Cyprus: A gem in the Mediterranean Sea
A travel story by Denise Wolfshaar
Cyprus is an independent island located in the Mediterranean sea. With hot summers and gentle winters, Cyprus is an all-year-round destination. From skiing in the Troodos mountains to a relaxing day at the beach: this beautiful island has it all. During my minor program, I stayed on this wonderful island for five months. Therefore, I am very happy to tell you all about Cypriot history and culture, the natural wonders of this island and my favourite places on the island.
Please note that this travel story is mainly focused on Southern Cyprus.
Cypriot history & culture
Cyprus is a small island situated in the Mediterranean sea. The island is an open-air museum of prehistoric settlements and all different sorts of temples, buildings, churches and mosques from all kinds of era’s. The old ways of life, customs and traditions are still beautifully preserved in the rural villages, and interesting elements of the island are captured in the many different museums. It is not surprising then that UNESCO includes a number of the island’s sights on its list of World Heritage Sites. Whilst the preservation of historical sites is an important priority for the island, these efforts are in stark contrast with the unfortunate reality that a large part of its cultural heritage remains under Turkish occupation since July 1974, and has been subjected to severe damage. The occupation of the Northern part of Cyprus leaves Cyprus divided between Northern- and Southern Cyprus.
A funny fact about Cyprus: the island counts more cats than people! A legend says that Cleopatra brought cats to Cyprus to exterminate snakes. However, the Christian version states that it was Saint Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great, who brought the cats to Cyprus.
Nicosia will always hold a special place in my heart since it is the city where I stayed for five months during my study minor program. Nicosia is, next to being the capital of Cyprus, the world’s last divided capital city. The city consists of two capitals in one: it’s the capital of the Republic of Cyprus, which is an internationally recognised country and a member of the European Union. Next to this, it’s also the capital city of Northern Cyprus, a country recognised by Turkey only. On the main shopping street – Ledra street – you are able to cross the border from Southern- to Northern Cyprus and vice versa. The city has a broad range of museums, from the Archaeological Museum to the Cyprus Classic Motorcycle Museum, it suits all tastes! If you’re not really into museums, Nicosia is also a great place for shopping. In Ledra street, you will find lots of local and international shops. Tip: it’s worthwhile to cross the border and pay a visit to the Northern part of Nicosia. While the landscape and architecture do not vary all that much, you will experience an instant awareness of being in a vastly different culture.
Paphos is a destination which is situated on the western edge of the island. If you’re interested in culture and you like to visit historical sites, this place is definitely for you! When you first arrive in the city centre of Paphos you might feel like you’re lost or in the wrong place perhaps. The city centre of Paphos is quite sleepy, not much going on. However, when you’re making your way to the harbour, you will discover that Paphos is in fact a much-visited destination. Most tourists visit Paphos for its historical sites. The most impressive historical sites that you can definitely not miss are the Paphos Archaeological Park (which is part of the Pathos UNESCO World Heritage Site) and the Tomb of the Kings.
Even though Larnaca lacks big-name tourist attractions, it is an amazing destination to relax and unwind. Larnaca has a beautiful palm-lined promenade at which you can find all different sorts of restaurants lined up next to each other. Furthermore, Larnaca has multiple beaches which are perfect for a relaxing day of swimming and enjoying the Cypriot sun! Tip: when you are visiting Larnaca, make sure to stop at Larnaca’s salt lake, which is a protected habitat. Between November and March, there is a big chance that you will spot flamingos at the lake!
Limassol is the second biggest city in Cyprus, situated in the Southern part of the island. This city offers some gorgeous beaches, historical sites, and easy access to the mountains. The perfect combination for a perfect trip! I would definitely recommend paying a visit to Kourion. Kourion is a UNESCO-protected archaeology park just west of Limassol and it details the ancient city that once stood there. Perched on a hilltop, it offers an amazing view over the brilliant blue sea. Apart from Limassol itself, away from the tourist area, there are a lot of picturesque villages nearby that are worth visiting. Villages that definitely should be on your bucket list are Omodos, Lofou, Arsos, Vasa, Lania, and Platres.
Ayia Napa is one of the most visited destinations on the island. You will probably visit Ayia Napa for its beaches. Soft, white sand and crystal clear water make this a perfect destination for a beach day. Tip: when you’re looking for a relaxed beach, away from the resorts and back to nature, you should pay a visit to Konnos beach. This beach is perfect for swimming and snorkeling. Adding to that, a beautiful natural site that is definitely worth visiting is Cape Greco National Park. Here, you will find many sea caves, beaches, and multiple nature trails. Furthermore, you will also stumble upon the Love Bridge and the Arch of Korakas, the most impressive natural bridges of Cyprus.
The largest mountain range in Cyprus is the Troodos mountain range. The highest peak of the mountain, also known as Chionistra, is at an altitude of 1.952 meters. Troodos is a cool escape in the summer where visitors go for hikes in the lush green forests. Meanwhile, in the winter months, Troodos is a snow-filled winter destination with four ski slopes(!). You can find several nature trails in Troodos, which are perfect for both hiking and cycling. There are a lot of small, picturesque villages located within the mountain range, you will discover these villages while traveling through Troodos.
Last, but not at least, is Agros. During my time on the island, I discovered lots of wonderful places. However, I have to mention that Agros is probably my favourite. Agros is a small village up in the Troodos mountain range. It sits at an altitude of 1.100 metres. This village is famous for its cultivation of roses, along with its production of Cypriot sausages (which are called Lountza and Hiromeri), marmalades and sweets. Several local workshops are open to tourists for them to see the traditional practices of the local villagers. You can for example experience the local rose oil distillation, sweet making, or meat processing. The locals are very happy to tell you all about their traditional practice! Tip: I stayed at the Rodon Mount Hotel & Resort, a hotel where (almost) everything is locally sourced and with great views over the mountains.
I would recommend everyone to visit Cyprus (at least once!). Cyprus is an all-year-round destination with something for everyone. The big-name tourist attractions are great, but I would also advise you to try and go off the beaten track a bit, visit some small villages and go hike the many nature trails. I had an amazing time in Cyprus, and I promise that you will – too!