The stunningly beautiful island of Cyprus is the third largest in the Mediterranean Sea, located just off the coast of Turkey.
The island measures 240 by 100 kilometres in size, and is made up of mountains in the middle, with delightful bays and beaches on the outside. Most people are a little confused about Cyprus politically, so to sum it up really quickly, it’s mainly Greek, partly Turkish and hopefully one day very soon, both united as one country.
Humans have lived on Cyprus for thousands of years thanks to its convenient location in the Mediterranean. It has been home to the ancient Greek Mycenaeans, Egyptians, Persians, Romans, Ottomans, French and lastly the British, all leaving their mark on the island. This mix of cultures and influences over thousands of years has given Cyprus a rich flavour, particularly when it comes to its architecture and cuisine.
There is so much to see and explore in Cyprus, from ancient sites, to castles, rural villages, hidden monasteries high in the mountains, seaside towns and stunning beaches.
The Castle of Kolossi was the first place we visited as it was only a short drive from the seaside city of Limassol where we were staying. Dating back to the 13th century, this picture-perfect castle was a Crusader stronghold in its day; home to the Knights of St John. The views from the roof of the castle over the vast surrounding countryside were well worth the steep stair climb.
Our next stop was the Ancient Kingdom of Kourion, where we explored the ruins. A great mix of Byzantine and Roman influences with intact columns, picturesque mosaics and a theatre that is still in use today for concerts (not bad for something that was built 2,000 years ago).
One of the nice aspects of Kourion is that it was built on the cliffs overlooking the coastline, so the views are spectacular.
The next day for a change of pace we headed into the Troodos Mountains that dominate the interior of Cyprus, a lot cooler and greener compared to the low coastal parts of the island. The little mountain villages, all with their own unique style and character, are a wonder to explore. Our first stop was at one of the highest points in the region, the Byzantine Kykkos Monastery – seems like the monks wanted to be as close as possible to heaven. The small museum that is part of the monastery houses an array of interesting religious artefacts and is well worth taking the time to visit.
We then continued on to the village of Omodos with its winding cobblestone streets, taverns filled with laughter and great music as well as shops offering local handicrafts and produce. Make sure you visit the bakery to try a freshly made cheese pie, you won’t be disappointed!
The Turkish North
The northern part of Cyprus is currently under Turkish rule, so make sure you bring your passport as you will need it to cross over from the south. The city of Nicosia is an interesting stop as it’s divided between the two countries with the border almost in the city centre. That said, it’s all very peaceful and you really don’t notice it unless your guide points it out. Nicosia is full of history and it still has part of the historic walls and gates that protected it over the centuries. It’s a nice place to stop for lunch, explore on foot and do a bit of souvenir shopping in its many shops.
The old Ottoman harbour town of Kyrenia on the north coast (Turkish part) has a timeless atmosphere, dwarfed by the high walls of Kyrenia Castle on one side and the harbour full of fishing boats on the other side. Walk the waterfront, enjoy locally made gelato and take lots of photos as Kyrenia is full of charm.
Paphos – out west
The character-filled old town of Paphos on the southeast coast of Cyprus is dominated by its port and medieval castle that has been built and destroyed and re-built many times over the past thousand years. Paphos is a very cosmopolitan seaside town with heaps of great cafes and bars set out on the waterfront that comes alive at night, serving the freshest of seafood and icy cold beers. It’s a great place to enjoy and relax after a day on the beach or exploring the ancient sites.
If ancient history is your thing, then Paphos also has that covered with the nearby Kato Paphos Archaeological Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), a collection of Roman-era buildings, mainly the foundations are left, which showcases a series of colourful and very intact mosaics depicting life in earlier times. You can also visit the Tomb of the Kings, which are caves and tombs cut into the sandstone around Paphos – these are more in ruins, but still give you a feel what it would have been like when they were complete.
Cuisine in Cyprus
When it comes to eating and drinking, Cyprus has you covered, with fresh seafood straight out of the sea, olives, vegetables and wine produced locally, as well as mouth-watering cheese – my favourite is grilled haloumi (yum). The cuisine is very Mediterranean, with grilled seafood and vegetables, kebabs, hummus, tzatziki, souvlaki and moussaka. Every meal we had was a feast – more food then we could even think of eating. Let’s just say a visit to Cyprus will not leave you hungry, that’s for sure.
Australians will love Cyprus as we have a lot in common when it comes to enjoying the true essence of living; both enjoy good food, good wine, relaxing with friends and having a good laugh. This is most evident in the towns, villages and seaside cities where cafes, taverns and restaurants are full of people just having fun together and enjoying the wonderful produce that Cyprus has on offer. Cypriots are fun loving, casual, super friendly and some of the nicest people you will ever be lucky enough to meet.
Do yourself a favour and head to Cyprus.