This island exudes romance, with dazzling beaches, shimmering blue seas, mountains dotted with vineyards, and tables groaning under heaped platters of mezé and bottles of sweet chilled wine. On the cusp of West and East, the north of the country is part of Turkey and the south culturally Greek. Whether Greek or Turkish, Cypriots are famous for the warmth of their hospitality, everywhere from the little village tavernas to burgeoning fine-dining restaurants.
Kick off your Cyprus holiday by clinking wine glasses of chilled white wine in one of its lush vineyards - locals say a ‘wine revolution’ in recent years will soon put their plonk up there with Italy’s. Cyprus has seven wine routes, with most wineries along the way offering tours and tastings. Start at Ktima Gerolemo winery, just outside the hill village of Omodos, to sample Cyprus’s famous commandaria sweet wine. The Cypriots love their wine so much, they have a whole festival dedicated to it. Over two weekends in September the Municipal Gardens are transformed into the Lemesos Wine Festival. If you’re planning what to do in Cyprus as a group, this one’s a crowd-pleaser.
Diving to the wreck of the Zenobia, a car ferry which capsized in mysterious circumstances off the city of Larnaca, is one of the most exciting things to do in Cyprus. Forty years after its ill-fated maiden voyage, it’s considered one of the best dive sites in the world. Grouper, barracuda, eels, turtles and triggerfish all call this shipwreck home. Eerily, the cargo of trucks and their contents were never salvaged and so are there for you to see lying on the seabed, still chained to the decks.
Thanks to the island’s fascinating and culturally diverse history, this museum is one of the best things to do in Cyprus. Just outside the walls of Lefkosia, it’s a trove of archeological treasures, charting the development of Cyprus’ civilisation from the Neolithic Age to the Early Byzantine period (7th century). As well as local pottery you can see Mycenaean, Phoenician and Greek designs, a reflection of Cyprus’s trading position between Europe and the Middle East. The most striking room is the semicircle of 2,000 terracotta figures from the 7th and 6th-century BC, found at Agios Irini in northwest Cyprus. They portray warriors, war-chariots, demon-servants and snakes, from life-size down to 10cm or so, tallest at the rear, smallest in front.
The Kaledonia Trail in the lofty Troodos Mountains takes you to the highest waterfall on the island - and makes a welcome escape from the heat. This 3km trail traces the Kryos Potamos River (one of the few in Cyprus that flows year-round). Begin at the top end, from Troodos village, or from the bottom near the Psilo Dendro trout farm/restaurant. It’s well signposted, and drops down from the Presidential Summer House (built by the British as a summer residence for the High Commissioner), crossing the river along log bridges or sets of stepping stones, and passing through pretty woods.
A special secret of Troodos Mountains is its UNESCO World Heritage-protected “painted churches”. Often found in remote woodland, stumbling across one of these is like a Hansel and Gretel experience. They’re modest from the outside, with steeply sloping wooden roofs (to shed snow during the winter) above stout rough stone walls. However, peek inside and you’ll find they’re decorated with exquisite colourful frescoes (and in some cases mosaics), which offer a glimpse of life and beliefs during the 1,000 years of the Byzantine Empire.
Thanks to several protected beaches, Cyprus is home to some of the last nesting places of green and loggerhead turtles in the Mediterranean. The isolated Lara Bay beach, on the west coast, is a particularly beautiful turtle haven. The Turtle Conservation Station here collects turtle eggs to keep them safe from predators, so in the hatching season (July and August), you might see tiny sea turtles that have just hatched. Egg-laying, turtle releases and hatching nights are arranged throughout the season, usually at Alagadi Beach, in the north.