year’s Festivity Program: an extravaganza of gastronomy creations.
In Cyprus, any time is a good time to sit and enjoy a variety of dishes with families and friends. At Andreas and Melani Beach Hotel, traditional meze (mezedhes: little delicacies) are prepared in the restaurant at Governors Beach. In a recent survey, Cyprus’ beaches scored highest marks for safety and cleanliness over any beach in the European Union.
Historically, the island’s richness in copper (kypros) and its strategic location as a trade route to Greece, Anatolia (Turkey), Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula account for the widespread influences that gave its art and architecture an eclectic style. The Thalassa (sea) Marine Museum in Agia Napa, the Roman amphitheatre at Kurion (still used for performances), the Kato Pafos Archaeological Park, the Agios Yiannis Cathedral and the Byzantine Museum are a few of the important places that demonstrate the development of Cypriot style.
Set against a small hill to the northeast of Pafos, once the capital of Cyprus, is the 300-foot wide theatre, constructed after the town was founded, around 300 B.C.E. Other impressive sites are the Villas of Dionysus and Aion and the Tombs of the Kings (there’s no evidence to suggest kings were buried here). An array of artifacts found here dating to Neolithic times has classified the section as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A short walk from the Villa of Dionysus is The Almyra, a Thanos Hotel. The restaurant is noted for their special Japanese-Mediterranean fusion menu. Among the gastronomic creations are cerviche of scallops with a citrus and soy dressing and a grilled beef topped with gingered mushrooms. Visit www.almyra.com.cy
Before settling into the Thalassa Hotel, our caravan proceeded to Petra tou Romiou (Aphrodite’s Rock). A climb to the top revealed the beauty of the Mediterranean Sea against the honey-colored coastline. Legend has it that it was here that Aphrodite, the goddess of love, was born out of the sea and carried on a shell to shore by dolphins.
Situated on three-quarters of a mile of beach overlooking a small peninsula, the luxury boutique Hotel, The Thalassa, prides itself on its cuisine, which focuses on Mediterranean-style cooking using seasonal Cypriot ingredients.
An Anagenisis spa menu features a wide selection of therapies derived from the ancient Greek and Roman specialties. Every suite comes with a personal butler. The service is available in all other room types as well. Generally, from the end of April to the end of July, savings of up to 55% off the price of a room are offered when an Executive Suite is booked. Visit www.thalassa.com.cy
At the western corner of the island, the cliffs of the Akamas peninsula are a sharp contrast to the manicured properties of the southern coast. This is the only area in Cyprus where a four-wheel drive vehicle is useful. Arriving at a vantage point, visitors can walk up a steep incline to the Baths of Aphrodite, a grotto, where few can resist anointing themselves with its waters. Because of the bio-diversity found here, the peninsula is scheduled to become a National Park.
The excellent infrastructure throughout the island makes it easy to drive into the hillside (driving is on the British side of the road). Our group stopped at several wineries before heading south to Le Meridien Spa and Resort in Lemesos (Limassol). There, we luxuriated in the only indoor/outdoor Thalassotherapy spa in Europe. A Japanese and Mediterranean restaurant and two snack bars are on the premises, and children below four years of age receive full board.
The capital, Lefkosia (Nicosia) to the north is a “walking” city, where taverns are as numerous as the museums, galleries and places of interest.
JAXFAX visited St. John’s Cathedral, the Byzantine Museum, the Faneromeni Church and the Cyprus Museum, and wandered outside the city to the Handicraft Center to study the development of the island through its pottery, lacework, wood and metalwork. The trip concluded with a leisurely lunch at the Kath’Odon Tavern. Call +357-226-61-656.
Cyprus Airways flies from most European gateways and it has daily flights from Amsterdam, London, and Athens to Larnaka and four times a week from Frankfurt. There are also flights, less than daily, from London and Amsterdam to Pafos. Call 877-359-6629, www.cyprusairways.com. European-based carriers--Virgin Atlantic, Olympic Airways and KLM--operate frequent flights from their hubs.
For further information, contact the Cyprus Tourism Organization, 212-683-5280, E-mail email@example.com; www.visitcyprus.com
June 2008 Feature
Cyprus from Wine to Water
Story and photos by Denise Mattia
For centuries, the island of Cyprus has had a turbulent history that shaped its character. Its location on the sea route to the Aegean made it vital to traders as widespread as Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece and Byzantium. There’s hardly a stone that can’t be traced to an elegantly styled edifice, artifact or statue of historical significance.
