The very name Cyprus shimmers with an ages-old mystique. Today, history and hedonism are comfortably intertwined on the island. Five-star resorts within walking distance of well-preserved Greek and Roman ruins offer every amenity the modern traveller has come to expect and more, from pools, gardens and beachfronts to state of the art thalassotherapy health spas. One of the most impressive archaeological sites, the ancient city kingdom of Kourion, overlooks a stretch of beaches. Along the coastline, from Agia Napa in the east to Paphos in the west, world-class beach resorts alternate with settings untouched since antiquity.
Along the route that leads from the port city of Limassol to Paphos, the roadway opens up to reveal a stretch of coastline where chalky white cliffs stand watch over a dazzling aquamarine sea. Here sun worshippers make detours for a picnic and a swim at Petra tou Romiou, a boulder that marks the spot where Aphrodite emerged from the sea foam in ancient times. In the Akamas region, hikers exploring the areas rich flora can cool off at the grotto where the love goddess bathed after her amorous interludes. Throughout Cyprus, the typically Mediterranean landscape is still blessed with the beauty of antiquity. There are crusader fortresses framed by tall cypress trees, Greco-Roman theatres carved out of cliffs and Byzantine monasteries perched improbably on mountaintops. Sophisticated cities successfully balance the ancient and modern. The capital, Nicosia, is surrounded by Venetian walls with heart-shaped bastions; Larnaca, site of the major international airport, is also home to St. Lazarus Church and the crypt of the eponymous saint resurrected by Christ. Near the animated harbor at Pafos are the Roman floor mosaics of the Houses of Aion, Achilles and Dionysus, their depictions of mythological scenes amazingly well preserved.
The Cyprus mystique is as much a product of its legendary beauty as it is of millennia of competing empires. Nestled into the eastern Mediterranean Sea and a veritable crossroads of three continents, Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean and an abundance of copper in antiquity put small Cyprus on the map. In the late Bronze Age, Mycenaen Greeks settled on Cyprus and established trade links with Egypt and the Aegean islands. This is also the period when ceramic art first flourished. As centuries drifted by, the island came variously under Persian, Assyrian, Egyptian, and Roman rule. It was during the latter era that Marc Antony, enraptured by the islands sweet wines, gave Cyprus as a gift to his lover, the matchless Cleopatra. After a long period of Byzantine domination, European awareness of Cyprus surged with the Crusades. In 1191 a fierce sea storm led Richard the Lionheart to put his ship into port at Lemesos. He claimed the island as his own.
From 1489 to 1571 the flag of Venice flew in Cyprus, until which time the Ottoman Turks moved in. That era ended in 1878 when Cyprus became part of the British Empire. Despite a turbulent past, or perhaps because of it, the Cypriots themselves are a resilient people. They have always remained a distinct culture - different even from their closest cousins, the Greeks - and retained their unique character. The Republic of Cyprus achieved independence in 1960 and is now a member of the European Union.
From independent travellers to honeymooners, archaeology aficionados to friends of nature, every visitor to Cyprus finds the island offers layer upon layer of discovery. Food lovers delight in farm-fresh halloumi cheese and delectable mezze, the local specialty appetizers that mix western ingredients with eastern zest. Travellers on business appreciate the fine conference facilities and warm, professional service at more than 64 hotels and resorts, and like incentive groups value the proximity of the beach. And that golden Old World sunshine - there are generally 300-plus sunny days per year.