So you are planning a European holiday? Great! And the first names that come to your mind for an insta-worthy break are… go ahead, admit it… – France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the like, right? It’s not surprising. These destinations often top tourists’ (especially South Asians’) list of must-do holidays. Needless to say, with scores of movies being shot in these countries, Bollywood has played a huge part in popularizing them for the average holiday-goer who believe Europe is all about the Alps, Eiffel Tower, romantic gondola rides, tall churches, quaint streets and high fashion.
But if you, like us, are a discerning traveller and love to explore a new address, then take the less beaten path this summer – to Cyprus, to be precise. Why Cyprus? Because it is one country that not just offers surprises at every turn but has such a unique charm of its own that it can’t be compared to any other region in Europe. The third largest island in the Mediterranean, Cyprus is actually situated at the cross roads of three continents – Europe, Asia and Africa. Thus, from rich historical sites to mindboggling archaeological discoveries (dating back to 1000s of years), from charming villages to modern bustling cities, long roads, spectacular nature trails, mystical mountains and lush meadows, Cyprus is the place where myths, legends, history and modernity meet up beautifully.
Another reason to book those tickets is that it’s seriously easy to travel from Dubai. Just a four and a half hour flight (Yes! Emirates has very convenient timings) and you land in a country that charms you from the word go.
So what can you do in Cyprus over an extended weekend? Here is a comprehensive list.
1) LARNAKA MARINA
This is where the airport is and most likely, your first destination. Larnaka looks like a sleepy beach town which is what it is. The marina is a tad underwhelming especially if you compare it to glamorous Dubai beaches, but it shoots off a lazy vibe, ideal of a day of doing nothing. There are plenty of boats and yachts moored here, available for hire if you want to go for a sunset cruise in the Mediterranean. The promenade is full of restaurants and shops, serving the freshest of seafood. Interested in lazy loafing? This should be your hangout. Another plus point is the sea – wild, rough and inviting.
Recommendation: Monte Carlo restaurant, with its clean white and blue lines reminiscent of a Greek town. Serves amazing seabass.
2) THE CASTLE OF LARNAKA
For history buffs, Cyprus is a treasure trove and nothing exemplifies the country’s civilizational wealth more than the castle of Larnaka (more a fort than a castle actually) at the southern end of the Larnaka promenade. Built in the 14th century by Ottoman Turks, part of it was used by the British as gallows for execution of prisoners during the colonial period. Don’t miss the spot, it’s kinda creepy! There is also a museum in-house that showcases photographic material of 11th to 16th century wall paintings, examples of pottery and a room converted to an Ottoman ontas.
Recommendation: A little stroll takes you to the awe-inspiring St Lazarus byzantine church which still has the bones and skull of St Lazarus preserved.
3) LARNAKA CENTRE
Quite like a city square, the Larnaka centre is this laidback town’s ‘happening’ zone. Cute cafes and souvenir shops abound. Groups of senior citizens play carom in a street corner, restaurants await patrons, church goers stroll in and out of the St Lazarus church and residents peek out of buildings that date back to the 17th century – the sights and sounds seem like they belong to another time zone.
4) SALT LAKE
If you are driving past Larnaka, don’t forget to stop by the famous Salt Lake for picture ops. Flamingoes, wild ducks and other water or shore fowl find refuge here. The flamingoes, flying in from Russia and going to Africa, make the lake their home from October to April.
Think tall trees, wide roads, ancient churches standing next to swish fashion stores, buzzing restaurants and a vibrant shopping area… and you get Nicosia, the capital city that combines the charm of a historic past with the liveliness of a modern city. It’s divided into two parts – Old Nicosia and New Nicosia – and both are equally splendid. The Old Centre, surrounded by 16th century walls houses some fashion stores, churches and beautiful medieval buildings. The shopping area reminds you of any other city in Europe – stores housed in old fashioned buildings, colourful homes, cobbled streets, cafes and pubs galore – sights and sounds that you never get bored of. Frankly, the shopping doesn’t impress too much but the vibe certainly does.
Recommendation: Aperitivo, one of the hippest and most glam lounge-bars in ‘new’ Nicosia. International menu, super hot guests, rocking music… it’s your party destination after a day of sightseeing and shopping.
6) THE VILLAGE OF KALAPANAYIOTIS
The real beauty of Cyprus lies in the countryside. Swathes of unspoilt greenery, marked by mustard fields, plum trees and vineyards, the plains (called Mesoria) on the way up to the Troodos mountain range, is quintessentially Europe. Nature, in this part of the country, doesn’t overwhelm you with its beauty but rather seems to accept you within its fold, giving a comforting ‘at home’ feeling as you go on a long drive, soaking in the scenery. Further up the Troodos mountains, the orchards get replaced by tall pine trees; their fragrance is invigorating as you reach your destination which are the villages dotting the mountains.
And your first stop in this journey better be Kalapanayiotis, the charming village nestled in the Troodos mountains. Cyprus is full of such prosperous, picturesque villages but this one is special. The 11th century fresco-covered St John Lambadistis monastery, the sulphur springs, the Byzantine chapels and churches lend it an other-wordly feel and every street corner has some story to share.