JAXFAX toured the island, stopping at the old harbor in the city of Lemesos (Limassol), to visit the Cyprus Medieval Museum, a 16th century fort, which was constructed on the site of a Byzantine castle. While walking past the ground’s shaded gardens to adjacent streets lined with restored buildings, it was apparent that the lifestyle and culture of this thriving city is linked inexorably with its past. The renovated municipal market has become a popular venue for concert, dance, art and theatrical events, including a wine festival in September, a ten-night, consume-as-much-as-you-want wine-tasting affair.
To educate visitors and locals about one of the oldest alcoholic beverages in history, the Cyprus Wine Museum in neighboring Erimi conducts lectured tours about Cypriot winemaking. Exhibited are centuries-old jars and vessels on loan from the Cyprus and Pierides Museums, in addition to early documents, which illustrate how grapes were cultivated, and the wine produced, stored and enjoyed. firstname.lastname@example.org
The wine producers at Antoniades Winery (www.antoniadeswinery.com) in Lemesos (Limassol) have been given documentation, which proves that Cypriot wine dates to 3500 B.C.E., and, at the charming hillside village of Omodhos, JAXFAX was shown a 50-foot long ancient wine press. In June 2006, the Cyprus Tourism Organization developed and announced The Wine Routes of Cyprus, a project to attract special interest tourism. Scheduled to begin later this year, the excursions will be offered to wine devotees in America and abroad.
Thirteen tours will cover the five vine producing areas of Laona, Vouni Panagia-Ampelitis, Commandaria, Pitsilia and Lemesos (Limassol). Two special routes will be devoted to Commandaria, the sweet, dessert wine, created – so the story goes – by the Crusaders under Richard the Lionheart, and said to have been made at the Cyprus Medieval Castle. Participants will be able to visit museums and archaeological sites and attend cultural events as well. For more information, a special website, DVD, maps and tour guides for the routes are available from the CTO.
Today, Limassol (Lemesos) is the island’s main gateway for cruises destined for ports in the east and west. In addition to weekly ferries to Greece (summer only), there are several cruise ships that sail to Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Greece and the Greek islands. These affordable, family-friendly cruises range from three to 11 days and are aboard modern ships with comfortable staterooms, restaurants, casinos and spacious lounge and entertainment areas. Among the cruise lines are Louis Cruises, www.louiscruises.com; Salamis Tours Ltd, www.salamis-tours.com and Paradise Cruises, www.paradise.com.cy.
Cruise passengers can also choose from major U.S. cruise lines, which offer stopovers to this popular destination in conjunction with their Mediterranean and European itineraries. Among the big-name cruise liners are: Holland America, www.HollandAmerica.VacationsToGo.com; Celebrity Cruises, www.Celebrity Cruises.com; Oceania, www.oceania cruises.com; and Silversea, www. Silversea-Cruise-Line.com
Beause of the island’s modern infrastructure, passengers disembarking at Lemesos (Limassol) can choose from a number of tours to major museums and sites, many of which are easily accessible. The island’s capital, Lefkosia (Nicosia), is about 45 miles from Limassol. The priceless art and antiquities at the Cyprus Museum spans a period of 8,000 years and rivals works displayed at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Although extensive, it’s possible to view the collection and then enjoy a typical “meze” lunch at a taverna in Laiki Yeitonia, the restored pedestrian area in the old part of the city. Admirers of Byzantine art can view more than 200 icons, and numerous vessels, robes and books dating from the 9th to the 19th centuries at the Byzantine Museum and Art Galleries, and later watch demonstrations of traditional art and crafts made at the Cyprus Handicraft Center and gift shop, where pottery, wood-carvings, metalwork and tapestries, lace and embroidered items are available for purchase.
Another popular shore excursion, less than nine miles west of Lemesos (Limassol), includes a visit to the 15th century Kolossi Castle. Close by, the magnificent Kourion Greco-Roman Theater affords a spectacular view of the Mediterranean Sea, as does the Sanctuary of Apollo, farther west at Pafos, the birthplace of Aphrodite. The famous mosaics in the Houses of Dionysus, Orpheus, Aion and the Villa of Theseus are found at the Archaeological Park there. Backed by the rocky hillside, the beautiful sunbaked town that touches the sea has been designated a World Heritage site by Unesco. Cypriots know it as the town of Aphrodite.
