Travel diary Cyprus
Cyprus is often in the news in the 21st Century due to its useful strategic location for British military forces overseas but it remains a good holiday destination.
Cyprus is the third largest Island in the Mediterranean Sea. Due to its location it has a climate that is sufficiently warm to support an all year tourist industry. However if you visit from November to around March the weather may be a little unpredictable. However, on the whole the temperatures should be warm and definitely much warmer than in the UK.
Our two-week vacation
We visited a few years ago now. Our holiday began the last week in January and was for two weeks. We picked this time of year as Hubby's work, at the time, had meant working through all of the Christmas period.
The added bonus was the holiday price which at £149 each for a two-week self-catering stay, including flights, was a bargain basement price, with the resort and accommodation allocated on arrival.
Imagine our shock then when, talking with two elderly ladies, they informed us that their 8 week holiday had cost only £129 each!
Of course prices will be more expensive now, but you should still be able to get a great deal if you want to visit Cyprus outside of what is normally thought of as the main holiday period.
Bear in mind though that those prices do rise a little over the actual Christmas Holiday week.
So what did we make of the Greek half of Cyprus?
Of course we loved it and here is why.
Cyprus or as it is known in Greek, Kypros
First let me say that we have always been lucky when we have booked holidays that have the resort and accommodation allocated on arrival. The apartments where we stayed were away from the bustling centre of Paphos and on the road that leads to The Tomb of The Kings and Coral Bay.
Our apartments were not luxurious but for what we paid they were more than adequate. The apartment owner was a lovely eccentric Greek Man. By day he was a Bank Manager in the city. By night, as the hotel owner, he would serve drinks behind the bar and entertain guests. His party piece was dancing with a tea towel on his head. So what I hear you say. Well on top of this piece of material there were bottles of booze and glasses balanced. It made the film Cocktail look pathetic by comparison.
Arriving on the island of Cyprus
Our flight into Cyprus was fairly unspectacular, until the last few minutes.
In order to land at the tiny coastal airport the pilot had to bank the plane over sharply. So much so that we were almost upside down. The views over the Med were stunning but not everyone thought so.
As I looked across, to get the best view of the sea, I saw that the female passenger opposite me was sat with her opened book held tightly over her head, as if she was trying to disappear.
The short landing strip was surrounded by water but we soon made it down safely.
After an efficient meet with the travel rep we were on our coach and heading to our allocated destination, Paphos. It was the January 26 and the temperature was a pleasant 56F although it was only early in the morning. The sun was shining and all was definitely right with the world.
Paphos, especially in recent years, has become quite developed. However, out of the main tourist season it was a great place to visit. It is quite a sprawling area and so we would walk into the main harbour area or the town.
Paphos has a wealth of shops, some of which can be found at home in the UK however. The locals are fluent in speaking English but still enjoy the odd Greek word if you can manage it.
There are some four star hotels near the sea front of Paphos but they can be a little pricey. However getting around and shopping on Cyprus is not too expensive.
We travelled around on the local buses a few times and also booked a couple of tours through local agents. These were good value and interesting. We visited Coral Bay, Limassol, Nicosia, The Troodos Mountains and Polis.
My husband jokingly called Coral Bay a one cat town. This was because as we approached the resort it was small and almost had tumbleweed tumbling around. However it has a great sandy beach which is sheltered by low cliffs. Despite visiting in January it was warm enough to wear swimwear and sunbathe on this beach. Not warm enough to venture into the sea though.
Limassol is a large coastal town which has many hotels. We enjoyed our visit but were glad this was not our resort. There was a medium sized zoo here which we felt uncomfortable visiting. For one thing there was a huge Tiger prowling a tiny cage which seemed to have nothing more than a weak catch holding him in. None of the animals looked unwell but their surroundings were less than ideal. Perhaps these days this zoo has improved. I certainly hope so.
We enjoyed our two visits to Nicosia. As the capital of Cyprus it certainly lived up to its title. Here you can actually see the Green Line and glimpse the Turkish half of Cyprus. Nicosia is a vibrant city and well worth a visit. We visited the Archbishop Makarios Palace in Nicosia. This is now called the Byzantine Museum. There was an impressive huge, and formidable, statute of Makarios in the grounds. In 2008 this statue was replaced with one that was a little more conservative as its predecessor was now deemed an eyesore.
