Cyprus

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The clear, shallow waters found in the beaches of Ayia Napa are perfect for paddling and watersports

 

Standing at the crossroads of Europe, Africa and the Middle East, Cyprus is a melting pot of influences that are felt in its food, architecture and culture. Once part of the Ottoman empire, many have wanted to lay claim

to the beautiful isle: it became a British colony in 1914, eventually gaining independence in 1960. After the Turks invaded in 1974, the island has since been divided into Northern and Southern Cyprus, with the former controlled by Turkish Cypriots and the latter Greek Cypriots. Reunification talks have so far proved unsuccessful, dogged by issues such as how much power should be granted to the government, and who should lead it.

Reunification talks may have stalled, but southern Cyprus – particularly the resort towns of Ayia Napa and Paphos – continue to prove a big hit with holidaymakers. Located on the southeast coast, Ayia Napa is one of the island’s prettiest spots, being home to some glorious coastline with pictureperfect beaches, and it’s here that I’m calling home for a week, in a lovely apartment with a disarmingly large terrace that is just the place to sip on a glass or two of dry Cypriot wine or

an Ouzo in the evening. While the beaches may be packed with holidaymakers in August, the year-round warmth – average temperatures in October and November are in the low 20s – makes this sub-tropical isle a safe bet for an Autumn or Winter getaway.Those who love to party are well-catered for in Ayia Napa – Craig David, Greco National ForestPark is one of the most popular spots on the DJ Volatile and

Jax Jones are among the top-flight DJs who have got behind the decks at clubs like the Castle and Club Aqua, the latter of which remains

open until well after sunrise. But it’s also a great family destination too, thanks to its gorgeous coastline and never-ending line-up of inviting beaches. One of the most striking examples is Nissi, with its shallow crystal-clear waters perfect for young paddlers. I dip my toes in the sea and stroll along its white-sand crescent, staring in disbelief at the almost surreally beautiful waters as paragliders hover ahead in the impossibly deep blue skies.

DOWN IN THE CAVES

With its ancient juniper tree forests and limestone caves, Cape a peaceful respite from Ayia Napa’s main drag with Konnos Bay a solid stop-off for diving

and snorkelling. You can walk down to the hermit’s cave from the main viewpoint, and it’s a popular spot for selfies, but navigating the rocky steps requires your full concentration so don’t stare at your phone for too long. Once at the bottom, I spy day trippers hanging off the edge of boats, their hulls mere feet away from the spiky, jagged rocks. Back at the top, I pause a while in a little blue-and-white Greek orthodox chapel, Agoi Anargyroi, before casting my gaze once more over the magnificent coastline. Another

devastating stop-off in the park is Lover’s Rock, a charming rocky arch that straddles land and sea that’s around 6m long and a half a metre wide. Folklore dictates that if you kiss in the middle of the bridge and make a wish, it will come true, but that aside it’s just a lovely spot, and makes for a great island,

A taste of the Med: Cypriot Eats

Don’t-miss food experiences on this sunny Meditteranean isle

Those who love to share dishes will adore the Cypriot food experience, as it’s all about the meze plates, which usually include tahini, hummus and taramasalata with pita, and Greek salad alongside dishes like keftedes (minced meatballs) loukaniko (pork sausages) and more unusual plates like octopus in red wine. Cyprus is the birthplace of halloumi and you’ll find it on the menu at most restaurants, usually served within an envelope of warm pitta bread and, if you’re lucky, an artistic smear of beetroot puree, which cuts through the creaminess of this tart cheese made from goat and sheep’s milk. Souvlakia, or grilled meat kebabs, are also popular, as are gyros (doner kebab) and lamb kleftiko, slow-cooked leg of lamb with potatoes, garlic, lemon and herbs. Baklava, a puff pastry filled with nuts and soaked in honey or syrup that’s similarly popular in the Middle East, is the island’s most popular dessert.

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stop-off for a swim thanks to the clear, shallow waters surrounding it. Just a little further north from Lover’s Rock is the Sculpture Park, which houses alfresco installations by modern Cyprian and international artists against a backdrop of sea and beach; pieces include Mischa Pertsev’s Europe and Zeus, a two-figured composition depicting the opposing forces of male and female, and abstract pieces such as Luke Swolsman’s Spiralled Geometry. If you’re here during the Autumn and Winter months, you might just find the sculptors at work; rock up in the late afternoon and stay for sunset when the last of the sun’s rays suffuse the marble-white sculptures with a magical light.

ROMAN TREASURE

There are plenty of boat trips departing from Ayia Napa harbour,

This page from top: Cap Greco and Makronissos tombs Opposite page: Cypriot delicacies and Nissi Beach

 

with one of the most popular being to the Blue Lagoon, which is also located within Cap Greco. Many boats have a subterranean aspect with windows and a glass bottom, from which you might spy a stingray or a turtle if you’re lucky (I saw both) gliding by. After we’ve tired of fish-spotting, we head to the top of the boat as it comes to a stop at the Blue Lagoon, an idyllic deep blue stretch of water that looks ridiculously inviting; there’s the option to do a quick swim through one of the caves, which are tall, dark and echo-ey. As I emerge from the cave’s darkness, the boat’s captain counts down as a few of his daredevil passengers line up to jump off from the rocks into the water. The boats can get crowded, particularly in high season, so you may want to consider chartering your own private cruiser for some added exclusivity.

Despite the blistering August heat, I somewhat foolishly decide to don my running gear and jog from Nissi to Makronissos beach on the last day of my Ayia Napa stay.

Like Nissi, it’s one of the area’s most popular spots to catch up on some summer reading under a parasol or build sandcastles with the kids, and even when I arrive at 9am, dripping with sweat after completing the 2.5km journey, it’s filling up nicely. Beyond the blue umbrellas and recliners lined up on the beach, I follow the path up to the archaeological site, essentially a necropolis, which is home to 18 former burial chambers that date back to the Hellenistic and Roman period. Visitors are free to walk inside the tombs, which provide cool respite from the day’s 28-degree temperatures and cloudless sky. At this time in the morning, I’m the only person at the site, and I’m able to reflect on the island’s rich historical backdrop before ambling over to one of Makronissos’ other three bays, the odd palm lazily swaying in the breeze on what turns out to be another scorcher of a day.

As we sit down in a shady restaurant for our last lunch in Cyprus – halloumi pitta and Greek salad for me, lamb kleftiko for the other half and Keo beer for both – my lingering memories of this southeast corner of Cyprus are its miles of beautiful coastline, and its unapologetically, beautifully blue seas. I close my eyes and think of them one last time before we make our journey back to Larnaca.

Daytrip: Ruins of Kourion

Discover the island’s ancient past with a visit to this archaeological wonder

Perched on a hill and offering sweeping coastal views, the archaeological remains of the ancient city of Kourion deliver a fascinating glimpse into Cyprus’ past, with enough of the ancient citykingdom surviving an earthquake in 365 AD to deliver detailed insight into everyday Roman life. Much of the remnants of the Roman city baths, for example, are still standing. The site’s centrepiece is a Roman theatre, which is still utilised for musical and theatrical performances in the summer months. The House of the Gladiators, which features a mosaic of two gladiators, Hellenikos and Margaritis, in combat dress, is another highlight, as is the House of the Achilles, which features an intricate floor mosaic of Achilles meeting with Odysseus. Located on the southwestern of the island, it takes around one-and-a-half hours to reach Kourion from Ayia Napa.

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