Sure, It's Got Some Sick Beaches, but Cyprus Will Entrance You With its History + Culture
Cyprus has beaches like Agra Napa. (Photo: Alamy)
By Winston Ross
On a map, beneath the long shadow of Turkey, Cyprus cuts a diminutive jib. As a tourist destination, the island has long been billed as a land of “sea, sun and sand.” A nice spot to drape a towel, gorge on meze and guzzle Commandaria, Cypriot wine.
But there is so much more to this ancient place, a rich convergence of culture and history that can be explored year-round — at least for now.
I got a sampling of these treasures on a January expedition to the island: some of which are inaccessible to the general public, most of which are open, but crumbling. I also ate too much of some of the best food ever to slide down my gullet, and left wishing I had another month to explore Cyprus. Not for the sea, sun or sand, but for its trove of ancient jewels.
I flew into the island’s largest airport, Larnaca, rented a car, and drove to the 193-room Golden Bay Beach Hotel, a five-star built with ’80s-era charm and style. The grand suite had a swing chair in its separate lounge and a sublime view of the Dhekelia Beach on the private balcony. And the complimentary Turkish breakfast offered plenty to sustain the day’s adventure: a United Nations-guided tour of the “buffer zone,” a 90-mile-long strip of land that runs between its Turkish-controlled north and Greek-speaking south since the former invaded in 1974.
The ruins of St. George of the Latins in Famagusta. (Photo: Getty Images)
The UN patrols this strip of land daily. I got special access, but there are several sections of the buffer zone that are accessible to the public. The buffer zone is an eerie, beautiful place, dotted with both guard towers and bucolic farmlands. There’s also the world’s oldest operating copper mine, the Skouriotissa, another sight to behold.
That night, I had my first of three experiences eating a traditional Cypriot meze in the island’s modern capitol of Nicosia, at a restaurant called Palia Plateia in the city’s Old Square (Plateia Kyriakou Karaoli). As the only customers in the place, the owner served us himself, chatting in expert English as he brought out one incredible dish after another: fava beans, the Cypriot fried cheese halloumi, sumptuous fried sausage and meatballs, among many others. Thankfully, he’d warned us at the outset not to go overboard on the breads and dips that comes out first. Save room, he said. You’ll need it.