Nicosia has a strange diversity of architecture which includes Turkish mosques and more.
The Troodos mountains
The Troodos Mountains are in the interior of Cyprus. The scenery is breath-taking and here you will experience many traditional Greek Villages, sights and sounds. Even in summer it can be cool in the mountains and so you need to take suitable clothing with you. One young man on our visit, in early February, wore sandals, shorts and a T Shirt. He shivered the whole day as there was snow in some of the highest parts we visited. Thankfully we had enough scarves and the like to help him out. There is skiing in the mountains in winter.
Polis and Latchi
Polis was a largely unspoilt place with much to offer. I would imagine it would be a great place to stay.
With such a diverse history there are many other attractions to visit around Cyprus. The baths of Aphrodite,The Tombs of the Kings, Aphrodite's Rock and more.
If you enjoy a lively night-life Ayia Napa may be for you.
The restaurants serve a good mixture of Greek and English dishes. For those who are unadventurous there are burger bars, English pubs and the like. However if you look around you will find that there are plenty of traditional Greek Restaurants or tavernas. The speciality is often Meze which includes small amounts of many different Greek dishes. This is a great way to find out what Greek food you like and is ideal for sharing. It is also good value.
Brandy Sours are the local tipple and use locally made Brandy. They are served in huge glasses and include:-
50 ml Brandy
25 ml Lemon squash
2 dr Angostura bitters
1 slice of fresh lemon
At the end of a meal, more often than not, the waiter will bring you a complimentary Brandy Sour or a Schnapps drink. When I declined a Brandy Sour, due to my medication, the lovely waiter kindly returned with a huge glass of ice cream, which he said was for the ladies.
Cyprus adds a tourist tax onto the price of food and dining out. You will see this added onto the bill in restaurants, for example. I think the money raised helps those citizens who were displaced when the Turks invaded in 1974.
Some places also add a tip which you have no choice about. It is up to you whether or not you leave an additional tip.
If you visit out of season you may find that the tourists tend to be older. Many older visitors travel to Cyprus for the winter and stay for extended periods of time.
Some of our fellow holidaymakers looked at buying a holiday home on Cyprus. You need to exercise caution though as this Island still has a lot of problems. Until the problems between the Turkish and Greek Cypriots are resolved remember you could easily end up in a conflict or lose your property.
Some of those who have already bought homes on the Turkish side of the Island have recently lost their homes. The properties that are for sale are often those which were left behind when Greek Cypriots fled during the Turkish invasion.
The Greek Cypriots are a lovely people. They are warm and welcoming and positively love children. Children are made welcome in restaurants and the like. In the busy tourist areas you may come across some Greeks that have become cynical due to the tourists. However, it is easy to step back in time in Cyprus and meet genuine local folk.
Please note: - The Turkish and Greek Cypriot problem is not detailed here as this is a travel journal. However the links supplied will lead any interested reader to a little of Cyprus's troubled history.
We visited in the early 90s so expect some changes although our experiences will still act as a rough guide to Cyprus.
Returning to Lefkas after a day trip to Ithaca and Kefalonia
The Greek Islands
With over 160 Greek Islands that are inhabited, and hundreds of smaller Islands that are not, there is certainly plenty of choice, when you are thinking about visiting the Greek Islands. In fact, there are more like 6000 islands in total. That is some figure, isn't it?
Some Islands are quite close to mainland Greece or Turkey, whilst others sit in the Aegean with only other Greek Islands for neighbours.
However, never think of the Greek Islands as all simply just being Greece. This is definitely not the case. The Greek mainland has a different feel to the Islands and some Greek Islands are very special and unique.
Consider the Greek Island of Santorini
Legend would have us believe that this volcanic Island was pushed up out of the sea and has links to Atlantis and more. It is certainly a beautiful Island with terrific sunsets, sunrises and clean, crisp, blue and white houses. If you have admired one of those images of Greece that shows brilliant white and blue houses and churches, high in the sky, then it will no doubt have been snapped on Santorini.
