Why you should care
Because if you can stomach all the talk of the conflict-ridden past, you might find some gorgeous sun and sand.
There are few places on Earth with active peacekeeping zones that you should visit. Cyprus is one of them. This Mediterranean island, off the coast of both Greece and Turkey, is circumscribed by a ring of hot, pebbly yet soft, white and black sand beaches.
You can also find lovely hikes and wineries in the less-well-trodden Troodos Mountains. But come for the beaches. You don’t need me to describe the crystalline glitter that is the Mediterranean Sea. Rich, blue, warm, seductive. The black sand is dotted with sunny cliffs and the beaches are often quiet. Try Governor’s Beach, at the tip of the town of Limassol on the southwestern corner of the island. A local favorite, says Cypriot Marios Epaminondas, is Ayios Ermogenis. Limassol’s a bit odd: I remember a club with a 1980s night that may not have strictly been 25+ but which was happy to turn away my crowd of then 19- and 20-year-olds. It’s a town of around 100,000, with a small, lively university, a few requisite archaeological ancient gravesites, an old colonial district.
Here’s the wrinkle: Making it to Limassol requires flying in via Greece (Turkey is more challenging, though cheaper), and an annoying 90-minute-plus trek by public transit or expensive private van via the strange capital of Nicosia. It’s a divided city where residents remain haunted by the years 1955 to 1964, marking the nine years of communal violence between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots over who maintained a true right to the island.
Today, though the entire once-Brit-colonized island is recognized as the Republic of Cyprus, a European Union member, a northern enclave calls itself the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus — an unrecognized state. The TRNC’s so-called border is a mere ditch away from its neighbor — a buffer zone still patrolled by the light-blue-uniformed peacekeepers.
Some might find the history fascinating, but tourists are interested in “the sea and the sun,” says Epaminondas. If you’re not a history geek, you’ll endure a number of angry locals, from hoteliers to waiters to cab drivers, who are eager to bash their disowned cousins. And Nicosia itself is little fun, “quite a bit slower,” Epaminondas says, filled as it is with pricey restaurants, fancy shops and assorted diplomats.
But do yourself a favor: Meander through the old city, and into the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. And find Nicosia resident Epaminondas via the Home for Cooperation; I first encountered him on a reporting trip four years ago. He and Turk-Cypriot Mustafa Tunçbilek give informal walking tours upon request of the 9,250-square-kilometer country. Their friendship is a rare post-conflict bridge. I ambled along with them on a sunny May day; they call each other “cousin” and lament what they’d call the immaturity of their countrymen.
Last but most important: gastronomy. Try Epaminondas’ favorite, a local lunch spot, Shiandris Restaurant.Incredible Turkish bites in the TRNC, like Buyuk khan — a monument turned coffee shop — and the Cadi Azani bar for a beer.Not to mention some top kebab places. Try Christakis.My personal favorite: an Armenian hole-in-the wall in south Nicosia, whose name regrettably escapes me. But man, I hope you find it. Sandwiches for one euro. I may or may not have eaten them every day. The life of a poor student!