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Cyprus: The Bridge to the Middle East

  by Arline Inge

One glance at the map will tell you why this tiny Mediterranean country, handy to three continents, Asia, Europe and Africa, has become the playground of the international set. And it’s easy to see why for long distance travelers from the U.S., for instance, it’s the ultimate vacation add-on to a trip to the Middle East.

Prepare yourself for a balancing act when you come to the Republic of Cyprus. This sunny island is so blessed with dazzling beaches, emerald waters and palatial 5-star hotels that the thought of lounging, Brandy Sour in hand, under a blue resort umbrella, can tip the scale in favor of utter indulgence. But I’m proud to report that this inveterate traveler fought back and resisted temptation. All the pampering in the world could not keep me away from the storybook villages, farms and vineyards, international shopping, café life and clubs that sizzle till dawn. Not to mention the mind-boggling archeological sites that rival all others.

On Day Two of my trip, with hair still damp from a morning swim, I took myself to the hotel’s concierge, canceled my afternoon at the spa, fished out my guidebook and signed up for a rental car. In my taxi from the airport at Larnaka, I had noticed that the road signs were clearly marked in English as well as the native Greek, a legacy from the country’s years as a British colony.

An iffier gift from the Brits is their custom of driving on the left. As for why the language of this island a whole hour’s flight from Athens, came to be Greek, my patient concierge filled me in. Greek adventurers sailed here around 1400 B.C. to work in the mines after news of Cyprus’s fabulous copper deposits spread through the ancient world, and the Greeks just didn’t go home. Copper was so closely associated with the island that it was named kypros after the country of Cyprus—Cyprus is Kypros in Greek.

Size does matter, as I realized when I took to the highway. One gift to visitors in this country, smaller than Connecticut, is the short travel times between cities. A major highway speeds you across the entire country from the beaches of Paphos on the west, past the city of Limassol, with its hotel-studded beachfront, to the sands of Larnaka and the latest tourist hotspot Ayia Napa. And that takes less than a couple of hours. Should you decide to visit the inland big city capital of Nicosia, you’ll be there in less than an hour from wherever your started.

But whoa up. Slow down. Along the road lies a rural charm that threatens to disappear all too soon, and you don’t want to miss it.

A leisurely pace and some spur of the moment detours paid off handsomely for me. Village squares like Hollywood movie sets, with elderly farmers bent over backgammon boards at wooden tables (one of them waved his cap). Bleating sheep asserting their right of way along the narrow road (photo op while I waited). Families out with buckets after a rain, looking for fresh snails for dinner (no, thank you). And by the side of the road, heart wrenching homemade memorials to accident victims decorated with bright red roses (I slowed to a crawl).

The whole world loves a lover. At a rocky cove below the coast road outside Paphos, I pulled up behind a bus parked above what might just be the number one favorite tourist stop in the entire country—the legendary birthplace of Aphrodite, Greek Goddess of Love. As the passengers gathered to peer down at the water, I sidled up to watch the guide point out the very place where the goddess was born full-grown from the sea. Not as the famous Botticelli painting depicts her as the Roman Venus poised on a seashell, but out of ocean foam roiling around those rocks. Later when I caught up with the group again, they were kicking off their sandals to cool their toes in Aphrodite’s Grotto, the very spring where the goddess came to bathe.

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