Cyprus is reinventing its tourism sector by offering a wider range of year-round activities and showing a more sustainable approach to tourism.
With more inbound flights scheduled to Cyprus, things are looking bright for the country’s winter tourism season. Although still one of the top European spots for beach holidays, Cyprus is establishing itself as a year-round destination and attracting increasing numbers of visitors wanting to discover new aspects of this mythical island during winter months.
Like most countries in southern Europe, Cyprus became known as a popular ‘sun and sea’ destination thanks to its hot and sunny weather and pristine beaches. The hospitality of its people, its Mediterranean delicacies and captivating history has charmed visitors from around the world for decades. However, one of the key advantages of Cyprus is its short and mild winters and the fact that sunshine is guaranteed for an average of 340 days a year. Summer visitors would struggle to recognise Cyprus in winter months, which transform the island into a lush green landscape with ancient olive groves and orchards bursting with ripening citrus fruit. The abundance of fresh seasonal produce used in its cuisine coupled with unique wines provide for exquisite dining experiences while touring the country. A gentler pace prevails in the winter, making it easier and more comfortable to engage in various activities – be it hiking, golf, visiting ancient sites or simply relaxing at a luxury hotel.
Tucked into the easternmost corner of the Mediterranean Sea, Cyprus boasts incredibly diverse scenery ranging from dramatic pine and cedar-clad mountains and valleys to vast plains, as well as stretches of sandy beaches and secluded rocky coves dotted along the 648 km coastline. Every region of the island has a distinct character to it and provides endless opportunities to discover the numerous villages, beautiful nature, remnants of a long history and the empires that swept through it, as well as its more modern attractions and entertainment.
Luxury Resorts and Hidden Agrotourism Gems
In terms of accommodation, visitors are spoiled for choice in Cyprus. You can find everything from sprawling family-friendly resorts and five-star boutique hotels providing all comforts, to quaint family-run bed and breakfasts. If in need of pampering, the various spa hotels cater to even the most discerning visitors. With the country’s efforts to diversify its offering, agrotourism has been gaining momentum in Cyprus and an increasing number of fabulous establishments are popping up all over the countryside. Not only do these agrotourism hotels and guest houses offer a glimpse of the real Cyprus, but also support the sustainable approach the country has taken to revive small villages and other rural areas. The agrotourism offering is also extensive and visitors can choose from rustic village houses and hotels to superbly converted luxurious hidden gems with five-star quality. The local character, traditional architecture and tranquil village atmosphere offer a great way to stay off the beaten track and to get a taste of the fresh produce from local farms and wineries.
A Viticultural Renaissance
Although not widely associated as a major wine producing country, Cyprus has in fact been cultivating wines and producing wines for thousands of years. Most notably the sweet wine Commandaria, a speciality known for centuries as ‘Cyprus Nama’ or the ‘blessed one’ until the Knights of St John branded the wine with its current name Commandaria in 1192. Today, wine production in Cyprus has developed and refined, achieving international acclaim for many of its varieties. There are over 40 boutique wineries and cosmopolitan wine bars have been springing up in all major cities. The innovation in viticulture has also launched small scale production of ecological wines that are pioneering on an international level. Significant progress has been made thanks not only to the dedication and ingenuity of local winemakers but also to the financial support from government, which has helped efforts to upgrade the facilities of wineries and for dozens of new ones to set up.
Discovering the Great Outdoors
The winter months are the ideal time to discover the great outdoors in Cyprus. With the subsiding summer heat, nature bursts into life. National and local forest parks provide spectacular views and trails of varying degree of difficulty for both hiking and mountain biking. With Cyprus’ history steeped in myth, it is no coincidence that most nature paths have been given a mythological name deriving from legends of their specific areas, such as the Aphrodite, Adonis and Artemis nature trails. The nature and walking paths constitute one of the most important infrastructures of countryside and forest recreation and development, yet are still relatively undiscovered by tourists. A large number of the paths are developed and marked within state forests and have a total length of almost 320 km, some dotted with waterfalls and exquisite views of the Troodos mountains, others with glittering coastal views of Cape Greko.
