Once sleepy fishing villages, Agia Napa on the south-east coast with its fabulous beaches of fine white sand, and Protaras, the coastal area of Paralimni, in the east with its hundreds of windmills, nowadays buzz with life.
Spend the day sunning yourself on the beach, swimming in the warm turquoise waters or taking a short cruise along the coast. Some of the best snorkelling and diving can be had off Cape Gkreko, the eastern peninsula national forest park, with its secluded coves and rocky outcrops, impressive cliff top views and sea caves. In the evening dine at one of the many restaurants, especially one of the local ones in Paralimni, or jive to the latest sounds at one of numerous nightclubs.
This area is known collectively as the “Kokkinochoria“, “red soil villages”, because of the rich red earth in which Cyprus’ famous potatoes are grown. Culture lovers can explore the medieval churches found in villages like Sotira or go round the folk art museums displaying rural artefacts in Deryneia and Avgorou. Children will love the Marine Life museum or the new Sea Museum, “Thalassa”, in Agia Napa, which has an amazing replica of a 4th century trading ship which sunk off the coast of Kyrenia. Or you could stop off at the tiny estuary known by the locals as “Potamos” and watch the fishing boats haul in their catch in their multicoloured baskets.
East meets West in Larnaka (Larnaca) as both Christianity and Islam have revered religious sites here, with the mosque of Hala Sultan, an important Moslem place of pilgrimage, and the church of St Lazarus, Jesus’ friend whom he resurrected from the dead.
The mountainous area of Larnaka (Larnaca), is dotted with charming villages and has the largest concentration of traditional houses available for rent. The listed village of Lefkara, is perhaps the most picturesque, with its narrow streets and stone houses with red-tiled roofs and central courtyards, and a history of producing wonderful handicrafts such as filigree silverware and a traditional kind of lace known the world over as “lefkaritika”. Legend has it that Leonardo da Vinci himself came here and bought an altar cloth, which he donated to Milan cathedral.
Amongst archaeological sites worth visiting, Choirokoitia is one of the best preserved sites of a prehistoric settlement brought to light in the Eastern Mediterranean, and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The church of Angeloktisti, in the village of Kiti, has one of the finest examples of Byzantine art of the Justinian period, a rare 6th century mosaic of the Virgin and Child between two archangels, while perched dramatically on a rocky peak with a panoramic view over the surrounding hillsides, sits the solitary monastery of Stavrovouni, one of the oldest monasteries in Cyprus.
Feel the romance in the air in the land where Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty, once roamed. Swim in the sea by the rocks known as Petra tou Romiou where she was believed to have risen from the waves, make a pilgrimage to her sanctuary at Kouklia, or visit the grotto near Polis where she was supposed to have bathed. The Pafos (Paphos) region is the perfect place to celebrate a wedding or go for your honeymoon.
Pafos (Paphos) town, with its pleasant harbour and medieval fort, combines a cosmopolitan holiday resort, spectacular countryside and historical sites. The region offers the possibility of combining sea and mountains as well as getting a taste of culture with its many archaeological sites.
Admire the view at Maa-Paleokastro, the site on a peninsula near Coral Bay, where the Mycenaean Greeks first landed in Cyprus in the Bronze Age. Explore inland by going on a wine tour of the villages, stopping off at Chrysorrogiatissa monastery with its fine icons where you can get a taste of the locally produced vintage wine from its own winery. Or indulge in one of the many activities available, from playing a round of golf at a premier golf resort, indulging in a sea sport, such as swimming, diving or sailing, or going for the thrill of a water park or karting centre.
Head for the Polis area where you can experience a back-to-basics lifestyle staying in one of the many renovated traditional houses from where you can explore the countryside. The Akamas peninsula is an area of natural wilderness with dramatic coastlines and sandy coves. Visit one of the last Mediterranean nesting grounds for the green and loggerhead turtles on the sandy beaches of Lara. Or walk along one of the many scenic nature trails spotting rare endemic plants that grow there, or watching migrating birds fly by overhead. Or take a boat trip along the spectacular coastline of what forms part of Aphrodite’s playground.