By Laura Warne
At the crossroads of Europe, Asia and the Middle East, Cyprus has much to offer the Middle East traveller.
At the crossroads of Europe, Asia and the Middle East, Cyprus is a cultural oasis that has much to offer the Middle East traveller, says Laura Warne who recently visited the island.Cyprus first rose to prominence in the Bronze Age due to its lucrative copper mines but today, inbound tourism is the largest industry on this small Mediterranean island.
Even the local family-run farms, orchards and wineries are often more successful as tourist destinations than actual enterprises and agri-tourism has taken off in a big way recently, according to local guide Mirka Merkouri.
Cultural tourism is also a drawcard; the island boasts a plethora of well preserved relics from the Classical, Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods, so much so that Cyprus has been described by some as a ‘giant open-air museum'.
A push to maintain traditional styles of building in many towns has led to a focus on renovation rather than new developments. As a result, luxury five-star hotels are immediately neighboured by rustic stone villas. Cyprus offers a fantastic choice of bustling tourist-friendly cities, as well as sleepy and secluded villages.
The moderate climate the island enjoys makes it an ideal year-round destination.
UK tourists comprise the majority of the 2.7 million annual arrivals to Cyprus, followed by German and Greek guests. The island currently receives 12,000 visitors per year from the UAE.
Cyprus has clearly been heavily influenced by its chequered history of invasion and occupation.
Despite 10,000 years of influence by ruling Phoenicians, Assyrians, Franks, Ventians, British and Ottomans, the island remains faithful to its Greek roots.
The northern tip of Cyprus has been under Turkish occupation since 1974, yet locals are adamant that there is no animosity between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.
Churches and mosques are built side by side to foster tolerance and understanding of the country's different religions.
A must-visit for couples and honeymooners, the harbour town of Pafos is the traditional realm of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty.
According to ancient mythology, the goddess rose from the foam at Petra tou Romiou, just outside Pafos.
While Larnaka is home to the island's main airport, a new international airport opened in Pafos in November 2008.
The new airport has 28 check-in counters, three luggage delivery belts and is capable of hosting 2.7 million passengers a year.
The town has some lively evening options, with the aptly named Bar Street home to a range of nightclubs, karaoke bars and a few up-market venues.
Elysium Hotel offers Byzantine luxury on the beach at Pafos, adjacent to the ancient Tombs of the Kings - a popular cultural site.
In addition to standard sea view rooms, Elysium features more private options such as Cyprian maisonettes, royal studios and royal garden villas with private pools.
As with most properties in Cyprus, natural shades of stone and terracotta feature heavily in the hotel's design.
The nearby Pafos Bird and Animal Park promises a fun day out for children and adults alike. The park is privately owned by bird-lover Christos Christoforou.
Christoforou initially planned to use the park to house his private collection of birds - one of the largest in the world - but decided instead to open to the public in September 2003.
As a result, the park now houses deer, giant land tortoises, monkeys, reptiles, giraffes, kangaroos and gazelles and hosts lectures in an amphitheatre that holds 400 guests.
Visitors can have their photograph taken with the animals, including a 35kg albino python named Blondie.
Weddings are also held in the park; the flamingo, tortoise and giraffe enclosures are among the most popular venues.
The Pafos Bird and Animal Park operates a free transfer service from Pafos, Lemesos and Polis. Polis
One hour north of Pafos is Polis - a small seaside town where restaurant owners still use their own boats to catch the fish of the day.
Rocky hills and juniper trees are interrupted by the occasional 1980s-inspired villa complex, but tradition still reins supreme and the town is largely undeveloped.
Aphrodite's bath is a short walk from the road; a picturesque grotto where the goddess is said to have spent some quality time with her lover Adonis.
Anassa Hotel lies on the shore of Asprokemnos Beach at Polis, overlooking Chrysochou Bay and the Akamas Peninsula.
The five-star property stays true to traditional Mediterranean design with Roman mosaics, Greek motifs and Venetian frescos. It is a low-rise development with no buildings higher than three storeys.
Popular with high-profile celebrities and royals, Anassa offers a truly secluded luxury experience. The hotel has 177 rooms and suites, including family suites, three bedroom suites and stunning rooftop suites that feature private balcony Jacuzzis overlooking the sea.
The two-storey Alexandros Residence at Anassa is perfect for guests who want a more private holiday; the two-bedroom villa suite is located a short walk from the main hotel, surrounded by landscaped gardens and overlooking Chrysochou Bay.
The drive to the mountainous Troodos region instantly transports tourists into pure European scenery characterised by dense pine forests and snowy winters.
Kakopetria village is a hidden gem, with cobbled streets, picturesque bridges and friendly locals.
Traditional restaurants such as the Linos Tavern give a taste of true Cyprus, with carafes of Cypriot wine and delicious locally produced rainbow trout served with fresh Greek salads and bread.
The nearby Omodos village is the perfect place for history buffs; tourists can visit the well preserved Monastery of the Holy Cross and see the village's original wine press. There are also small stalls that sell locally made lace, herbal soaps and various other Cypriot treasures.
Skiing is popular in winter and summer activities include cycling and hiking among the towering pine and cedar trees.
For more ‘touristy' tourists, Lemesos is a bustling seaside town with a range of high-rise accommodation and plenty of shops, restaurants, discos and taverns.
The island's second largest city is also home to a famous wine festival in September that draws hundreds of tourists every year and a colourful Carnival.
Accommodation options include the Le Meridien and Grand Resort, both beachside resorts catering to families, couples and groups. These properties are also hugely popular for corporate events, weddings and other large functions.
Lemesos is the island's main port, centre of the wine industry and houses the Cyprus Medieval Museum - established inside the castle where Richard the Lionheart married Berengaria of Navarre.
Many vineyards and wine producing villages are located within a short drive of Lemesos. There are also nearby wetlands perfect for birdwatching or angling.