Recommendation: Discover this village on a mountain bike, ambling along the forest trails.
7) CASALE PANAYIOTIS RESORT
Mind-boggling. Awe-inspiring. Jaw-dropping. Think of all the clichéd and overused travel adjectives and they perfectly describe Casale Panayiotis, a spa resort unlike any other in the world! A cluster of around 43 village homes, restored to international standards of luxury while retaining every element of traditional architecture, the idea behind this haven of tranquillity is to give guests a true Cyproit hospitality experience. Casale is the dream project of millionaire John Papadouris (who is incidentally based in Dubai) who wanted to give back to his roots and preserve the cultural and architectural heritage of his childhood village.
The main part of the hotel houses the reception, a common area (called Cava) for wine and cheese get-togethers, a two-level library with an old fire place and the like. The rooms have everything a modern traveller needs and there is an incredible spa (Myrianthousa Spa) offering a range of exquisite treatments and beauty rituals. Imagine relaxing in a Jacuzzi overlooking the mountains!
Casale is for the discerning tourist who wants to immerse herself in the culture of a destination; it’s about living the village life, waking up to views of the mountains and the sound of the stream below, feeling at home in the suites and rooms housed in traditional stone buildings, chatting up genteel villagers and relishing recipes handed down generations. Devote at least one or two days in your trip to a stay here; it’s a place to reconnect with the soul.
8) KAKOPETRIA VILLAGE WALK
Another quaint village in the Troodos mountains is Kakopetria. Close your eyes and go back to the fairy tales you grew up listening to where simple characters resided in picture-perfect hamlets centred off by a village square, traditional pubs and restaurants, cobbled streets, delightful little stores selling jams, marmalades and pickles, churches, and of course, homes that have stood the test of time. That’s Kakopetria for you. It’s a tiny village of about only 1200 residents but again divided by the old and new part. The new part is slightly spiffier with a few shops and restaurants but it’s the old part that has the soul of the village. Untouched, unspoilt and simply marvellous. In the old segment, step into Lanos Inn, a centuries-old inn that has preserved its old furniture and interiors - a good option to stay in if you want to cut off from the rest of the world.
Recommendation: The Mill Hotel, set smack amidst the mountains is where you should stop by for lunch or dinner. People drive for miles for a meal here and it’s easy to see why. Exuding the vibe of a village pub, its restaurant oozes old world charm with its wooden, traditional décor and lip-smacking menu. It’s famous for its trout and that’s what you order. Salamander grilled to perfection, served in garlic, butter and lemon sauce along with a secret ingredient (that they refuse to reveal), the restaurant proudly declares they have elevated the trout to another level. It’s true! The dish is outstanding.
The zany, zippy Limassol, the second largest city in Cyprus is where you find the hot n happening bars, awesome restaurants, party zones and the like, all of which find sit comfortably with wondrous architectural sites. Surrounded by the castle, you find the maze of lanes where old buildings and swish boutiques lie cheek by jowl. The marina here in far more flashy than the one in Larnaka and it’s the place to see and be seen at.
* Recommendation: Epsilon Marina, the super hip restaurant on the Marina that boasts of both, a sizzling ambiance and a delicious menu. A must-eat: the Cod with sweet potato puree and miso. Pure perfection.
* Vivaldi by Mavrommatis:
Want to go some place truly fancy? Then don’t miss Vivaldi by Mavrommatis, the award winning restaurant by Paris-based Michelin-starred Cypriot chef Andreas Mavrommatis. Offering the very best in Mediterranean cuisine , Vivaldi’s gastronomical wonders, based on the simplicity of market fresh Mediterranean ingredients, is an epicure’s delight. Make time for a dinner here!
Omodos, around 42 kms from Limassol, situated bang in the midst of wine-making areas, is yet another picture postcard worthy village with princely population of…hold your breath… about 400 people during summers. A tad bit unreal, literally and figuratively, you feel you have entered a movie set when you step foot into Omodos. Can anything be this perfect? Brightly painted stone homes, delightfully old-fashioned restaurants and inns, neighbourhood stores selling fresh fruits, bread, veggies and groceries, and the maze of cobbled alleyways quite sum up life in this village. A favourite with Cyproits to spend a weekend or two, Omodos is your escape from city reality.
Recommendation: Katoi, a lovely Mediterranean restaurant attracts with its rustic décor and fantastic food. The must-tastes include the grilled halloumi and sausage, feta cheese and pita bread with fish and lentil dips.
11) APHRODITE’S ROCK
On the way from Troodos mountains, one lonely stretch of the beach is where the legend of Aphrodie, the Greek goddess of love, beauty and fertility lies. Now, this is one place that makes you go OMG. The vast expanse of the ocean is breath-taking as you watch the waves lash against the rocks. Walk down the steep path and you will be led to the famous Rock of Aphrodite – standing tall, emerging from the ocean, near the stony shore. They say love comes visiting those who visit this place, so if you believe in legends of romance, you wouldn’t want to miss it for the world.
INFO: Time to reach Cyprus: 4.30 hours; Currency: Euro; For more information contact Cyprus Tourism (www.visitcyprus.com)