1. Head for the hills
Agritourism is a growing trend on the island, but it hasn’t yet caught up to the high visitor numbers the coastal resorts attract. Consequently, a holiday in the Troodos Mountains is recommended for anyone in search of a laid-back break beneath the shade of cedars and pines, interspersed with walking, cycling or sightseeing. Make your base a restored traditional house such as the charming and eco-conscious Spitiko tou Archonta (which also offers Cypriot cooking demonstrations), and look forward to languid days exploring sleepy villages and the many fantastically frescoed Byzantine churches scattered across the slopes. Notable examples include Agios Nikolaos tis Stegis near the picturesque village of Kakopetria. Housed beneath the steep-pitched, tiled roof typical of churches in the region, this eleventh-century monastery church has snagged perhaps the most enchanting setting of all the religious buildings in the area, perched high in a lush glade beside the gurgling Karyatis river. Church-going is rarely this scenic.
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2. Party barefoot
With Agia Napa’s heyday as the clubbing destination of choice a more distant memory every year, a new breed of fairweather going-out options is vying for the crown. Lemesos is making a name for itself with its sophisticated beach bars, most of which have replaced run-down, soulless pubs along the main drag of Germasogeia.
Brand new Cote D’Azur combines floaty white sails and comfy couches for an impressive alfresco clubbing experience on a wooden deck. Another popular nightspot on the stretch is Breeze, where its street level café/restaurant provides a bird’s eye view of the dancefloor.
For daytime scenesters, Greek coffee chain Flo Café combines seaside views, a wide selection of caffeine-rich drinks and tasty food. Further down the coast, the beach at Agios Tychonas hosts Drops, a laid-back option serving cocktails and iced coffees with a smile.
The hottest seaside spot du jour, however, is Guaba, where a hip crowd dance on the beach to tunes spun by international DJs. At the time of going to press, Guaba’s licence had not been renewed for its location at Agios Tychonas beach, but the organisers were confident a new venue would be found; go to www.guababeachbar.com for info.
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3. Wander archaeological wonders
Not even the most anti-sightseeing sun-seeker will be able to resist a trip to Cyprus' big three: Ancient Kourin is one of the island’s most important archaeological sites. The Greco-Roman amphitheatre perched on the clifftop, constructed in the second century BC, has undergone extensive renovation in recent years – mostly to protect the spectacular floor mosaics; Pafos Mosaics, discovered in 1962, have been acclaimed as some of the best examples of Roman floor mosaics discovered to date; and the remarkable site of Ancient Salamis, where visitors can easily spend half a day exploring the surrounding city walls, gymnasium, theatre, Roman baths and villa, forum and agora, as well as the Basilica of St Epiphanius and the temple of Zeus Salaminios.
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4. Gaze across the Green Line
The island’s capital has only recently emerged as a tourist destination, thanks to the opening of the Green Line (the no-go area also known as the ‘dead zone’ that divides Cypriot and Turkish areas). Even if you don’t stay here for your holiday (there are only a handful of hotels in Nicosia), it’s well worth making a detour from wherever you’re staying. Spend the day exploring the labyrinthine, beguiling streets of the old town within the ancient Venetian walls, then make your way to the Shacolas Tower Museum and Observatory for panoramic views across both sides of the last divided capital city in Europe.
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5. Go with the grape
More than 50 boutique wineries are dotted across the Troodos Mountains, and a day sampling their products is thoroughly recommended. An ideal place to pop the cork are the Krassohoria (Wine Villages), where you can check out the Agia Mavri Winery (Lemesos, +357 25 470 225)and its award-winning white muscat. September visitors should make a point of visiting the annual wine festival in Lemesos (see Join the party below).
6. Take a late-summer dip
Cyprus’s geographic location in a ray-catching corner of the Mediterraean makes it a failsafe target for end-of-the-summer-sun seekers. The country’s most alluring beaches – sugary shores lapped by translucent waters – are in the south-east, in the area around Agia Napa and Protaras. May and September are the best times to go, when the crowds have thinned out but it’s still warm enough to swim and tan. Follow the locals and flip-flop down to Konnos beach, a bijou bay at the foot of the spectacular cliffs at Cape Greco.
