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A land of unspoilt open spaces where tradition still reigns supreme

Aphrodites Rock.

Aphrodites Rock.

“Once you visit Cyprus and experience its multifaceted beauty, you will never want to leave,” our guide said prophetically on the first day of our stay on this jewel of the Mediterranean, not entirely worlds apart from our own beautiful country. As clichéd as it might sound, Cyprus really does have an air of mystique and untarnished charm about it which is probably a big part of the reason why it has had such a rocky history with outsiders looking to claim it as their own.

The trip there was one of the smoothest I’ve ever experienced in my life and much of it had to do with the five-star service we received at the hands of the wonderful Emirates crew. Flying in business class was nothing short of a pleasure; not only did the staff make the effort to get to know us by name, but the fact that we were able to enjoy gourmet food, a medley of free flowing cocktails and champagne, as well as the latest films made the time pass by like a dream.

Platres: chocolate with gold.Platres: chocolate with gold.

Of course, this was just the beginning of what promised to be an action-packed and culturally rich few days. Apart from the natural beauty and the vast expanses of nature and unspoilt open spaces Cyprus boasts, many choose to visit again and again thanks to the wealth of activities offered for all the family. However, with that said, we were very little surprised to find younger travellers making the most of the wine and specialist food tours offered in this eastern Mediterranean land.

Thanks to the wide, open roads and the fact that people in Cyprus still drive on the left as a living remnant of the decades of British colonial rule on the island, Cyprus is the ideal starter holiday for all those who like the idea of renting a car to drive around at their leisure but are not ready to take on bigger countries.

Indeed, despite the fact that Cyprus is considered to be diminutive in size (it’s over 20 times larger than Malta), it still offers ample space for movement. What also makes it worthwhile to rent a car is the fact that places of interest aren’t clustered together and instead are tucked into the countryside in a most charming way. Being blessed with the typical Mediterranean climate we have first-hand experience of, some of the island’s main products are olives, which are pressed into Cyprus’ tangy yet delicate olive oil, and grapes, which have been used to produce wine on the island for millennia.

You can always swim around Aphrodite’s Rock under a full moon and gain a year of life for each time you make it all the way around

Visitors can experience the making of wine in particular by signing up for one of several of wine routes which span the country, allowing travellers to try everything from full bodied reds to light and sweet whites. What’s more, each route offers something uniquely different and thanks to the 40kg baggage allowance Emirates offered, I was able to bring home plenty of gastronomic souvenirs for my family and friends.

Tochni: making halloumi.Tochni: making halloumi.

Indeed, something which really stands out in Cypriot cuisine is the freshness of its ingredients visible not only on the locals’ tables more often than not heaving with food. Whether you enter an off-the-beaten path tavern or eat in one of its booming cities, you can enjoy thick slabs of halloumi cheese, typical of the island, as well as watch it being made at places like Lula’s Farm.

Salads drenched in golden olive oil, made only of the freshest vegetables, and succulent meats flavoured according to the age-old traditions of each village are a mere sample of the gastronomy of Cyprus, situated as it is between the Greek archipelago and the fragrant Middle East.

If all that isn’t enough, those with a sweet tooth can sample sweets made of carob syrup- and rosewater syrup-soaked desserts which taste of creamy flowers, as well as my personal favourite, baklava. Loukoumia, familiarly referred to as Cypriot delight, holds protected geographical indication status as recognised by the European Union and is commonly flavoured with rose water or citrus extracts.

Tradition and family are very central to the Cypriot way of life: not only are Cypriot children named after saints and celebrate their name days on the day of the feast of their particular saint, but every Sunday people visit their local church to take part in a celebration of remembrance of the dead. So important is the memory of those who have passed on to the Cypriots that historically, families would bury their dead under their houses in order to always keep them close to their descendants.

Much like the Greeks, the Cypriots have always been great celebrators of life and love and this is illustrated in the mosaics that intricately line the floors of sites such as the ruins found in Paphos, which is a Unesco World Heritage site. All the excavated houses have mosaics depicting specific stories in mythology.

Omodos – great selection of wines.Omodos – great selection of wines.

However, my favourite was the House of Dionysius. Considered by many to be the House of Love and Death thanks to the stories of ill-fated lovers which adorn its floors, visitors can enjoy scenes such as that of Pyrmaus and Thisbe (the story from Ovid’s Metamorphosis which greatly inspired Romeo and Juliet), the story of Apollo and Daphne and the tragic tale of Hippolytus and Phaedra.

Not far from this site, facing the sea, we were led to the beautiful space which houses the ‘Tombs of the Kings’. Spread over a vast area, these impressive underground tombs date back to the 4th century BC and are carved into the rock itself. Though long looted, they still have a stature and elegance about them that denotes the precious cargo they once held.

A melting pot of legends, traditions and civilisations, it is little wonder that for a long time Cyprus was known by passing travellers as the island of magic and love. Whether you want to travel for love, adventure or history, Cyprus has it all: if all else fails, you can always swim around Aphrodite’s Rock under a full moon and gain a year of life for each time you make it all the way around!

Omodos: traditional winemaking equipment.Omodos: traditional winemaking equipment.

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