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Wed 17 Dec 2008 04:00 AM

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Cypriot style

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.

Pafos

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.

Troodos

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.

How to sell toFamilies:Suggest a trip to Pafos Bird and Animal Park or Kourion Archaeological site for an educational and fun day out for the whole family.

The Baby Go Lightly service at Anassa Hotel offers parents the chance to order a wide range of baby items online, keeping holiday packing to a minimum. Parents can request car seats, potties, high chairs, nappies, baby walkers, bottle warmers, crayons and a host of other equipment. Anassa's Baby Go Lightly Crèche has supervised play for all guests aged six months to four years. Older children from four to 11 have the option of joining the Smiling Dolphin Club.

Penguin Village at Le Meridien is an adventure playground for young guests aged from three to 12 years. The hotel also offers crèche facilities for babies and infants up to three years. The Grand Resort is also a family oriented hotel with summer and winter activities for children. The hotel has a wide range of festive activities for children and families during December and January.

Couples:As the home of Aphrodite, Cyprus almost sells itself to couples and honeymooners. With picturesque beaches and luxury resorts, it is a haven for weddings and romantic holidays. Suggest hotels such as Anassa or Elysium and day trips to the birthplace of Aphrodite and Aphrodite's bath. The Troodos mountains also offer a romantic holiday for couples, particularly in the snowy winter months. Skiing, bike riding and hiking are good activities on offer suited to couples.

Sports and adventure travellers:European soccer teams, Olympic hopefuls and other sportsmen and women often train in Cyprus and tourists can catch the action at events such as the annual Cyprus Car Rally or Men's Challenger tennis tournament. For those looking to get in on the action themselves, Cyprus is perfect for cycling, hiking and watersports such as diving, snorkeling and windsurfing.

Culture seekers:Cyprus Tourism Organisation has mapped out a range of self-drive routes on the island that take in a range of natural wonders and UNESCO World Heritage sights.

They include the Byzantine Route, Wine Routes, Antiquity Route and Aphrodite Route. Throughout the year there are a range of cultural events such as operas, Greek theatre and village festivals.

Lemesos

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.

The sales pitchGetting there:

Emirates Airline: from Dubai to Larnaka, daily.

Cyprus Airways: from Dubai, twice weekly.

Gulf Air: from Bahrain, four times weekly.

Currency:Euro 1 = 4.64 AED (US $1.26)

Visas:Most European nationals do not require a visa to enter Cyprus. Other nationalities should contact the Consulate of the Republic of Cyprus for visa information.

Packages:

Emirates Holidays: has a special offer at the contemporary boutique Limassol (Lemesos) Londa Hotel, which is set away from the bustle of Limassol. Guests can stay in a Superior Side View room with packages starting at AED 4221 (US $1149) per person.

The luxury Le Meridien Limassol Spa & Resort is located on the beach with 100,000m² of beautifully landscaped gardens and the largest pool in Cyprus. Guests can stay in a Garden View room with packages starting at AED 4137 (US $1126) per person.

The Almyra Hotel offers large guest rooms, landscaped gardens and facilities for children. Guests can stay in a Garden View room with packages starting at AED 4516 (US $1229) per person.

All prices are based on a twin-share and include return airfares, transport, four nights' accommodation, all taxes and service charges and breakfast daily. Packages are valid from December 1, 2008 to January 31, 2009.

Dnata Holidays: has an offer at the Mediterranean Beach Hotel, including return flights, transfers, breakfast and four nights in a Deluxe Inland View room. Prices start from AED 3365 (US $916) per person, valid December 1-10, 2008.

Packages for the Londa Hotel include return flights, transfers, breakfast and four nights in a Superior Side View room starting at AED 3550 (US $966) per person, valid December 1-10, 2008.

Packages with four nights' accommodation at the InterContinental Aphrodite Hills are priced from AED 3660 (US $995) and include return flights, transfers and breakfast, valid until December 9.

Visit:www.visitcyprus.com

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