So never mind which are the best Greek Islands to visit by boat, just deciding which one to visit, full stop, is a hard choice.
The Ionian Islands for example
This group of Islands is found of the western side of Greece These are:-
GREEK NAME ALTERNATE NAME POPULATION ISLAND AREA
Ithaki Ithaca 5,000 96
Kefallonia Cephalonia 32,314 (1991) 935
Kerkyra Corfu 105,043 (1991) 641
Kythira Cerigo 2,500 284
Lefkada Lefkas 20,900 (2001) 325
Paxi Paxos 2,000 25
Zakynthos Zante 38,957 (2001) 410
Returning to Lefkas after a day trip to Ithaca and Kefalonia Note:- Cerigo is not always classed as an Ionian Island
The Ionian Islands illustrate how diverse the Islands can be. The extremes of population and land mass show perfectly just how tiny some Islands can be, and there are only 7 islands shown here.
At one time all Greek Islands would have been accessed via the sea
Yes, Lefkas had an old link to the mainland, in its causeway, but the Island still was mainly accessed via the sea. Assessing which Islands are the best to visit by ship, yacht, ferry and boat needs careful consideration. Take into account:-
If an Island has a very busy harbour, that has daily traffic in it which consists of commercial boats, ferries, hydrofoils and the like, then perhaps it will not be the best place for a small yacht to dock.
It does also depend the vessel you use to sail to your Greek Island or Islands. Are you sailing on your own small yacht? Will you be travelling on a commercial ferry? Will your boat be a huge tourist boat made for cruising?
All of the above will have some bearing on which Greek Islands are the best for you to visit by boat.
So which are the best Greek Islands to visit by boat?
Island hopping was one of the first main ways that tourists travelled around the Greek Islands. It is not that long ago many of the Islands still did not have direct access via an airport. Landing on the Greek mainland or another island meant that a ferry trip was essential just to get to your Greek island destination. There are still a few islands where this happens such as Thassos when we visited.
Greek Islanders use boats, ferries and the sea constantly; it is very much a part of their lives.
So here is some information for those considering visiting the Greek Islands via boat, whether it is:-
It does also depend on whether your visit will be fleeting or not, and what you want to find when you get there. Are you just looking for beautiful sandy beaches? Do you prefer bustling harbours and shopping? Then again perhaps you would like to discover ancient Greece?
Finding the perfect Greek Islands to visit by boat will also need you to research the perfect destinations for you, such as choosing lively Islands or peaceful havens. Whatever floats your boat really, all puns intended; the choice is yours. However, most Greek Islands offer you spectacular views, atmosphere and harbour side tavernas. If this is all your heart desires try exploring an island group at a time or at least part of a group.
Now that so many people visit the Greek Islands ferry services are improving. Not only that but the vessels are much cleaner and often have tourists in mind, as well as local travellers. You can pick an island as a base and visit as many or as few other Islands by sea, as you want to.
Pre-planning is possible. You should be able to roughly schedule your route and even book your ferry tickets in advance. Of course delays due to adverse weather conditions are always a possibility. Alternatively book your ferry tickets once you arrive in the Greek Islands, either for individual sailings or for a period of time.
There are established Greek Island cruises which take in Crete, Patmos, Mykonos, Piraeus, Rhodes, Santorini and Kusadasi.
The best Greek Islands to visit by boat
I have shied away from naming any specific Greek Islands, which could be the best to visit by boat, and hopefully you now understand why. With so much diversity I believe that there would be many such perfect Greek Islands for any traveller's requirements, but it is up to you.
The Ionian Islands have a slightly wetter climate and are much greener Islands. Crete and the Dodecanese Islands are further south and hotter. Islands in the Eastern Aegean such as Kos and Samos can be hot, dry and lively. The time of year you visit may also affect your choice unless you are happy sailing in all weathers.
The Greek Island Groups
Apart from the IONIAN group of Islands most of the other Greek Islands are to be found in the Aegean Sea. There are seven main groups which are, and include:-
Map: Cyprus tends to be classed alone because of its location and the fact that currently half of the Island is Turkish. We won't go into that whole can of worms just now though. The map above shows the reader which Islands are ideal for Island hopping as they are relatively close to each other. It is also plain to see that The Cyclades is a great place to visit by boat with so many islands in close proximity.