For information, contact the Cyprus Tourist Organization: email@example.com; www.visitcyprus.org.cy
October 2007 Cover Feature
Cyprus... The First Step to Loving an Island
By Phyllis Cocroft Meras
I like islands. I like the get-away-from-it all quality of islands. I live on an island and when I travel, I am always on the lookout for new ones to explore. I especially like islands with historic and cultural significance.
So when I learned that Cyprus, after Sicily and Sardinia, was the largest island in the Mediterranean, and I had never been there, it seemed time to go. I became especially sure I wanted to see it when a Scottish relative, who is a regular summer visitor to Martha’s Vineyard, where I live, spurned the family invitation this year. She announced she was going to sunny Cyprus instead. Last year, she said, more than a million and a half fellow United Kingdom residents had holidayed on Cyprus. About 28,000 Americans visited. My relative wanted to find out what they were so passionate about.
As I looked into going there myself, I found that Cyprus had the attributes I look for in islands. It was “away from it all,” 40 miles from Turkey, the closest mainland point, 60 miles from Syria, the next closest point. Gayley’s “Classic Myths in English Literature and in Art” told me it was the birthplace of Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty. She was born from sea foam there, it said. And one of my childhood heroes, England’s Crusader-king Richard the Lion-Hearted, was married on Cyprus on his way to the Third Crusade. Cyprus was an island with sun, good food, inviting beaches, clear blue waters, quaint villages, mountains, and hills studded with wild flowers. What more could an island-obsessed tourist want?
I flew on Cyprus Airways from London to Larnaka where I spent the first night at the Palm Beach Hotel & Bungalows that stretch along a sandy beach. I lazed above the hotel pool that first afternoon before leaving for dinner in Larnaka.
Dining Like a Native
At a cozy, stone-walled taverna there called Voreas, meze – appetizer-like dishes that are the specialty of Cyprus, were set down in brown pottery on our blue and white-checked tablecloth. There were dips of taramosalata (Greek caviar) and tahini made from sesame seeds, lemon juice , parsley and garlic and fresh-baked, crusty bread. There were cheese balls, tender artichokes cooked with sea salt, zucchini croquettes, mushrooms with garlic, grilled halloumi cheese and lountza –smoked pork. We were offered black and green olives in a dressing of lemon, garlic, oil and coriander seeds and eggs scrambled in olive oil with wild greens. There were prawns and pickled cauliflower and carrots. The fresh vegetables of Cyprus are renowned.
Altogether, 27 little dishes were put before us for 9 Cypriot pounds, approximately $18. Though this was considered a meal for one, it was more than enough for two. A $10 bottle of Cypriot white wine washed it all down. (Another one of those legends I had read said that it was on Cyprus that man first made wine.)
The next day was devoted to sightseeing and to learning a little of the complex history of Cyprus. Even though it is an island and should, therefore, enjoy a tranquility missing from mainland sites, its location in the eastern Mediterranean between the Middle East and Europe, has brought many invaders down through the ages. Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Lusignans (French), Venetians, Turks and English have all been its occupiers.
Finally, in 1960, it declared its independence from Great Britain, its last overlord. But 14 years later, following a 20th-century Turkish invasion, the island was split into two separate states. The north (about a third of the island) now calls itself the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (not recognized by any country except Turkey) and is home to about 57,000 Cypriots of Turkish descent and some 200,000 settlers from mainland Turkey. The more populous south, home to 850,000 Greek-speaking Cypriots, is the Republic of Cyprus, a European Union member nation since 2004. Until recently, there has been little connection between the two, with walls and land mines and no-man’s lands separating the sections from each other. But friendlier relations have begun, and Greek Cypriots now visit the north on day trips and Turkish Cypriots come to (and some work in) the south. It was the more highly developed, tourist friendly Republic of Cyprus that I was visiting.
On my first full day there, I saw the sunny sands of Agia Napa. Although in summer, the beaches are crowded, I was there in the spring when fine white sand was still to be seen.
