Cyprus: Basking in the Mediterranean Sun

With 10,000 years of history and 360 days of sunshine each year, the Mediterranean island of Cyprus is sitting pretty at the crossroads linking Europe, westernmost Asia and Africa. And with November’s grand opening of the new Larnaka International Airport (LCA), it’s shining even brighter. That highly anticipated feat has boosted the Republic’s stature toward becoming a regional transit hub in the Eastern Mediterranean.

What does this mean to U.S. travelers? Plenty, according to Tasoula Manaridis, director of Cyprus Tourism Organization’s (CTO) New York office. “It’s about better service and connections,” she says. “And hopefully, it will create interest from different airlines for direct U.S. to Cyprus flights.”

The ultra-sleek, $773 million facility can accommodate 7.5 million passengers annually (compared to 5 million at the former airport) with 67 check-in counters and 21 departure gates. Currently, 33 “name brand” carriers service LCA, with Cyprus Airways connecting from the U.S. and Canada via London, Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Athens. American Airlines also connects with British Airways in London Heathrow.

Manaridis notes that most U.S. travelers arrive on cruise ships (Azamara Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, Costa Cruises, Holland America Line, MSC Cruises, Oceania Cruises, Silversea Cruises and Royal Caribbean) with Limassol as their Cyprus port of call. Plans are in place, however, to expand that day-tour market with independent travelers on multiple-night stays.

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“We’re focusing on U.S. visitors with special interests like religious tourism, food and wines, wellness and pampering, and, of course, history and archaeology,” Manaridis says. “Many visit neighboring countries such as Israel, Egypt and Greece. Cyprus is an excellent extension to these destinations with its diverse experiences.”

lay of the (is)land It’s difficult to wrap your mind around Cyprus’ phenomenal past. The 3,572-sq.-mile island is an open-air museum brimming with ancient remnants from conquerors and rulers controlling it through the ages. “Many Americans don’t know much about Cyprus,” says Manaridis. “So they’re pleasantly surprised by the rich culture, history, excellent food and hospitable people.”

For exploring ease, the CTO has designed a series of thematic routes encompassing Byzantine churches, wine regions, nature paths, antiquity treks and the Aphrodite route spotlighting Cyprus’ beloved protectress.

Coastal resort towns of Larnaka, Limassol and Pafos are prominent springboards for these targeted excursions. While rental cars are fine for those comfortable “driving on the other side of the road,” it’s recommended to hire a guide/driver to take the wheel. That way, you can concentrate on scenery rather than maps, and learn history and culture from well-versed docents like Zoe Anastasiou with the Cyprus Tourist Guides Association.

Catering to our particular trip’s focus on agro-tourism, archaeological sites and Ecclesiastical history, Anastasiou charted a 4-day itinerary covering that and more.

hitting the road We took off from Larnaka, a colorful town with yacht marina and seaside promenade that’s built atop the ancient city-kingdom of Kition. Remains of that once rich seaport and thriving copper trade center are visible today in giant stone block walls and complex of 12th century B.C. Mycenaean Greek temples.

Visitors also flock here to tour the 10th century Church of St. Lazarus, exalted as one of Cyprus’ finest examples of Byzantine architecture. Eight days before Easter, a silver icon bearing his image leads a ceremonial procession through Larnaka’s streets.

port of call limassol Fanning out between the ancient city-kingdoms of Amathous and Kourion, Limassol is a bustling port resort where British pubs stand elbow-to-elbow with Greek tavernas. Always lively is its promenade where you can jog, stroll or bike along the beach. The sea attracts swimmers even in the winter—although it’s mostly locals splashing about as visitors tend to flock here for balmy summer weather.

It’s a short drive to Kourion, where the carefully restored Greco-Roman theater hosts contemporary theatrical performances and concerts. Excavations have unearthed the “House of Eustolios,” a private villa consisting of baths and rooms with beautiful fifth century mosaic floors.

Next up were the Kolossi Medieval Castle and peaceful St. Nicholas of the Cats convent homing more felines than nuns. “According to legend, they’re descendants of cats St. Helena imported in the fourth century to control the snake population,” Anastasiou says. Their feline forebears must have done an outstanding job since the 100-plus furry residents seem more inclined to laze in the sun than forage for reptiles.