A perfect blend of history and leisure
Cyprus is not one of your usual Mediterranean holiday islands. As well as the familiar weather, warm sea and beaches, this island also has a long and intriguing history – both ancient and more recent – and some spectacular mountain scenery.
These days, the two parts of this divided island – Greek in the South and West and Turkish in the North and East – co-exist peacefully and each offers a wide range of attractions. And exploring across the border does not present a problem, provided you have your passport with you.
Over the centuries, Cyprus has been ruled, at various times, by the Phoenicians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians, Romans, French, Venetians, Ottomans and British and each has left behind something of their culture. This history can be found by visiting some of the older towns and villages, the Medieval fort of Paphos, the remains of castles in the Troodos Mountains and various archeological sites.
Those like me with memories of the 1950s can revisit the Troodos mountain range with its echoes of the guerilla warfare between the Greeks, led by General Grivas, and the British forces. Then in 1974 came the Greek attempt to annex the island, the Turkish invasion and eventually the UN-mandated separation of the island, now seen most vividly in the divided capital city of Nicosia. Standing between the two sectors is the former Ledra Palace Hotel, now the headquarters of a small UN force and a sad shadow of its earlier elegance. From the guarded gate, it was just possible to see the chandelier, still dominating the entrance lobby and behind the now bullet-marked walls, was the long hotel bar which was once home to the international press corps as we covered the stories of the troubled times.
There are still British forces based in parts of the island, and there will be many retired servicemen with memories of different circumstances and a return visit is specially interesting in many ways. For example, Nicosia is now a thriving modern city for shopping and sight-seeing – and one unique feature is the former Greek Orthodox St. Patrick’s cathedral, now on the Turkish side of the divide and converted to a mosque with twin minarets.
Returning to Kyrenia in Northern Cyprus can be equally nostalgic. Prior to the island’s independence from Britain in 1960, it was a favourite retirement destination for the British and many continue to live there, particularly in the favoured hilltop area of Bellapais. The Victorian buildings around the old harbour seem largely unchanged, including the former British Club where countless tales must have been told over pink gins!
Today, the history and the memories – old and not so old – are there to be enjoyed alongside the many relaxing holiday attractions in all parts of the island. In the Turkish area, the old fishing port of Kyrenia and its castle is still the centre of attraction, but there are also new resort hotels in the surrounding areas for enjoying a Mediterranean vacation.
And in the Greek South West of Cyprus, the Paphos region has much to offer. Again there is a wide range of choices – with watersports and golf among the many amenities available. In recent years, the popularity of the area has led to a growth of new waterfront hotels with adjoining beaches. A very convenient base for enjoying all the pleasures of the island is the Agapinor Hotel in the centre of Paphos town (which says it specializes in long or short stay holidays for the 50+ age group). It is convenient for shopping or sight-seeing, with the local market and bazaar close by, and it is just 3kms from the old port of Paphos. But wherever you stay, it is also well worth visiting some of the historic attractions such as the Tomb of the Kings, the Villa of Theseus and St. Paul’s Pillar and also taking a trip into the Troodos Mountain region.
So a holiday in Cyprus can be whatever you want it to be, from relaxation on a warm, sunny Mediterranean beach to an exploration of the past.