Before the division of Cyprus, it was the beaches of the north that were the most appealing. After the division, the Greek Cypriots in the south took the beaches that they had and made the most of them. They erected modern high-rise hotels at Agia Napa to help bring in tourists. Restaurants soon followed. Along this stretch of beach, not only swimming and sunning are lures, but water sports of all sorts.
I also went that day to see the Greek Cypriot half of the divided city of Famagusta. There I visited the Thalassa (Sea) Museum that was opened in 2005. Its highlight is a replica of the world’s oldest known wrecked ship, a third-century B.C. single-sail merchant vessel that had carried wine from Rhodes. Discovered in the 1960s, the original (on display in Kyrenia in the north) was painstakingly raised and restored.
I then went back to Larnaka where we had so happily dined the night before. I strolled its Riviera-like Finikoudes (Palm) Boulevard of high-rise hotels and cafes, restaurants and bars. I walked down to its small boat harbor. I was told I must not miss the 9th-century Church of St. Lazarus, where the remains of the saint whom Jesus raised from the dead were once buried, it is said.
Legend has it that, after his resurrection, Lazarus left Israel for Cyprus and subsequently became its bishop. In 890, a sarcophagus with his name on it was discovered and a church built to honor him. His actual remains, however, are long gone, taken to Constantinople in the 13th century and later to Marseilles in France. Happily, the simple little Byzantine church on the edge of the town’s old Turkish quarter survived nearly three centuries of Ottoman rule. In the square outside when I was there, vendors were selling dried fruits and nuts and Siousioukos – a long, sticky Cypriot confection of grape juice, flour and almonds that hung like sausages from the roofs of the vendors’ shops.
The next day, the medieval castle of Lemesos (Limassol) was on my itinerary, for it was on its site in 1191, I had learned, that English King Richard the Lion-Hearted, after barely escaping being shipwrecked nearby on the Third Crusade, married his fiancée, Berengaria of Navarre, who had been traveling with him. The castle now is a medieval museum of arms and armor, sixth-century Byzantine silver plates and bas-reliefs.
Today’s castle dates from the 16th century, for its predecessors suffered many bombardments and an earthquake. A sad romantic story has the daughter of a doge of Venice living there as queen in the 15th century when Venice wanted Cyprus. To obtain it, the government arranged a marriage for the doge’s daughter with the Cypriot king. Sixteen years later, the Venetians murdered both her child and the king and sent her back to Venice. After that, Venice ruled Cyprus until 1571. Then the Turks invaded, remaining till 1878 when Britain took over. In 1925, Britain made Cyprus a crown colony and used the Castle of Lemesos as a prison.
But happier adventures were in store, too, on my sightseeing jaunt. I went to Cyprus’s wine museum in Lemesos and to 16th-century Kolossi Castle outside Lemesos. There, in an earlier castle that was the headquarters of the Knights of St. John, Cyprus’s most famous wine – the sweet dessert wine, Commandaria - was created. It is in the mountain villages of this Troodos range that I was exploring that Cyprus wines are made (as well as in city plants in Lemesos.)
Following the Grape
On hillsides edging the narrow, winding roads, between meandering old stone walls, the grapes for the wine are grown. In the village of Koilani, at a taverna table set out in the street, I sampled full-bodied red wines and refreshing white wines - along with more mezes and charcoal- roasted meats. I learned there that the sweet dessert wines of Europe – Tokay, Marsala and Madeira – were started with vines from Cyprus that the Crusaders took back. In another, more touristic village, Omodos, hospitable womenfolk showed off their lace-making craft.
Finally, there was Pafos to see, and the Akamas Peninsula where wild flowers grew, according to legend, wherever Aphrodite, coming in from the sea, walked. That is why, they say, some 1,800 species of flowering plants brighten the hills and fields of Cyprus.
At the five-star Anassa in Polis, overlooking the Mediterranean, I spent a blissful night after my sightseeing. Its spa is a two-time winner of the Conde Nast Award for Best Spa in Europe. (A specialty is an aphrodisiac champagne massage for couples.) I splashed in its mosaic-tiled outdoor pool and enjoyed its cool gardens after returning from a walk. The walk had taken me past grey-green olive trees and junipers and pines to the grotto where Aphrodite reportedly liked to splash.
