Cyprus, a true hidden gem in Mediterranean Europe

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Cape Greco or Cave Greko

Have you been in a situation when, as someone who likes to plan his travel meticulously, the best of holidays has been one of the least-planned out ones?
Have you travelled on holiday as a tourist and wandered around a new place without being accosted or poked or bugged by service-providers or shopkeepers?
Have you been to a place where people look down upon an average day temperature of 21ºC as a bit hot under their collar?

It is a much-abused phrase, but as far as travel destinations go, Cyprus remains a hidden gem. Certainly a hidden gem in the Mediterranean region where Eastern European regions such as Czech Republic and Georgia-Armenia have also taken fancy among the population here in the Middle East.

And cheaper in comparison, too. Without much ado, here’s how my family holiday unfolded and all things you need to consider for a trip from Dubai to Cyprus.
Total cost of a week’s holiday – approx. Dh10,000 (inclusive of airfare, stay and excursions). Now, how is that!

REACHING THERE
There are direct flights but limited and expensive. However, Gulf Air is the best with very little stopover time in Bahrain, the two-legged journey takes just over four hours and at convenient times.

Depart Dubai at 8am and step out of Larnaca airport by 1.30pm, just past the average check-in time if you are staying in the Larnaca region. We stayed in Pyla, about 16kms away from the airport and one-way trip cost €20 including luggage. There is never any serious traffic throughout the day on the two-lane motorways.
Return flight is at 1pm which brings you back in Dubai by 8.30pm. I booked a taxi in advance through icyprustaxi and though they are not internet-savvy, I heavily recommend it for pick and drop to the Airport, that is if you do not fancy booking a rental car throughout your trip.

STAY
You can save money by staying in a self-catering apartment even if you don’t intend to do much cooking. Having your own fridge means you can stock up on soft drinks, beer and wine from the nearest market instead of paying hotel prices – and because there are so many expat Brits living in Cyprus, you’ll easily find conventional food and drink brands in local supermarkets.
A double room with kitchenette at Tsialis Hotel Apartments or Club Pyla Beach Resort where we stayed a few miles away from Larnaca starts around €40 a night (Dh150, 1€=4dhs).

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Club Pyla Resort

EAT, DRINK AND ENJOY
If you prefer to be like the Romans, more Greek actually, in the country with a Byzantine history, try snacks such as souvlaki and sheftalia – served up in pitta bread with onions, tomato and salad. If you are the eat-as-much-as-you-can type or in a group, look out for those serving meze – especially fish and seafood on a platter. Or you could order dish by dish. A local bottle of wine only cost as low as €6 and Cider can €2, much less than some of the soda cold drinks, and a perfect accompaniment with the huge portion of fries in almost every meal.

GETTING AROUND
Though public transport by bus is cheap if you are alone or a couple, the buses are just main point-to-point and mostly not worthwhile. Taxis are almost missing and hence car rentals are the best and only option. With fierce competition, it is best to go with someone based on trusted reviews and booked before you reach. Though I was told of Stevens Car Rentals and LP car rentals, both did not work out for me in the last-minute booking process and I stumbled upon cyprus-car. The later two are like agencies who mostly outsource it to smaller ones but still work out very cheap. I paid €135 for six days of use. Just an excursion by coach bus for four people, to say Troodos, works out to €160.

PLACES TO VISIT
For more details on the places to discover, look up the official Cyprus Tourism page.

Troodos mountains
You might not believe it, but in the winter Cyprus’ Toodos Mountains can be used to ski down. But when the sun is shining and the weather is fine, it is possible to trek through these impressive peaks. Amid the pine-clad hills you’ll see traditional villages, UNESCO-listed churches, waterfalls and some of the country’s native mouflon sheep.

We even caught a bit of snow, in April, at the Troodos park on the way up to the Kykkos Monastery. There is a man-made Waterfall done up nicely by a private restaurant. They charge but it is a nice experience and a peaceful outing to club with lunch/dinner.

