Inhabited since ancient times, the island of Cyprus is shrouded in myth and mystery. Famed as the legendary birthplace of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, it remains a special favourite with lovers and newly-weds. Golden beaches drenched in amber sunsets, candle-lit tavernas thronging with traditional music and dance, luxury spas where guests can indulge every whim, and elegant boutique hotels that compete with the world’s best for style, comfort, and luxury – these are just some of the island’s alluring settings.
But Cyprus is full of culture too. Situated in the Eastern Mediterranean between the continents of Asia, Africa, and Europe, it has stood witness to thousands of years of drama and history. A coveted prize of powerful empires, it has passed through phases of Greek, Egyptian, Persian, Roman, Venetian, Ottoman, and British control. Today, it boasts an eclectic blend of historic architecture. Crumbling Roman ruins set upon rugged cliff-tops, daunting medieval castles filled with bravado and legends, handsome Venetian town-houses boasting immaculate Italian style, and intricate Turkish mosques rendered with precision and elegance – all are vital cultural backdrops to the Cyprus experience.
But despite its long and illustrious history, Cyprus is today a divided nation. In 1974, Greek nationalists staged a coup with the aim of transforming the island into a territory of the Greek mainland. Cyprus’s Turkish communities resisted, and Turkey invaded. Since then, Cyprus has been divided into Turkish-controlled North and the Greek Cypriot south. Both sides are militarised and ethnic tensions remain. Nonetheless, many Greeks and Turks recall a time of peaceful co-existence and there are increasingly progressive sentiments among the island’s youth.
Fortunately, the island’s social divisions have done nothing to dent its popularity with outsiders. Boasting long, hot summers - not to mention 648km of rambling coastline – Cyprus has been one of Europe’s most visited beach destinations for decades. In recent years, several large resorts have flourished and the summer vacation period sees the coast bustling with travellers. For those who prefer to get off the beaten track, the island is replete with mountain trails where you can hike and bike, explore traditional villages, enjoy local hospitality, and observe Cypriot folk customs. A definite highlight is the food, including hearty fresh seafood and fabulous local cooking styles that blend Greek, Turkish, Arabic, and Middle Eastern flavours.