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7. Indulge in imaginative taverna dishes
Sidestep the tourist-trap tavernas and seek out one of the small-scale operations offering creative takes on traditional dishes. At Mageirion to Elliniko, a picturesque eaterie secreted away in the old quarter of Pafos, you can look forward to a table crowded with little-seen plates inspired by the traditions of Greek-era Constantinople, such as yaourtlou chicken and Pera kebab. All served to a thrice-weekly soundtrack of live rembetika.
Outside Pafos, in the village of Kathikas, Araouzos Taverna offers stifado (casserole) of wild boar and tsikles (wild fowl), which are neatly rounded off with little sweet carob rusks for dessert.
For an authentic and filling smörgåsborg around Larnaka, head to Kalo Chorio. Here, the tables at Koutsonikolias groan under the weight of delicacies such as kerpasto (salted lamb on charcoal), baked asparagus, deer and wild boar.
If you want to sample exquisite seafood dishes involving sea urchins, crab and pandora fish, you need to call two days in advance, thus guaranteeing a fresh catch.
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8. Explore an untouched wilderness
For those with adventurous appetites, the Akamas peninsula in the west of the island offers mile after mile of untamed wilderness studded with craggy Aleppo pines. This is the largest undeveloped area in Cyprus and richly rewards exploration. Have a field day cycling over rocky off-road tracks; joining a tour with a company like BikeTrek is a sound idea if you’re nervous about venturing into the unknown.
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9. Take a coffee break
The British may be famed for their love of tea, but in Cyprus the most revered caffeinated beverage is definitely coffee. Trendy cafés and old-school coffee shops line the streets of every city and village on the island, and it’s not just the old folk that like to sip the good stuff and watch the world go by.
Traditional Cypriot coffee is similar to its Mediterranean cousin, the espresso, in that it’s taken short and strong. It is also drunk black and in some villages you may still find it cooked slowly in a tray of hot sand placed over the cooker, to give the drink a fuller aroma.
You will also undoubtedly encounter the ubiquitous frappé. Served in tall glasses with lots of ice, this milkshake-like concoction is what summer on the island is really about.
Join the Cypriot posing posse at Nicosia hotspots like Da Capo or Le Café, where the drink is made to last as long as possible; gossiping, people-watching (and, more crucially, being seen) are the main events. Alternatively, try Oktana or Kala Kathoumena for a more laid-back vibe, where a leisurely coffee is the perfect accompaniment to a lively game of backgammon or a fragrant shisha pipe.
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10. Find your sea legs
In Latsi, a small community near Akamas, you can hire a motorboat and set off on a solo trip round the picturesque peninsula with no more than a quick lesson and a wave goodbye from the hire company. Powering along the coast from Latsi to the Blue Lagoon for a spot of snorkelling, dolphin-watching and sea turtle-spotting is an exhilarating experience. A driving licence is all that’s needed and four hours’ hire of a 40 horse-power boat costs €83.
Latsi Watersports Centre, Latsi Harbour, Polis Chrysohous (+357 26 322 095/www.latchiwatersportscentre.com).
11. Have an old-school spa treatment
Get properly pummelled with an old-school massage at the spruced-up Omeriye Hamam, the most luxurious Turkish baths on the island. The spa offers seven steam rooms at different temperatures, plus indulgent body wraps and a chill-out space on divans.
12. Taste a culinary evolution
If you thought Cypriot cuisine was all about tavernas, you’re in for something of a surprise – the island’s culinary evolution has come on in leaps and bounds in recent years.
Excellent restaurants are legion in the gastronomic capital of the island, Lemesos. Mavromatis, in the super-swanky Four Seasons hotel, combines elements from Greek and French cuisine. Beige has been voted the best international restaurant in Cyprus for three years running. The Japanese Zen Room is always busy with both locals and visitors – try the divine tempura ice cream. For imaginatively presented hearty Mediterranean meals, head to Artima and the Columbia Beach Resort near Lemesos for a highly creative molecular cooking.