In Pafos itself, I saw rock-hewn underground tombs thought to have been those of wealthy Ptolemies from Egypt come to Cyprus at the time of Alexander the Great. I viewed the Roman mosaic floors of the House of Dionysus whose walls were destroyed by an earthquake centuries ago. The floors were discovered in 1938 and are now part of an outdoor archeological museum. I saw St. Paul’s column where, before succeeding in converting the Roman governor of Cyprus, the saint was tied and lashed.
Luncheon that last day was out of doors at the five-star Intercontinental Aphrodite Hills Resort. Sea breezes wafted and the air was deliciously fragrant with those flowers that Aphrodite had left behind so long ago. How glad I was that I had discovered Cyprus!
I had been hospitably received by its largely English-speaking population, well-fed and grandly housed. I had traveled across a varied landscape – sometimes rocky and rugged, sometimes with dramatic vistas of the blue-green sea. I had learned history I had not known before.
The small island country of Cyprus promises and delivers a delightful island holiday.
The five-star deluxe Anassa has 177 rooms including suites with private pools and garden studio suites. In the Thalassa Spa, saunas and steambaths, aromatherapy, thalassotherapy, massage, body wraps and reflexology are offered. Two outdoor swimming pools have waterfalls. Scuba-diving and sailing are among available water sports and there are two tennis courts, a squash court and an indoor gym. Four restaurants serve local and international cuisine. Visit www.thanoshotels.com
The five-star Intercontinental Aphrodite Hills Resort Hotel has 290 rooms with balcony views either of the rolling green golf course, colorful gardens or the Mediterranean Sea. Some have private pools. Resort facilities include the Retreat Spa inspired by Greco-Roman bath rituals. The massage pavilions are set in a fragrant garden. There is also a health club. An 18-hole golf course, tennis courts and indoor and outdoor swimming pools are also among the attractions. Fine fresh fare is offered at its restaurants and bars – simple or elaborate depending on the guest’s tastes. Its stone wedding chapel has an old-fashioned air. Call 888-424-6835; or visit www.aphroditehills.com.
The spacious, airy five-star 249-room Elysium Beach Resort, just adjacent to Pafos’ Tombs of the Kings, has received many international awards for its fine conference and business facilities. Its meeting rooms can accommodate up to 400 guests.
For relaxation, it offers two pools, tennis courts and a health spa whose centerpiece is a colonnaded indoor pool resembling ancient Roman baths. Its four restaurants offer dishes made with fresh vegetables and herbs from its own gardens. There is a Byzantine wedding chapel. Visit www.elysium.com.cy
The four-star Palm Beach Hotel & Bungalows has 228 rooms including 38 garden studio bungalows above a palm-lined beach.
There is a health club with sauna, steam bath, Jacuzzi, two tennis courts, an indoor and an outdoor pool, squash court and a wide variety of water sorts including para-gliding, water skiing and wind surfing. Conference facilities will accommodate 750 people. The resort has its own wedding chapel, a restaurant, and three bars offering sea views. Visit www.palmbeachhotel.com
Cyprus Airways flies from most European gateways and it has daily flights from Amsterdam, London, and Athens to Larnaka and four times a week from Frankfurt. There are also flights, less than daily, from London and Amsterdam to Pafos.
Call 877-359-6629, or visit www.cyprusairways.com
Other European-based carriers such as Virgin Atlantic, Olympic Airways and KLM also operate frequent flights into Cyprus from their hubs. For information, contact the Cyprus Tourism Organization, 212-683-5280, E-mail gocyprus @aol.com; www.visitcyprus.com
Exclusive interview with Phoebe Katsouris
Phoebe Katsouris, Director Cyprus Tourist Organization
By Phyllis Cocroft Meras
Although Phoebe Katsouris has been the Director-General of the Cyprus Tourist Organization only six months, she is no newcomer to the organization. She has been with it since 1983, as head of administration until 1990 and as Director of Tourism from then until 2006. Born in Nicosia, she attended schools there and then studied economics at Queen Mary University in London and town planning at the Architectural Association School of Planning in London. So she knows whereof she speaks when she discusses the unplanned building that occurred in Lemesos (Limassol) and the free Famagusta Resorts in the Republic of Cyprus soon after the Turkish invasion in 1974.
