SUN-KISSED beaches. Magnificent coastal landscapes. Roman ruins. Though Cyprus is a small island nation in the Mediterranean Sea, a one-week trip there can leave even the most seasoned traveller in awe.
The Cypriot capital of Nicosia shows visitors how unique this travel destination is. The bustling boulevard of Ledra Street is lined on both sides with shops and restaurants, but wander around the side streets too, as these hold the treasures. Souvenir shops, small eateries and craft stores pepper these alleyways, and shop owners are happy to have a conversation.
As we strolled down Ledra Street, our biggest surprise came midway down the road. To continue on our path, we needed our passport. Nicosia is the last divided capital in the world — split down ethnic lines.
The street was blockaded in 1974 after an Athens-backed coup to unite Cyprus with Greece. In retaliation, the Turkish army invaded the north. The island was effectively partitioned, with Turkish Cypriots and Turkish troops occupying the northern third of the country, and Greek Cypriots the rest.
Warming relations between the two sides led to the reopening of Ledra Street in 2008. With a passport, one can now cross between the northern and southern parts of the country at that location, one of several crossings between the two sides.
Once on the Turkish side of the barricade, my travel companion and I found ourselves in a vastly different environment.
We had passed big brand-name shops and fancy cafés on the Greek Cypriot side, but were now standing amid kebab stalls and local shops selling Turkish delight and fresh produce.
In a maze of sand-coloured buildings, we found the Hamam Omerye, a Turkish bath housed in a 14th century building; the Selimiye Mosque, which was converted from a former Roman Catholic cathedral; and the 16th century Büyük Han, or Great Inn, with its open courtyard and domed mosque.
Locals told us the seaside town of Kyrenia, 19km away on the Turkish side, would make a perfect day trip. Against the backdrop of the Pentadaktylos Mountains and Kyrenia Castle, believed to have been first built by the Byzantines in the 7th century, the harbour at sunset was a sight to behold.
Brimming over with boats and busy restaurants on its boardwalk, it caught the light in all the right places — a perfect place to enjoy a relaxing evening.
Back on the Greek Cypriot side, the seaside city of Limassol offered us another energising boardwalk experience — sculptures, fountains and cafés line the wide boulevard, which leads to the Old Port and its stylish restaurants and gelato parlours.
We walked to Limmasol Castle to explore our food options — restaurants surrounding this mediaeval structure offer some of the best grilled meats, sausages and seafood.
To walk off our full tummies, we strolled to the Limmasol Public Garden, home to the annual wine festival. Held every August and September, it is the perfect place to enjoy free wine-tasting, good food and energetic cultural performances that will get you on your feet dancing.
We rented a car and travelled down the coast and into the interior.
Along the south-west coastline, we visited the mediaeval castle of Kolossi and the archaeological site of Kourion, featuring an immaculately preserved Greco-Roman theatre that dates back to the 2nd century BC, a Roman agora with many columns and ornate carvings still intact, and tiled mosaics on the hillside.
History buffs will delight in the Roman ruins along the coast. Cyprus was ruled by the Romans from 31 BC until it came under the Byzantine Empire in the 4th century.
The Sanctuary of Apollo Hylates, once an important religious site, features the ruins of Apollo’s Temple and other monuments dating back to the 1st century AD.
The Unesco World Heritage Site and archaeological park in Paphos contains some of the world’s most beautiful Roman mosaics and the Tomb of the Kings, underground chambers believed to have been used as burial sites of aristocrats up to the 3rd century AD.
For a peek into the Byzantine era of Cypriot history, we headed into the Troodos Mountains, past breathtaking scenery along winding mountain roads to the village of Omodos with its cobblestoned paths. We were transported back in time as we wandered the quaint streets peppered with traditional tavernas, all serving famous local wines, and visited the stoic Timios Stavros Monastery.
The natural landscapes in Cyprus are also awe-inspiring. Driving down the south-west coast, we saw the massive rock formations at Petra tou Romiou, the mythical birthplace of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty. These rocky outcrops rise skywards, their jagged forms and greyish white colour a sharp contrast to the calm blue of the water.
On the south-east coast, a short hike to the top of Cape Greco led us to a jaw-dropping view of the coastline that stretches to the horizon.
The legendary sea caves a short distance away by car is a true wonder of nature. Its deep dark caverns, set into the edge of the cliffs, are carved out of centuries of waves crashing into the rocks.
Young people line up here to dive off the 10m-tall cliffs into the pristine waters, which was such a clear shade of turquoise that you can see right to the seabed where the corals lie.
On our last afternoon, we went to the resort town of Ayia Napa. Past the endless shops, restaurants, bars and ice-cream parlours, we found ourselves a restful spot to enjoy the beach and blue waters that this island is so well known for.
We flew from Singapore to Larnaca on Emirates, with a stopover in Dubai.
■ Plan road trips along the southern coast and into the interior mountainous region.
■ Temperatures in summertime can go up to 37 deg C, so always have your sunglasses, hat and sunscreen with you.
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