Cyprus is the third largest of the islands of the Mediterranean, close to the Levant and the southern coast of Turkey and with a rich and frequently violent history due to its strategic geographic location on east-west trade and conquest routes. Today, the island is divided between the Greeks and the Turks, but relations are now fairly friendly and there are plenty of great things to see and do on both sides of the divide. Apart from its fabulous beaches, Cyprus has numerous sites of great historic interest, and the best way of getting around is to take advantage of car hire in Cyprus and just set out exploring on your own, preferably with a map.
The Cyprus Museum in Nicosia is the best place to go if you’re an archaeology buff, as it has one of the most comprehensive collections of regional artefacts in the Middle East, with every period represented from the Old Stone Age to medieval Byzantium.
The ancient city of Kourion, now signposted as Curium, can be found a few miles to the west of Limassol, rather spectacularly balanced on the edge of a bluff that overlooks the sea, as if designed with the modern tourist in mind. In 365AD a devastating earthquake in the region brought its walls tumbling down but you can see some wonderful floor mosaics from the original ground level still preserved intact. One more amphitheatre in this part of the world may not sound like a big deal, but the one at Kourion has an especially attractive location and is worth a visit in its own right.
For an appreciation of the famous Cypriot wines, a tour of the krassohoria wineries is a must. These convenient coach tours include plenty of sampling, or if you prefer a more flexible itinerary and someone else is driving head for the Limassol district to try out the local celebrated krassohoria wine from one of the smaller refineries there.
Cyprus is famous for its painted churches up in the Troodos Mountains to the north of Limassol, which date back to the later Byzantine period and have roofs that are steeply pitched to let snow easily slide off in winter. These picturesque little churches are packed with treasures like the 1495 Life of Christ panels in the church of Agios Mamas in Louvaras village. The roads are pretty good and you can get around the three best churches here in a day trip from Limassol.
For diving enthusiasts there’s some brilliant scuba diving on offer at Larnaca. The good ship Zenobia went down here on its maiden voyage in 1980, foundering in the harbour. But every cloud has a silver lining, and now this biggest wreck in the Mediterranean is a veritable coral garden playground for scuba divers of all abilities. There are lorries still chained to its decks just offshore and an enormous profusion of aquatic life has reclaimed the entire wreckage for the natural world, beautifying the grim iron with multi-coloured coral outgrowths. This is recycling on the grand scale.
David Elliott is a freelance writer who loves to travel, especially in Europe and Turkey. He’s spent most of his adult life in a state of restless excitement but recently decided to settle in North London. He gets away whenever he can to immerse himself in foreign cultures and lap up the history of great cities.