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The Charm of Cyprus

10th August 2012 • Posted in Where2 Magazine

It may come as a surprise that Cyprus, so well known for its sun-and-sand appeal, is an island as rich in history and culture as some of its more famous neighbours. Fly into Larnaca or Paphos, two of the island’s most popular destinations and you don’t need to go very far to experience the wonders of the ancient and medieval past, as well as quiet, unexpected corners, unspoilt by the madding crowd.

Beautiful Cyprus image

Fly into Larnaca and an hour’s stroll near the harbour will take you past some real treasures, not visited by the majority of beach-loving tourists. Start in the old Turkish quarter at the Agios Lazaros, the 9th-century church with lovely cloisters that  commemorates. Lazarus, raised by Jesus from the dead, who, it is said, subsequently settled in Cyprus and became Bishop of Larnaca. Nearby, the seafront Fort, now an interesting archaeological museum, was built by the Ottomans in 1625. Further up the beach to the left, is the Pierides Museum, an 18thcentury villa choc-full of artefacts, which give an excellent overview of the island’s art and history– don’t miss the 3,000-year-old ceramic of a peeing man! Above all, if you are interested in Larnaca’s roots, don’t miss the three excavated sites of Ancient Kition, just northwest of the beach, where you can see remains dating from the 13th-9th centuries BC.

A Wealth of Outdoor Sites Awaits...

Driving in Cyprus is straightforward for Brits – like us, the Cypriots drive on the left and signposting is generally good. The  distance between Larnaca and Paphos is 84 miles, so you can easily reach the sights listed here in a day from either direction – and if you use the expressway, your trips will be faster if less pretty. If you want to be equidistant, stay in Lémesos (Limasol). Visit early morning or later in the afternoon to avoid the heat and see fewer visitors.

West of Larnaca, there is so much choice that you will be hard put to find time to sit by the pool. Three miles away, on the shores of a salt lake surrounded by olive trees, palms and cypresses, stands one of Islam’s holiest places, the Halá Sultán Tekké the burial place of the Prophet Muhammad’s aunt who died here in 649. It’s an orientalist’s fantasy. If you are here at night, the 33 arches of the Ottoman Kamares aqueduct on the north shore will be beautifully lit up. A little further south, the Panagía Angelóktistos church in Kíti is the place to go to see one of the best mosaics in Cyprus. Probably dating from the sixth century AD, it shows a serene, red-clad Virgin Mary holding the Christ child, attended by the winged archangels, Gabriel and Michael.

As you continue west, the terrain becomes greener and citrus groves and vineyards spring up. En route, visit the astonishing Neolithic village of Choirokoitia. Dating back nearly 9,000 years, its white, beehive-shaped houses look as if their owners have just popped out to the shops. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is one of the most important prehistoric sites in the eastern Mediterranean. From here, take the opportunity to head into the foothills, where you will find some of Cyprus’s more isolated villages. Villages and hamlets, such as Klonari, east of Kelláki, and Akapnoú, will take you away from the hubbub and modern architecture so rife wherever tourists appear. Back near the coast where, legend has it, Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love, was born from the foaming waves below the white cliffs at Pétra tou, sights not to be missed include the medieval castle of Kolóssi and the ancient royal city of Kourion. Kolóssi, a former castle of the Knights Hospitaller, rises tall amid green vineyards, complete with a drawbridge and grand, airy vaulted rooms with splendid fireplaces. A few miles away, beyond Lemesós (Limasol), Kourion stands high on the cliffs. Together with Salamis in the north, it is Cyprus’s best archaeological site, and has been inhabited since Neolithic times. Among many treasures, there is a remarkable Greek- Roman Theatre, a Roman baths and stately villas with beautiful mosaic floors, as well as an early Christian basilica. Take your time and stay all day!

Any of these sights can be visited in a day from Paphos, as well as Larnaca, but if you want to head north from Paphos, for a few less visited sights, check out Agios Geórgios, a laidback little seaside village overlooked by ancient tombs carved into the rock above. 

Polis, 22 miles away, is the district’s second town but is still more relaxed than the busier southern coastal area. However, for a complete escape into wilderness, put on your backpack, fill up with litres of water, and head out into the Troodos Mountains where getting lost is no art. If you like a little culture mixed with nature, visit any of the ten beautiful, frescoed Byzantine churches and monasteries that dot the hillsides, all of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites, all of which can only stun you with the artistry of their interiors.

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