At the top of Mt Olympus you can see out over the Troodos mountain range, taking in the north and south of a divided island. Cyprus is located in the Eastern Mediterranean, on the western waters of Syria and Lebanon, south of Turkey.
This is a mythological island that has an ancient history of conflict, art and love. Many different civilizations have claimed its strategic geography as their own, while today’s visitors enjoy the culture left behind, of ancient temples and mystical personifications of the landscape. Today some 50,000 Turkish troops are stationed in the Northern region, occupying territory like cards in the board game Risk.
In that northern area is the first of many contradictions the Mediterranean’s third largest island holds true.
Two pointed towers stand next to each other in the northern part of Nicosia, forming a gate seen more often in a stunt plane race, high up into the sky. These minarets were added to the building after the Ottoman’s invaded Cyprus and turned one of Europe’s most impressive Gothic cathedrals into a mosque.
One religion transplanting its identity onto another, adding its own ideals but creating a building that holds true to both. The Muslim population worships here today, just as the Catholics did in the 16th century. Cyprus has a habit of showing this type of interpretable juxtaposition, a canvas of oddities and open questions.
Nicosia is, for example, the only capital city that still remains officially divided between two nation states, although the United Nations still considers the northern part ‘occupied’ by Turkey rather than officially governed.
Further down in the high regions of Cyprus another astounding paradox exists, although it involves a rather more entertaining form of separation.
Skiing in the Mediterranean
Almost 2000m above sea level skiers take to the Troodos Ski Resort for a day out just an hour from Nicosia. There are few other places in the world where people can have a day on the slopes followed by an evening on the beach, but Cyprus is most certainly one of them. The resort has been here since WW2 when the British Army decided it would be a good idea to have some fun in the mountains now and then.
Since then it has been taken over by the Cyprus Ski Club and expanded to a pretty impressive ski center for travelers and locals. The best time of the year for skiing here is between December and March when the temperatures get low enough for snow to form on Mt Olympus. There is plenty of information online about renting equipment and up to date weather reports from the mountain.
For most of the year, a little closer to the sea, the weather reports are seldom anything other than constant sunshine, which is good if you’re looking to enjoy the mythical beach at Aphrodite’s Rock.
Petra tou Romiou, Aphrodite’s Rock
The crashing waves here keep most visitors out of the water although, legend has it, anyone who dares swim around the rock will be blessed with eternal beauty and fertility. Those who don’t will probably be blessed with a longer life. An hour and a half drive from Nicosia, this famous beach is said to be the birthplace of Aphrodite. Others believe the rock formation in Pathos was created when the hero Basil, a half Greek, half Arabic warrior, threw the rock into the sea to ward off a Saracen invasion
Visitors can get a much closer look and judge for themselves by scuba diving around the area. The Aphrodite Hills Resort offers lessons and equipment for a day out beneath the waves.
Roman Boutique Hotel
Close to Aphrodite’s Rock is the Roman Boutique Hotel, where you can sleep completely surrounded by Roman and Greek history all year round.
The thing about this hotel, though, is that it is all completely fake, created as an amusement as much as a place to stay. It is in touching distance of UNESCO World Heritage sites as well as a brand new Mall complex.
Really it has been built for children and families but is also an affordable, quirky little place right around the Pathos area for groups or single travellers.
The plastic face of the Boutique hotel is fantastic in a lot of ways, offering a lighthearted basecamp, and comfortable living conditions, with double rooms no more than €65 until July.
What about the beaches?!
The beaches in Cyprus are often associated with the partying that goes on in Ayia Napa during the summer. And for Nissi Beach that is exactly right. Hundreds of revelers head down to dance and jump in the water all night, having fun and taking a break away from the stresses of home. However, there are also quiet spots like Governor’s Beach in Limassol, where the sand is volcanic black and locals come to eat the local fish.
A trip to Pissouri beach is better for families because watersports and all the rest of the classic beach facilities are available, like melting ice creams and bucket friendly sand.
The public transport system in Cyprus is not too bad although it can be confusing when passing through the north and south. Bus services run from the main airport (Larnaca International Airport) although, again, they are not always great. The best way to get around is probably car hire.
This way you can take in everything this extraordinary island has to offer, with its complex contradictions and interesting local people.
Perhaps the best way to sum up Cyprus is the fact that, after their banks went bust, the people are now closer than ever to reuniting, to bringing their country back together again. As with many other places across the world, community spirit is becoming stronger as times continue to be hard. The island is settling into a new way of life and, as has been the case of thousands of years, the people of Cyprus are expecting visitors.