Cyprus in early April, before the crowds is quite simply beautiful. You take a bit of a risk with the weather, but my trip was perfect – clear blue skies, gentle breezes and cool evenings.
At this time of year the sea is warm enough for a paddle if not a swim and the long expanses of beaches are almost empty on weekdays.
Spring weather in Cyprus
Another bonus is that the hot Mediterranean sun hasn’t yet burned the vegetation to a dusty brown so there is greenery wherever you look; early roses, bountiful bougainvillea, fragrant orange blossom and heavily laden lemon trees.
Fruits are everywhere with luscious, fat strawberries on sale by the roadside, picked and in your basket (or mouth) in moments.
An advantage of going in spring is that the evenings are cool enough to want to eat something more than salads. I tucked into a traditional stifado, the local stew with chunks of melt-in-the-mouth beef, and you can’t visit any Greek island without sampling at least one kebab. In a small, unassuming takeaway on the outskirts of Lemesos (Limassol) I was treated to tender grilled pork served with an excellent side salad, pickled vegetables and a huge portion of piping hot chips.
Having read this far you might think that all I did was eat, drink and swim. Well, there were days when it felt like that but I did a fair amount of sight-seeing too.
History of Cyprus
The highlight was the Roman and Byzantine ruins at Kourion (also known as Curium). The location is breathtakingly beautiful – a high hilltop overlooking the sweep of the bay and out across to the headlands but it’s the size and scale of the excavated ruins that truly amaze.
Built over a period of time ranging from the 2nd century BC to the 4th century AD, it was destroyed in a large earthquake.
Today much of the city-kingdom of Kourion has been slowly excavated and sensitively restored to give a very real sense of what life would have been like.
Pride of place goes to the semi-circular theatre with spectacular views out across the bay. Standing on the so-called “sweet spot” you only have to speak normally and your words can be heard clearly in every one of the seats.
It is still used for concerts and shows, which must be fabulous with that backdrop at dusk. While I was there a German tourist with a soaring soprano voice stepped on to the spot and delighted us with an unaccompanied rendition of Ave Maria.
My friends and I performed an acapella version of Candle on the Water, not quite in the same league but immensely satisfying with those acoustics.
But it’s poking about in all the remains that really bring home the Roman way of life. The agora and basilica take up almost the whole plateau on the top of the hillside. There’s the remains of the largest public baths I have ever seen, with a series of hypocausts for heating the water, all almost intact.
The mosaics, covered now for protection against the weather, still look fresh and in the rows of the private houses you can see the stone basins and storage areas which were part of everyday life.
Tourist attractions in Cyprus
Cyprus isn’t all about the past. It’s vibrant and welcoming to travellers. Omodos is a typical Cypriot village in the foothills of the Troodos Mountains. If you are visiting in high season, do try to get there early before the coach-loads arrive, but in spring the narrow streets are quiet and tranquil.
It has been restored with an eye to the tourist trade, of course, but is well worth a visit. The Monastery of the Holy Cross has incredible gilded icon stands from the 1800s and a rather gruesome selection of reliquaries and relics of numerous saints.
Drop in to Socrates House – laid out as it would have been at the turn of the twentieth century with old quilted beds, hunting knives on the wall and a selection of family photos. The oldest family member himself welcomes you and in broken English enthusiastically shows off his home.
There is no charge, but common courtesy demands you leave a donation or make a purchase. I tasted his home-made version of the sweet wine the area is renowned for, Commandaria and opted to take a bottle for 8 Euros.
Commandaria wine of Cyprus
This brew is one of the world’s most ancient, having been made in exactly the same way and kept the same name for over 800 years. It was served at the 12th century wedding in the chapel of Kolossi Castle in Lemesos of Richard the Lionheart and Berengaria of Navarre, and the crusader declared it “the wine of kings and the king of wines.”
Commandaria is made exclusively from two types of local Cyprus grapes, Xynisteri and Mavro which are left on the vine until they are over-ripe giving them a very high sugar content. I’m not sure I’d agree with old Lionheart, but it makes a pleasant drink to sip after dinner.
Red Arrows in Cyprus
Unfortunately I was a little early for the cherry blossoms at Pedoulas – they bloom late April and early May – and the cherry festival which takes place in June, but I did arrive on the same day the Red Arrows display team, who practice their routines in Cyprus for two months before starting their annual round of air shows. I heard them most mornings and was lucky enough to catch a full practice run from Lady’s Mile Beach. Paddling in the warm seas while watching superb, skilled aerial acrobatics was a rather special moment.
My trip, at just 7 days, was not enough time to see everything this island has to offer and I’m looking forward to returning some time soon to share the delights with Pork Belly.