Forget the Greek debt crisis and take a chance on a Greek Island vacation.
In such austere times the islanders need as many visitors as possible and you should be able to get a good deal. The Euro remains weak against the English Pound which for British tourists is an added a bonus.
My love affair with the Greek Islands
You may have already guessed if you have read any of this writer's previous travel reports about the Greek Islands that I love this unique destination.
I may have only visited a handful of Greek Islands but that has been enough to form an eternal love affair with the region. Given the time and money I would hope to visit many more of these Islands and with around 1400 to choose from I will definitely be spoiled for choice.
Ten reasons to visit the Greek Islands
Visiting the Greek Islands is odd.
If you visit a country many times you will find other visits there are always similar, even if you travel to a different destination. The Greek Islands are not like that.
Each Greek Island has its own little differences and peculiarities. Those islands in the Ionian Islands tend to be lush and green receiving plenty of rain out of season. Others will have a dry climate which will have resulted in a more barren terrain.
Whether you are looking for a beach based holiday, one with history and culture or simply one that has a laid back lifestyle, there will be a Greek Island perfect for you. Some are very commercial and lively whilst others have retained traditional Greece traits and charm.
Greek people are lovely. Of course there will be the odd rogue Greek but that is true of people anywhere in the world. However, on the whole, the Greek Islanders will treat you well. They are respectful, friendly, polite and warm.
Food and Drink
The Greek Islands offer a diverse range of food and drink. For those wanting basic European cuisine there will be appropriate fare available. Traditional Greek foods and Greek food that is a little European is also on offer. Moussaka, Kleftiko, Greek Salads, Ouzo, Dolmades and Souvlaki are as tasty as they sound. Depending upon the Island and its location there may be local fresh fish dishes and Calamari or Squid.
Fair enough some of the beaches in the Greek Islands are better than others. However, one thing is for sure, there is no shortage of beaches. Beaches such as Vai beach on the Island of Crete will be busy in high season but it does have lovely sand. The beaches on the Ionian Island of Lefkas are almost all made up of shingle, pebbles or stones.
Most of the Greek Islanders are very comfortable on and in the water. As an Island people this is hardly surprising. The Greek Islands offer a range of water sports. For example, Lefkas has a world famous wind surfing bay at Vassiliki in the South of the island, due to the winds that regularly blow through this bay. Other Islands such as Rhodes offer boat trips and ferries to other Islands whilst islands such as Zante offer turtle watching boat trips. Scuba diving is available on many Greek Island.
Want warm weather but not sizzling hot scorching sun? Prefer to holiday where the sun is so hot the sandy beach is unbearable to walk on with bare feet? Due to the amount of Greek Islands and their varied locations it is possible to find an Island with weather that will suit you. May and September will usually be cooler months but of course the nights will draw in quicker each day. June July and August are usually hot and dry but again it depends which Island you are visiting.
I don't quite know what we expected when we first visited the Greek Islands. One thing for sure though is we did not expect to experience such beautiful scenery; again though it depends on the Island. There are many Greek Islands that have stunning scenery, mountains, lush vegetation and more.
Well I do not mean the clubbing here. What I mean is the birds, butterflies, flowers, plants and trees that you find on so many of the Greek Islands. The wildlife is diverse and often so different to back home.
For those that love to go clubbing, dancing, drinking and more whilst on holiday there will be an Island for you. Faliraki on the Greek Island of Rhodes and Laganas Bay on Zakynthos have the reputation of being perfect for those seeking a wild time on holiday.
Peace and quiet
Alternatively those seeking peace and quiet are also catered for. Even Islands with a lively reputation have pockets of traditional Greece and peaceful havens. Opt for locally owned traditionally run accommodation instead of large hotels.
Having initially thought that I may struggle to find 10 reasons to holiday on a Greek Island I now realise I could find many more including;
One thing to bear in mind though, before you hot foot it down to your local travel agents, is that accommodation tends to be over rated in the Greek Islands. By this I mean that, what is rated as 4 star on the Greek Islands, would probably only be a two or three star elsewhere. Take this into account when you book your Greek Island vacation.