Among the biggest attractions though are the wine-tasting vineyards and the opportunity to buy Commandaria wines, the local red port wine with a history dating 4,000 years. One mistake we did was left a bit late from Pyla, a little less than two hours drive, and kept the wine stop for later on the way back down from the twisting and turning beautiful drive. But one small turn missed and we ended up getting down on the other side of the mountain and towards Nicosia. We had to make another trip and that was still good to go, given our leisurely trip.

Beaches
Of course, an island will have beaches as their main attraction. And there are plenty, and clean, too. Surrounded by the deep blue and turqoise-shaded waters, the plethora of choice is wide-ranging – from Paphos to Agia Napa. We are not counting the Northern part of Cyprus, of course, which is under Turkish government control.

Cape Greco
Cape Greco national park features the remains of a Venetian lighthouse, nine hiking trails and various sea caves. You may not see the pirates, just as you may miss the sign posts leading to it so be careful to drive slow, or stop to ask questions because you don’t want to miss it. On the way of a scenic drive are more beautiful topography and a sculpture park.

Petra Tou Romiou (the Rock of Aphrodite)
Drive down from Limassol to Petra Tou Romiou with Kourion as a stopover. Why? Because you also get to pass through another scenic stretch of the military area under British control with beautiful red-top houses contrasting nicely with the lush green hills and water on the other side. Just the right appetiser before the Aphrodite’s Rock looms suddenly after another hill. Words are waste. Just set up the appointment with the birthplace of the goddess of love. Legend has it that if you swim around the rock three times, you’ll find true love. We did not find any daring tourist. We are happily married so share your experience, by all means, below.

Blog3Discover the Tombs of the Kings
Not to be confused with Egypt’s Valley of the Kings, this is the burial place of about 100 aristocrats from the 3rd century BC. Although some tombs were used as workshops during the Middle Ages, this attraction’s most remarkable trait is that St Paul was tied to one of the pillars for preaching the news of Christianity.

Kourion, more archaeology and Kourion Castle
The ancient city of Kourion, which dates all the way back to the 2nd century BC has a magnificent Roman theatre, a Christian Basilica, impressive villas and beautifully made mosaic floors. It is a great place for anyone who appreciates ancient history. Sight of beautiful kites surfing in the winds is complimentary.

Hala Sultan mosque and Salt Lake
If you’ve ever wanted to see flocks of colourful pink flamingos then head over to Salt Lake to the west of Larnaca and see these beautiful creatures. They visit the lake at the beginning of each year. During the summer the lake dries up leaving just salt behind, which is also worth seeing, next to this picture of the sunset, below, I got as planes landed nearby on the other side.

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Nicosia

There is not much to discover as a tourist. But history and political science buffs can get to claim they visited the “only divided capital” in the world. A strangely named Green Line divides Turkish-ruled Northern Cyprus and Democratic Republic of Cyprus, since 1974, a red flag in the region’s history.

Travel pieces will tell you of an observation desk at Ledra Tower on the the 11th floor of a 12-storey apartment where you get binoculars to see the Turkish Cypriots and the army in a more-or-less deserted city. There no binoculars now. It’s a residential floor with paid entry to just look through glass windows on the other side. And you may need binoculars to spot the entrance to the building in the first place. Shopkeepers right below the building claimed they did not know the entry point, can you imagine?

Hits n misses
We went in the first week of April, and locals looked downbeat and said “it is getting hot now”. It was 21ºC at the most in mid-day. Ask an Indian living in Dubai how strange that sounds!

Had we gone in May, we would have got an extra takeaway from the trip in the form of a boat trip from Agia Napa harbour towards Famagusta, a city on the Turkish side. That would entail a view of Cape Greco from the water side, a view of the ghost town and snorkeling at its best. We did do go through Dolphin Boats and Safari, other than the Famagusta bit, but it was not the same without a full dip for snorkelling.

In the end, the later part was the only sore point about our trip, in hindsight. If you can make it in May-June, that would be ideal.

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