From ‘agrotourism’ to serene walks, coastal biking trails and ancient ruins, Cyprus offers more than its size suggests.
The history of Cyprus may involve its fair share of turbulence, but contemporary visitors are likely to discover an environment of tranquillity. The 9,250-square-kilometre island (3,500 square miles), the third largest in the Mediterranean after Sicily and Sardinia, is a haven for beach holidays, but also for slow, mind-clearing walks along the coastline. Also on the menu are biking, archaeology and rustic resorts. Action-packed adventures will have to wait: here, it is all about taking it easy.
The island’s arch-typical selling point is that of sandy beaches and scorching heat. It gets more than 300 days of sun per year, with water temperatures ranging from 16˚C to 27˚C. Such warmth makes the Cypriot diving season particularly long. Along the coastline, sunbathing, snorkelling and windsailing are also excellent eco-alternatives. According to the Cyprus tourism board, 56 beaches possess the blue flag, which is awarded to the most sustainably operated resorts.
The coastal areas are inviting for leisurely hiking, with the gentle Mediterranean breeze providing a cooling element beneath the baking sun. Ditch the car and embark upon one of the many hiking trails, set in a terrain varying between long sandy stretches, short pebble beaches, rocky shores and forested mountains. Hikes make a fine combination with bird watching, with Cyprus a popular resting place for species on intercontinental journeys.
By the same token, Cyprus is also great for bike rides. The tourism board is listing as many as 40 pre-determined trails, which work as great ways to experience the cultural and historical sights inaccessible by car. Due to the island’s relatively small surface area, the terrain varies greatly within short distances: trails can go from rock to clay and from steep to flat within a few kilometres. Around the island, bike centres offer rentals, tips and assistance.
The history of Cyprus has given birth to numerous notable archaeological sites. Due to its location outside the coasts of Turkey, Syria and Lebanon, as well as its proximity to Greece, the island has endured a long timeline of invasions and settlements, leaving relics and cultural footprints from numerous peoples. Much of it is found in the four main cities: Nicosia, the capital, Larnaca, Limassol and Paphos are brimming with history and hospitality. But elsewhere too, ancient ruins provide a window into the past.
Some of the chief sites are listed by UNESCO. One of them is Paphos, on the south-west coast, which legend says was the birthplace of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty. The city featured fine buildings and temples raised in Greco-Roman times, when it was the island’s capital. In the western mainland are the painted churches of the Troödos region. Then there is Choirokoitia, in southern Cyprus: a Neolithic settlement occupied from the 7thto the 4th millennium B.C. Also in the south, though not listed by UNESCO, are the ruins of Kourion, featuring the particularly famous Greco-Roman Theatre.
Where to stay in Cyprus? Well, the clichéd luxury tourism of spas and five-star hotels is of course available. But there are alternatives. The tourism board has established a branch called the Cyprus Agrotourism Company, which focuses solely on providing holidays in the countryside, away from the commercial hotspots. Many resorts are based in traditional villages that offer local products and customs.
Some villages have gone all-in on the ecotourism strategy. For a start, the Karpaz Ecotourism Association, which represents the Karpaz Peninsula, in the very north of the island, where the Turkish dominate, has launched a campaign to market its many eco-villages. The most prominent is Büyükkonuk, which bills itself as promoting sustainable rural development while protecting the traditional Cypriot village lifestyle. Other villages include Tatlisu, Mehmetçik and Dipkarpaz. (The Greek names of the four villages are Komi Kebir, Akanthou, Galateia and Rizokarpaso respectively.)
Of course, by choosing such destinations, the ideal of the traditional luxury holiday starts to fade. Charming bed-and-breakfast guest houses replace high-life hotels. Gourmet restaurants make way for local authentic delicacies. However, not every nation offers genuine ‘agrotourism’, and if you fancy something different, the Cypriot countryside may be a decent bet.
Photos: Dhoxax, Svetlana Yudina, Vladimir Martynovsky [all via Shutterstock.com].