JUST over a year on from European Union accession, the Republic of Cyprus is trying to lure back the tourists who shunned the island during the Iraq war or were attracted by cheaper destinations.
There has been a six per cent increase in arrivals this year, but some of the hotels are still reporting low occupancy.
Cyprus has, for decades, been a popular tourism destination and is also the choice of many expatriates for the purchase of holiday or retirement homes. Costs are significantly less than in Northern Europe; the climate is better; and English is widely spoken.
But you have to remember that, sadly, this idyllic Mediterranean island has been divided since 1974, with the internationally-recognised Republic of Cyprus in the southern two thirds, and the occupied self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), recognised only by Turkey, in the north.
There is no problem visiting the south, which is served by flights from most countries, however, you can only fly directly into the TRNC from Turkey. It has to be said though, that the north has some of the island's most beautiful countryside and, thanks to a relaxation of the rules two years ago, if you’re staying in the south you can cross over into the TRNC on foot or by hire car through a number of crossing points to explore.
The south has an extremely well-developed tourism sector and well-regulated property market. That it has suffered any downturn in business is, in many ways, surprising, and the government has been working actively with the private sector to reverse the trend.
Climatically, geographically and culturally, Cyprus is half-way between northern Europe and the Middle East. It is both tourist-friendly and offers ‘something for everyone’; it has huge appeal to travellers from many different countries and cultures. The Cypriots are a friendly, laid-back people and what they want is for visitors to enjoy themselves in whatever way appeals to them.
Reputedly the birth-place of the ancient Greek deity, Aphrodite, it has millennia of history, yet its beaches and clubs appeal to younger travellers. It has mountains and quaint little villages; traditional handicrafts and designer shops; theatres, art galleries and museums. You can have a different experience every day.
This is an island that takes tourism seriously. The Cyprus Tourism Organisation (CTO) inspects all hotels and self-catering apartments. Not only do they approve and endorse the star and category ratings, they also limit the amount that can be charged for each category of apartments. And those are things that really present the best value for visitors. You have the freedom to come and go as you choose, generally much more space for the money than you would get in a hotel, and yet you still have maid service to clean and make up the rooms.
About the same size in terms of population as the Gulf state of Qatar, the Republic of Cyprus has almost 1,000 hotels, apartment blocks and holiday units with approaching 100,000 beds. Like all the Mediterranean countries, Cyprus welcomes children in its restaurants and tavernas and its hotels, serviced apartments and self-catering units are well equipped for families while also catering to singles.
There are also thousands of inexpensive tavernas across the island and eating out is a great experience; you never need to visit the same place twice – try a different place for each meal! Mezzah is popular and travellers from the Middle East will recognise the Lebanese influence in some of the dishes, such as hommous, tabbouleh and kibbeh as well as dolmades (stuffed vine leaves). But be prepared for anything up to 30 different small dishes to appear. You need time to enjoy mezzah – and you need to start on an empty stomach! However, you’ll find just about every type of cuisine in Cyprus, with something to suit all tastes. One of the most traditional dishes is kleftiko, lamb cooked very slowly in a clay oven until it’s so tender it just melts in your mouth.
Getting to Cyprus
Cyprus Airways, Emirates, and Gulf Air all fly to Larnaca from the Gulf. Charter flights from the UK and other parts of Europe also fly in to Paphos in the south west. In fact, the Republic of Cyprus is served by around 33 scheduled airlines and 67 charter operators. Its accession to the EU on May 1, 2004, and subsequent de-regulation has also had the effect of reducing airfares from the island.
One result of EU membership is that non-EU citizens need a visa to visit the island.