Now go on. Off you go and book your Greek Island holiday. You lucky devil!
A great holiday destination
Crete is the largest of the Greek Islands and really has something for everyone but as always it is imperative that you choose your holiday resort well and consider the best time to visit.
The East of Crete tends to have the hottest, driest and sunniest weather and it is not unusual for this side of the Island to experience no rain at all from April until late September. However early in September there can be strong winds.
The West of the Island however can become overcast and have some rain at almost any time of year, although on the whole it is still very warm. The West of the Island also has a different feel from the East.
There are many small places to visit around the Island, really far too many to mention them all, so I have detailed some of the main resorts and these should fit most peoples requirements.
These are all on the Northern coastline of Crete.
There are resorts on the southern side but these are not visited quite so often by British tourists apart from day trippers.
We took a local bus to Irepetra and loved this resort although it was windy when we visited. My poor suntanned back blistered due to being sandblasted on the beach!
Still I would like to stay here if and when we visit Crete again.
Ag Nik, Agios Nikolas, has a good bus station with a reasonable timetable. Buses travel all around the Island and are good value. Not far from the bus station just alongside the tiny beach was our favourite taverna. Locally caught swordfish was Hubby's favourite whilst I preferred the Kleftiko. This was lamb in filo pastry. I have eaten this dish on different Greek Islands but it was totally different here in Crete.
For those interested in Ancient history there are the remnants of The Palace of Knossos nearby.
All in all Crete is a great place to holiday. The locals are warm and friendly and all speak fluent English. The currency is now the Euro.
Watch out though. If you visit in high season, or certain resorts, as you may find the night life frightening. Choose the perfect time and place for you.
Hints and Tips
Rethymnon had some great shops and places to eat and is a large resort. It has a quarter that has venetian influences and this shows in the architecture.
Chania, pronounced HANIA, is a great place to buy local leather goods. There is a large market here which is interesting to visit. Chania is a lively place and was bustling with people when we were there. There is an airport close to Chania.
We also visited Souda Bay and for some of our fellow travllers this was there main reason for the visit. It holds a war memorial dedicated to those who lost their life as part of the World War Two battles on Crete. Even though we had no personal links here we found it a sad, peaceful, pretty, quiet and moving place to walk around.
As part of this tour we also visited Crete's only natural lake.
Lake Kournas had ducks, pedalos, a cafe, some mystery and those dreadful Greek toilets which are two foot plates at either side of a hole in the ground. Still they caused quite a bit of hilarity amongst us tourists.
The lake is surrounded by mountains and it was here we saw our only sight of any rain during the whole of our two-week holiday. It was only a brief display of rain splashes and it was still very warm.
The Samaria Gorge can be visited by booking a specific excursion here. We decided to give this one a miss. It is a long and tiring day, or so we were told. It involves a coach and bus trip as well as a long, hot walk through the Gorge. However if you want to see fabulous views and experience the flora and the fauna this could be for you. Come prepared though.
Animal welfare or lack of it
Animal Welfare in and around the Greek Islands leaves a lot to be desired. I thought long and hard about what image to display here. In the end I opted for the Save The Animals Of Crete, image. There were some dreadful images of half starved dogs that ended up being euthanized.
As an animal lover this is one of the hard things I find when travelling abroad, especially in Greece. Dogs and cats tend to live a street life. Some eat reasonably well but they often have no true home. Tourists will feed dogs and cats tit-bits and often buy pet food at local stores.
If you do this remember that the animal may not be able to stomach rich tinned pet food. Use your common sense and always take care of your safety. If you are bitten you could be facing Rabies shots or worse.
Up to now we have always fared well with the local dogs and usually have one or two following us around. It is not easy as you are damned if you do and damned if you do not, as far as feeding these animals goes. Just follow your heart.
This problem is not just a Greek problem but is all too frequently a European one.
If you can offer any financial assistance to animal charities fighting this lack of welfare please give generously.
Where in the world do you want to go today? One Woman uses personal experiences to show you some of the best places to visit in the United Kingdom and beyond. Enjoy!