Considered one of the most stylish and atmospheric restaurants in Lefkosia, Domus Lounge Bar offers stunningly executed dishes. On chic Stasikratous street, Seiko has a menu with more than a hundred choices of freshly prepared and prettily presented sushi and sashimi. Another great bet, Cos’altro emphasises pastas and assorted Med delicacies. Alfresco Marco Polo offers fusion cuisine with excellent views of the city from its seventh-floor vantage point. Polynesian Pago Pago, the only place of its kind in Cyprus, cherry-picks from Thai, Japanese and Chinese influences to transport you to the South Pacific.
In Larnaka, Japanese bistro Nippon is one of the most reputable restaurants around.
For excellent sushi in Pafos, Asiachi is a good bet. Its minimalist decor, friendly staff and vast array of dishes score big points. In the same area, there are two reasons for choosing Risto La Piazza: it serves authentic Italian cuisine and has won awards for two consecutive years for its peerless selection of wines. Sommelier Vasos Manoli will gladly guide you in matching your food and wine.
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13. Take a hike
Keen walkers have dozens of nature trails to choose from. Cedar Valley in the mountains is bisected by a European Ramblers Association long-distance walking path that stretches from Budapest to Larnaka. A picnic area with majestic views serves the less active. Alternatively, the Kalidonia trail in Platres offers a not-too-taxing trek along a refreshing stream.
Cedar Valley is reached by unsealed road from Kykkos Monastery, or from Pano Panagia if approaching from Pafos.
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14. Bag a quality souvenir
If you’re on the hunt for locally produced, hand-made gifts, then the Cyprus Handicraft Centre should be your first and only stop. Based in Nicosia, Larnaka, Limassol and Pafos, this organisation is sponsored by the Ministry of Commerce in order to preserve traditional craftsmanship. It proffers quality objects, from pottery and dolls to lacework and woven baskets – first-class options for souvenirs that last.
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15. Dive, dive, dive
The warm, clear waters and lack of strong tides and currents around Cyprus make the island an ideal place to learn to dive. Scuba diving schools have surfaced in every coastal town; ask at your hotel for recommendations or try Dive-In (www.dive-in.com.cy), a company with centres in Larnaka, Lemesos and Pafos; Sunfish Divers (www.sunfishdivers.com) in the Agia Napa and Protaras area; or the Pafos-based Cydive (www.cydive.com). Courses for both beginners and more experienced divers can be worked into your holiday, after which you’ll be qualified to explore the rich underwater world of sea caves, shipwrecks and marine life.
The most famous Cypriot dive site is the Zenobia wreck off the coast of Larnaka, which is considered the finest dive site in the Med. The sunken Swedish ferry has remained remarkably intact since it sank with a cargo of over 100 articulated lorries in 1980. Divers can snoop around the ship in the company of creatures such as conger eels, barracudas and groupers which have made the wreck their home. Nearby is a British Army Air Corps helicopter wreck and a sunken boulder-carrying barge, which has created an artificial reef known as Fraggle Rock.
Between Agia Napa and Protaras, Konnos Point and the sea caves offer plentiful opportunities for wanders through tunnels, canyons and interesting rock formations. The waters are rich in marine life, including octopus, starfish and a variety of hunting fish, which provide quite a spectacle if you’re lucky enough to catch them in action.
At the Akrotiti Fish Reserve in Lemesos, you can hand-feed species ranging from bream to bass. Pafos dive sites worth checking out include the Amphorae Reef and the 100-Foot Reef, known for its exceptionally clear waters. These suggestions are the tip of the iceberg: the good tidings for scuba fans are that scores more intriguing sites are ripe for exploration.
16. Espresso yourself
Cafés serving up a side of cultural stimulation alongside daily doses of caffeine are on the rise, with exhibitions popping up at coffeehouses and bars as a way of keeping the feel fresh, fluid and fashionable.
