Peaceful Winds, Pleasant People: Cyprus' Great Stew of Food, Camaraderie, History, Myth

By Eckert, Fred J. | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 10, 1996 | Go to article overview

Peaceful Winds, Pleasant People: Cyprus' Great Stew of Food, Camaraderie, History, Myth


Eckert, Fred J., The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


When a country is known as the birthplace of Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love and beauty, the expectation is that it must be very special. Cyprus is.

European travelers have known this for a long time, and they flock to this third-largest Mediterranean island. Tourism is booming, for Cyprus attracts more than twice as many visitors as it did only 10 years ago.

But for reasons that defy sound explanation, remarkably few Americans seem to realize how delightful a destination it can be. Of the more than 2 million travelers in Cyprus last year, 1.5 percent were Americans, while visits from Brits, Germans and Scandinavians set new records.

Cyprus is a fascinating land, a small island country at the northeastern end of the Mediterranean sea, neighbor to the Greek islands, not far from Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Egypt.

Perhaps its relative proximity to countries that always seem to be in political turmoil helps explain why so few Americans have discovered Cyprus. Perhaps people have some mistaken impression that it's a trouble spot best avoided, but that is totally wrong.

Few destinations in Europe, or anywhere, are as safe and pleasant to visit as Cyprus. It is a clean, modern, prosperous place with a crime rate so low that it barely exists. Throughout our eight days there, my wife and I felt every bit as safe and comfortable as we do in the peaceful rural Virginia community in which we live.

During our first day there, a Cypriot guide noticed we were doing something that struck her as peculiar. "Why do you lock your car?" she asked, puzzled by our action. She said it wasn't necessary, that Cypriots feel no need to lock either car or home.

I smiled and said we knew that, but what about the foreign tourists - how do we know we can trust them?

Another plus for Cyprus is that just about everyone speaks English, the country's second language (after Greek, the official language), the result of Cyprus' having been a British colony from 1878 to 1960.

People so often went out of their way to be helpful:

* A man in Nicosia noticed us sitting in our car looking a bit lost and got out of his car, walked over and asked if there was anything he could do to help us find what we were looking for.

* Merchants would direct us to other shops if they didn't have exactly what we were looking for.

* Restaurant owners and waiters treated us like guests of the family.

* Guides at the tourist spots, so bright and knowledgeable, were anxious to please us and be sure that we got from our visit all that we hoped for.

* Many people in small villages and along the roadside patiently paused longer than one could reasonably expect just so we could get a better photo.

Cypriots pride themselves on being hospitable, honest and law-abiding, and it is hard to imagine just how extraordinarily friendly, polite, generous and considerate they are. You have to experience it.

And their weather is sunny, too - an average of 340 sunny days a year.

It is cool, with many rainy days, from December through mid-March, but it rarely rains the rest of the year. And while the parts of the interior that are flat can be hot in July and August, even then the climate is pleasant in the hills and mountains and along the long shore.

The ocean is warm enough for swimming until middle or late November; there are a few weeks during the year when it is possible to go skiing in the Troodos mountains and then drive less than an hour and swim in the Mediterranean.

We began our visit with a stay at the Elias Beach Hotel & Country Club, a first-rate facility overlooking the sea just outside Limassol, the country's second-largest city, about a 40-minute drive from Cyprus' international airport in Larnaka. Among its attractions are a golf course, not common in Cyprus, and horseback riding, also rare. …

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