With a history dating back 10,000 years evident in ancient ruins and an expansive coastline of immaculate beaches, this eastern Mediterranean island has so much history and recreation to offer in such a compact area of just 3,572 square miles. Facing Syria, Turkey, and Lebanon, Cyprus is just about at the point where Asia, Europe, and Africa meet and many of the surrounding civilizations have left their imprint, from the Ottoman Turks to the Greeks to the Romans.
It’s a place where 21st-century modern cities collide with olive groves and fragrant citrus orchards, rural vineyards cascading down hillsides, and old stone villages. Botanists will love a hike through the Troodos Mountains or unspoiled Akamas Peninsula, where many of Cyprus’s 1,907 species of plants (141 of which are endemic, including rare orchids) are found. The sun shines here every day and visitors are drawn to the calm beaches. A favorite is gray sand Phinikoudes Beach with cafes and bars. Watersports are widely available as well.
There are four large cities on the island. These commercial centers have old quarters, narrow streets, markets, lots of palm and cypress trees, and taverna-lined waterfronts, at which you must order mezze; small local dishes similar to Spanish tapas. The capital Lefkosia (Nicosia) is surrounded by a 16th-century Venetian sandstone fortress with bastions and a moat (now a garden where concerts are held). Beyond the walls are the old and new archbishop’s palaces, mosques, a cathedral, and museums.
Lemesos (Limassol), a beach resort with a lively, varied nightlife is the center of the wine industry. Lemesos Castle was the wedding site of Richard the Lionheart in the Middle Ages; today it houses the Cyprus Medieval Museum. Larnaka, with its marina and seafront promenade, has Christian and Islamic shrines, as well as convents and monasteries. To the west, the UNESCO site of Pafos is an archeological cache. It has the rock-carved underground Tombs of the Kings.