For a wilderness experience, the Akamas peninsula in the Paphos area is ideal for 4×4 driving and in winter months you may be lucky enough to have it all to yourself. Exploring the unspoilt nature for hours through rough tracks is a rewarding drive and reaching the mountain peak offers incredible views of both Paphos and Chrysochous Bay.
For those looking for a different type of walk, the winter months are also ideal for history buffs and golfers. Golf tourism is expanding rapidly and Cyprus currently boasts four 18-hole international standard courses and there are plans to award permits to bring the total number to 11, turning the island into a golf destination of choice. As for history lovers, the various archaeological and religious sites around the island are virtually empty in the winter months and the cooler weather provides for a more enjoyable experience to tour the locations.
The winter also brings on the easterly winds and thanks to the moderate temperatures of both air and water, wind and kite surfers flock to the coast. Wind surfing has long been a widespread sport and now kite surfing is gaining more interest in Cyprus, with Perivolia and Limassol beaches proving the most popular. This year the completion of the luxury Limassol Marina put Cyprus on the map for yachting, and plans to develop more marinas in all the major coastal cities is making the island increasingly interesting for sailing.
Weddings and Conferences
The good cooperation between local authorities, churches and a variety of wedding organising consultancies has enhanced the growing trend of another sophisticated aspect of tourism – weddings. The fact that Cyprus is the birthplace of Aphrodite and considered the island of love has also boosted interest in the destination. In an international 2014 online poll, Paphos was recognised as one of the best wedding destinations in the world by travellers and described as ‘the most fashionable spot for destination weddings in the Mediterranean’. Hundreds of thousands of euros are generated annually by couples taking advantage of civil weddings. The natural beauty of Cyprus, the resources it offers for weddings and the planning process, as well as the nightlife, entertainment and cultural experiences all support the growing industry. With simplified legal procedures and modern facilities with a trendy atmosphere, Cyprus is becoming increasingly attractive for those looking to tie the knot. Growing numbers of Middle Eastern couples have also started jetting in, drawn by Cyprus’ status as an ideal civil wedding destination. In Cyprus a marriage can be completed in a single day and a bride or groom’s denominations are not an impediment, also either side can seek a divorce in contrast to the rules of many of the couples’ home countries, where sometimes only husbands are permitted to file. In 2013, there were 2,131 Israeli weddings, 581 Lebanese and 35 Syrian unions. Bookings are flowing in from further afield too, such as Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Iran and Iraq.
Good transport links, short distances in addition to the sophisticated hotel and services infrastructure have given rise to conference tourism, especially between the months of October and May. Conference facilities, venues and local organisers are highly recognised and for a small country it has a lot to offer. Cyprus offers 309 conference rooms, seating capacity for 30,604 people and 34,189 beds in hotels with conference facilities alone. The seating capacity by town is 4,460 in Nicosia, 7,295 in Limassol, 9,981 in Paphos, 2,600 in Larnaca, 5,572 in the Famagusta area and 696 in hill resorts. Adding more interest to the conference package, the Antiquities Department of Cyprus also now allows the use of some historical sites for certain conference activities such as seminars and workshops, allowing delegates to experience first-hand one of the oldest civilisations in the world going back 10,000 years.
A Wealth of Opportunities
With its upgrading efforts, new initiatives and diverse projects in the pipeline, Cyprus is well on its way to reinvent its image and offering. Once seen only as a sun and sea holiday spot, Cyprus is rapidly being rediscovered as a year-round destination packed with exciting experiences for both business and leisure travel. The entrepreneurial spirit of the Cypriots combined with the strong will to differentiate and reinvent the island’s tourism product is beginning to bear fruit, with increasing numbers of tourist arrivals and revenue despite the prevalent economic crisis across Europe. There is a wealth of opportunities to explore in Cyprus that are just waiting to be rediscovered.
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