Since some of the most renowned beaches of the island were in the northern area that the Turks occupied, the Republic of Cyprus had to hastily develop comparable ones in the free areas of Cyprus.
JF: Critics say that too much building occurred too fast, with little thought going into what was constructed and how it was going to look. Is this a valid criticism?
PH: When we did the first development after 1974, it was in Lemesos, and we did start in too fast. No planning permits were required for facades or finishes, for example, and so we got all sorts of structures. Now the Lemesos coastal strip is being upgrated. We want to better some of what has already been done and to scrutinize the architecture of anything new. We are trying to get local authorities to regulate what is being built in old sections down near the harbor. We would like to have the sort of restoration and renovation done this time that Athens did in preparation for the Olympics. More thought went into construction in Pafos later.
JF: What are the main attractions of Cyprus for tourists?
PH: We are one of the first corners of the world to have known civilization. Our people are hospitable and we offer quality services. We are crime-free and politically stable. There’s no threat of war or armed conflict of any kind anymore.
And we have so many natural attractions. The rock that makes up our Troodos Mountains is quite unique, for example. The island was pushed up from the bottom of the sea by the movement of volcanic plates. The rock in our mountains is found only here and at the bottom of the ocean. This makes us a paradise for geologists. Our name – Cyprus – is related to the copper that was mined here, in antiquity.
And botanists should like us because we have some 1,800 species of flowering plants. Aphrodite is our goddess and according to legend, rose from the foam of the Paphian Sea and wherever she stepped, wild flowers grew.
JF: What else should lure foreign visitors to your country?
PH: Our central location is very special. We want potential visitors to know this – that we are a stepping stone to so many places – to Eastern Europe and Western Europe, Africa, the Middle East.
We have good connections with major airports – with Athens and Amsterdam and London and Frankfurt. We have air service nine times daily to Athens. And our corporate tax is one of the lowest in Europe. Don’t forget our excellent climatic conditions that prevail on the island all year-round, our clean waters and last but not least our hospitality.
JF: Are you promoting the meetings and incentives markets?
PH: Yes, we have a number of conference centers now, and we are an ideal destination for medium size conferences and incentives but we’re trying to construct two large new ones – in Nicosia and Lemesos– conference centers for 1,000 to 2,000 people. We’re seeking foreign as well as local investment for these. And a casino is in prospect.
JF: Are sports an attraction?
PH: We have three golf courses now and there’ll be another nine in the next few years.
There’s a marina in Lemesos for 227 berths and another one of 1,000 berths will be constructed in 2008- 09. Proposals are being evaluated for new marinas in Larnaka and Pafos. The existing marina in Larnaka can accommodate 429 yachts. There are five Olympic-size swimming pools, which are used as a training base by many foreign teams. Football teams from northern and eastern European countries and many athletes, cyclists and sport teams are in Cyprus for training during spring and winter.
JF: Do you think there will be a united Cyprus again one day?
PH: Both sides now see that there are opportunities in being united, so I think there will be positive developments in the next few years. I see us as one island, one state, one destination touristically.
There is the same Cypriot culture throughout the territory. I think it’s good that, even now, both foreign visitors and Cypriots can go from one end of the island to the other and experience both. Our island doesn’t, after all, have much in the way of raw materials, manufacturing, cheap labor or agriculture. Only tourism can be an engine for economic growth and political reunification.
September 2007 Feature
Cool Cats in Cyprus
By Phyllis Cocroft Meras
Colorful Cyprus, the third largest Mediterranean island after Sicily and Sardinia; now has a new claim to fame. Nine thousand years ago the first cat was domesticated in Cyprus, recent DNA tests show.
There are many good reasons to visit Cyprus. Although, since 1974, this 60 by 150-mile- island has been split in two, with about 650,000 Greek-speaking Cypriots living in the South and 80,000 Turkish-speaking Cypriots (plus Turks from the mainland) inhabiting the North, visitors from abroad are enthusiastically welcomed everywhere.
Since Cyprus was a British Crown Colony from 1925 until 1960, English is widely spoken. Cyprus is a fine jumping off point for travelers wanting a touch of the Middle East. As its history of invasions by Greeks, Romans, Crusaders and Arabs indicates, it is just a stone's throw away from Middle Eastern destinations.
