The best things in life happen unexpectedly and this time was not an exception. Just recently, I’ve been assigned to be a part of Gulf Air and Deputy Ministry of Tourism for a media trip to Cyprus!
For those who are living in the Middle East, Cyprus is a relatively new destination. However, over 3 million holidaymakers from around the world are already visiting Cyprus annually. This destination is absolutely ideal for us due to the proximity and experiences Cyprus has to offer. Traveling there from Bahrain became so easy with a newly introduced daily flight to Larnaca by Gulf Air! During the trip, we had the experience of flying on Gulf Air’s Airbus A320Neo! Who would’ve thought that it only takes 3.5 to reach this Mediterranean oasis?
Cyprus is an island in the Mediterranean Sea located on the crossroads between three continents – Europe, Asia and Africa. It is rich in history, having Greek roots and origin, Cyprus has been influenced by Phoenicians, Assyrians, Franks, Venetians, Ottomans and British leaving traces in its culture. The official language is Greek with local dialect, but English is widely spoken which makes it easy for travelers.
Cyprus is blessed with very beautiful natural surroundings and Cypriots respect nature a lot. The landscape is diverse and has so much to offer to everybody. While in Cyprus, spending time on the beach is essential. There are 64 (!) Blue Flag certified beaches in Cyprus, which means they meet the highest criteria in quality, safety and environmental education in Europe. Cyprus coastline has everything from golden sand beaches to the rocky cliffs, surrounded by the glorious views with sapphire-blue waters.
We’ve stayed in Paphos area for half of the trip and got to enjoy the beautiful, Coral Beach Resort. It was truly incredible to fall asleep and wake up listening to the relaxing sea waves. If you are into hiking, you should go to the Troodos mountains. The picturesque range covered by fragrant lavish forests has numerous hiking and cycling routes to enjoy. Skiing is available up in Troodos during winter.
History & Culture
Cyprus is very rich in history which is 10,000 years long. The symbol of the island is Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty and love. According to mythology, she was born near Paphos area from the sea foam. The “Petra You Romiou” is one of the most beautiful coastlines and it is said to be the place where Aphrodite came out of the waters. The prehistoric inhabitants were joined by Mycenaean Greeks 3500 years ago who established their civilisation and mostly defined the culture in Cyprus.
A must-visit is the Kourion city-kingdom (19 km from Limassol) with an iconic amphitheater located by the sea built in 2nd century AD. People can enjoy theatrical performances with a gorgeous sea view surrounded by graceful cypress trees just like the ancient Kourion founders!
There is an ancient private villa with an impressive recreation complex nearby. It is a complex of baths and rooms, an ancient spa, decorated with stunning mosaic floors dated 5th century AD. Kato Pafos Archaeological Park in Paphos is another important site included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Authenticity & Character
What I really loved about Cyprus is the fact that it is still authentic despite today’s globalization. Nowadays, everywhere you travel, all you can see are Starbucks’s and Zara outlets. Cyprus kept its authenticity well and you can easily remember its character. Of course, international chains are available but they don’t overshadow the local entities.
People are amazing in Cyprus! Hospitality is in their blood and they treat guests like family members. Cypriots are full of life and are positive, preaching that special Mediterranean laid-back and stress-free lifestyle. Their philosophy is to enjoy life to the fullest and celebrate it. To experience this, we headed to the Kings of Aphrodite taverna in Pafos for a dinner program. We had a great time watching and participating in traditional dancing. A lot of fun indeed!
For a more authentic experience, it is highly recommended to visit the villages for the crafts, souvenirs, shopping or food workshops. My favorite was Halloumi and bread making workshop at Sophia’s house in the village of Letymbou. Another village to visit is Omodos. It is one of the most picturesque villages in Cyprus.
Food alone is a solid reason to visit Cyprus! Forget international food chains and head to any local taverna for the tastiest meals with generous portions. Traditional eating style is based on sharing so you will get to try various dips, appetizers and mains! What amazed me most is that how much flavor there is in the simplest dishes.
Here is my must-try recommendation list:
- Greek/village salad (horiatiki) – Made with sun kissed tomatoes, onions, extra virgin olive oil and fresh feta cheese.
- Halloumi cheese – Native to Cyprus, it is a firm cheese made by mixing goat’s, sheep’s and sometimes cow’s milk. It can be consumed cold (raw) but best eaten grilled. This one is my absolute winner! We had it in each place we’ve visited during the trip but my Oscar goes to O’Vrakas Taverna in Pissouri Village near Limassol for its excellent grilled Halloumi accompanied by delicious homemade fig and pomegranate sauce! Yum!
- Fish meze (meze is an assortment) – It is called “fish” but you will be served with a good mix of seafood and different types of fish. The best we’ve tried was La Mer in Limassol and Ais Georgis Pegeias in Pafos. If you are a meat lover there is a meat meze too!
- Baklava – filo pastries stuffed with crushed nuts and soaked in syrup. It’s not a light dessert but worth every calorie!
- Cyprus coffee – Served in espresso cups, it has a distinguished mild non-bitter taste. If you like it without sugar, say “sketos”. “Metrios” goes for medium sweet and “Glykos” for sweet.
All of the above are the best local traditional food. However, if anyone is keen to have a fine dining experience, there is nothing better than Vivaldi by Mavromattis – a restaurant in the luxurious Four Seasons Hotel in Limassol. Owned by Andreas Mavromattis, the only Cypriot Michelin Chef in the world, it provides the finest cuisine on the island. And we’ve got to dine there and meet Mr. Mavromattis himself!
Limassol is the most bustling, lively and modern city in Cyprus. It is spread along the coastline with a huge promenade. Numerous hotels, bars, restaurants are available there thus, Limassol offers a good nightlife.
One of the very best hotel to stay in Limassol is the 5 star Amathus Beach Hotel. The hotel is very popular among tourists and offers stunning sea view rooms, relaxing atmosphere and excellent service by the very efficient staff. We’ve had a truly enjoyable stay. I loved the view from my room during dusk!
Left with heartfelt memories, new dear Cypriot friends, and full of amazing experiences, I conclude that Cyprus isn’t just a one-time-visit destination. I need to be back for another dose of its unique lifestyle!