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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Off-season travel: Cyprus

I’m reminded of how appealing traveling off-season can be, as we travel around Cyprus updating a guidebook. There’s something about clambering across archaeological ruins devoid of tourists, hiking along an empty nature trail through silent scenery, or sitting at an al fresco café by the sea on a cold, windy day, the wild sea crashing on the sandstone sea walls of the port. Generally seen as a summer destination for English tourists, the little island of Cyprus is undergoing a travel revolution of sorts. In the south in Greek-speaking Cyprus, there are chic new boutique hotels, fine dining restaurants, fascinating new shops, and stylish cafés and bars. While some beach resorts are closed for the winter, it’s a great time to book into a boutique hotel such as the Londa Hotel or more plush accommodation such as that of the Four Seasons, and experience the island’s urban delights with the locals – and without the masses of tourists. The south is also home to some truly spectacular countryside, from the pine forests of the Troodos Mountains to the isolated Arkamas Peninsula (pictured), the former of which we’ve criss-crossed half a dozen times during our research, often not seeing another car for hours, and the latter which we hiked early one morning last week. In the north in Turkish-speaking Cyprus, a welcoming trend is toward eco-tourism and sustainable travel and in the village of Buyukkonuk, near the Karpaz peninsula, Lois and Ismail Cemal offer guests at their small B&B a chance to experience the everyday life of this working village. You can take a walk with a shepherd as he takes his sheep out to graze on the lush grasses under the olive trees, go on a walk along the ridge of the craggy limestone mountain range and pick wild herbs, or learn how to bake local olive and halloumi bread with one of the village bakers. It’s a fabulous time of year to simply hire a car and make your way around the small island at your own pace. The weather is mild, the air crystal clear, and the light crisp and clean, defying the fact that it’s winter.

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