In Pafos, Casa has put the culture into coffee drinking. Occupying a restored mansion, it adds a contemporary twist with an outdoor, granite-topped bar and transparent green seating. This restaurant/bar/café exhibits mostly photographic work by Pafos artists, spicing up the internationally-inspired dishes on the menu.
Over in Lemesos, Dino Art Café is another arty spot for a caffeine fix. The pieces on display are all by Lemesos-based artists, and change monthly. The stripped-down surrounds let the paintings, photographs and sculptures set the mood; plus, everything’s for sale.
In Nicosia, Oinohoos sits right on the border of the dead zone. Fittingly, it has teamed up with various UN agencies to showcase works that highlight human rights and refugee issues. Meanwhile, Scarabeo sets the standard for the gallery/nightspot hybrid. Head here to hang with the cool kids amongst paintings, photos, sculptures or jewellery by local bright young things. Gallery-going has never been so hip.
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17. Get fresh with a fish
If you're on holiday on a small island, it stands to reason that there are going to be plenty of fresh fish around. Spartiatis is renowned for its fish meze and for using sparklingly fresh ingredients, the restaurant also commands stunning views over Cape Greco; Ta Psarakia tou Nikou is a simple, authentic fish taverna serving impeccably fresh food; and Pyxida, one of the best recent openings in the fish taverna sector, the setting is stylish and the service professional.
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18. Pull on a Cypriot designer label
Despite its relatively small size (the entire population could fit into London seven times over), Cyprus is becoming a hotbed of up-and-coming fashion talent and style.
Three hotly-tipped designer of the moment are Stalo Markides (4 Pygmalionos, www.stalo-markides.com), who puts her name to burlesque-inspired handbags and clutches, embellished with bold colours and leather pieces exquisitely cut to resemble feathers; Kyriaki Costa (Plateia tou Manoli 70, 99 471 107, http://kyriakicosta.net), an acclaimed Cypriot artist and fashion designer whose sleek and flattering cuts have caused a buzz internationally as well as on the local scene; and jewellery gallery Krama which showcases Skevi Afantiti’s highly original and sought-after necklaces, rings, bracelets and earrings.
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19. Join the party
The two most anticipated events on the year are Carnival and the Lemesos Wine Festival.
The former provides the biggest street events in Cyprus, which last for almost two weeks. Although festivities take place in towns all over the island, Lemesos hosts the most famous merrymaking. Carnival begins 50 days before Easter, on the second Thursday before Lent. On Green Monday, after the last day of Carnival, it’s customary for Cypriots to head to the fields to begin the 40-day countdown to Easter, when tasty vegetarian food is on the picnic menu to mark the first day of fasting.
The latter celebrates the island’s most precious natural produce, the grape. Wine making has an extremely long history on the island and is toasted every September in the town’s Municipal Gardens. The feast of tastings and buffets attracts over 100,000 people, accompanied by music and dancing at the gardens’ open-air theatre.
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20. Chew yourself healthy?
Aromatic mastic or masticha resin is produced on the Greek island of Chios. The properties of the gum have long been known – the Romans used it to whiten teeth, and Christopher Columbus declared it should be valued by its weight in gold rather than silver.
The milky sap of the mastic tree forms translucent crystals when dried in the sun which soften when chewed, making it the original chewing gum. Apart from its refreshing and interesting flavour (an acquired but addictive taste), the gum is heralded for its medicinal and anti-bacterial properties.
You can buy toothpaste and face cream from the official shop of the growers’ association at Mastiha Shop. The association has also teamed up with Korres skincare to develop a series of luxe lotions. Across the street Mastic Spa specialises in delicious-smelling hair, skin and body care ranges.
Mastiha Shop also stocks traditional edible products, like sweets, biscuits and the original Elma brand chewing gum. If the unique scent of mastic wins you over, try some of their stranger products like the mastic-infused pasta or the intensely flavoured liqueur – perfect served with fresh cream over ice.
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