The Greek Cypriots of the South know that health, beauty and sport are high priorities with vacationers and they supply all three at such elegant hotels as Anassa (800-223-6800; www.thanoshotels.com), the Intercontinental Aphrodite Hills Resort (888-897-0089; www. aphroditehills.com), Le Meridien Limassol Spa & Resort (866-559-3821 or, 800-543-4300; www. cyprus.lemeridien.com.cy and the Elysium Beach Resort (firstname.lastname@example.org; www.elysium.com.cy), all four on the edge of the sea. They have swimming pools and tennis courts, gyms and aerobic studios, scuba-diving, sailing and spas offering a wide range of treatments. In their gardens, jasmine and lemon trees perfume the air. At Aphrodite Hills, there is golfing.
As for the food of the island, the specialty - mezes (appetizers turned into a full-scale meal) include such items as grilled octopus and field snails, cracked green olives preserved with lemon and coriander seeds, succulent artichokes, wild mushrooms and wild asparagus. These are served in village taverns. The accompanying wines are sparkling whites and rich, satisfying reds. It was grape vines from Cyprus, carried by Crusaders to the Continent that resulted in dessert wines in Europe.
And then there is the landscape. In 1957, English novelist Lawrence Durrell bought a house in a Cyprus village…He wrote of “a landscape dense with orange and lemon trees, and noisy with running water...” There were “grey, old-fashioned houses with arched vaults and carved doors … bent cypresses… and flower beds of roses among the almond trees.”
Of course it is different now from in Durrell's time. When the island was divided, the Greek Cypriots in the South lost their finest beaches to the Turkish Cypriots in the North. To compensate, they built hotels, cafes, restaurants and shops catering to tourists along their remaining waterfront. In the cities of the South, which they called the Republic of Cyprus, many of the quaint, old-fashioned houses are gone. However, in mountain villages, life is simple, much the way that it has always been. Women wear black; old men play backgammon outdoors. The mountains are gold and green with vineyards climbing their slopes. Daisy-like yellow margaritas gleam in fields alongside blood-red poppies. Orchids and wild lilies grow. Altogether, Cyprus has 1,800 species of flowering plants. On the Akamas Peninsula, are gorges and cliffs and clear, bubbling streams wonderful for hiking and trekking or just walking through.
For history and architectural buffs, the sites in Cyprus are endless. In the city of Larnarca, the Church of St. Lazarus is said to hold the remains of Lazarus who, raised from the dead by Christ, came from the Holy Land and became a bishop of Cyprus.
Among pine trees overlooking the salt lake of Larnaca is the Tekke of Umm Haram, one of the great shrines of the Moslem world. There, a small, unassuming mosque marks the burial place of Umm Haram, an aunt of Mohammed's, killed in a fall in the seventh century while on an Arab raid of Cyprus with her husband.
On a mountain peak near the city of Limassol, at the Monastery of Stavrovouni (open only to male visitors), it is said that a piece of the cross on which Christ was crucified is kept. It was originally brought to Cyprus in the 4th century by the Empress Helena, mother of the Byzantine ruler, Constantine the Great. St. Helena also contributed to the island's cat population by importing some to destroy the snake population.
On the site of the restored 12th-century Castle of Limassol, England's Richard the Lion-Hearted, taking respite from the Third Crusade, married Berengaria of Navarre. Then he had himself crowned king of Cyprus and his bride the queen of England. Now displays of medieval armor, pottery and bas-reliefs fill the castle.
At Paphos, in the 12th century B.C., where an ancient Greek city had stood, the Romans built a town and installed a governor. It was largely destroyed by an earthquake, but in 1962, a farmer's plough uncovered the mosaic floors of Roman homes. These mythological mosaic scenes are now displayed in an Archaeological Park.
In 45 A.D., also at Paphos, St. Paul converted the Roman governor, thereby making Cyprus the world's first Christian country. (This was after Paul was bound to a pillar, the remains of which still stand, and lashed 39 times.) The occupied area in the North also abounds in scenic and historic sites-Crusader castles and churches, monasteries, mosques and citadels. It may be visited on guided tours offered at Republic of Cyprus hotels, by renting a car, or by renting a car and driver. The cost of car and driver tends to be prohibitive, however.