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Cyprus, the Mediterranean’s third largest island after Sicily and Sardinia, defers only to Malta as the newest state in the region, having come into existence on August 16, 1960. For the first time, following centuries of domination by whatever empire or nation held sway in the eastern Mediterranean – including, from 1878 to 1960, Great Britain – the islanders seemed to control their own destiny. Such empowerment proved illusory: no distinctly Cypriot national identity was permitted to evolve by the island’s Orthodox Christian Greek and Muslim Turkish communities. Within four years, tension between these two groups had rent the society asunder, followed in 1974 by a political and ethnic division of the island imposed by the mainland Turkish army.

However, calm for the most part now reigns on the island, and for British visitors there’s a persistent sense of déja vu in Cyprus, perhaps more than with any other ex-Crown Colony. Pillar boxes still display "GR" and "ER" monograms near zebra crossings; grandiose colonial public buildings jostle for space with vernacular mud-brick and Neoclassical houses; Woolworth’s, Next, M&S, KFC, Pizza Hut and McDonalds are present in the largest towns of the South; and of course driving is on the left. Before the recent founding of universities in both South and North, higher education was pursued abroad, preferably in the UK, and English – virtually the second, if unofficial, language in the South – is widely spoken. Despite the bitterness of the independence struggle against the UK, most is forgiven (if not exactly forgotten) a generation or so later.

Even the most ardent Cyprus enthusiast will concede that it can’t compete in allure with more exotic, airline-poster destinations, yet the place grows on you with prolonged acquaintance (as evidenced by the huge expat/immigrant population, estimated at 50,000, mostly British but also east European and south Asian). There’s certainly enough to hold your interest inland once you tire of the beaches, which tend to be small, scattered coves in the South, or longer, dunier expanses in the North. Horizons are defined by one of two mountain ranges: the convoluted massif of the Tróödhos, with numerous spurs and valleys, and the wall-like escarpment of the Kyrenia hills, seemingly sculpted of papier-mâché.

In terms of special-interest visits, archeology buffs, wine-drinkers, flower-sniffers, bird-watchers and mountain-bikers are particularly well catered for, though state-of-the-art nightlife and cultural diversions can be thin on the ground, in keeping with the predominantly forty- and fifty-something clientele, and the island’s enduring provincialism. This has both cause and effect in the overwhelming presence of the package industry, supported by law in the South, by circumstance in the North, which has effectively put at least two of the bigger resorts and numbers of multistar hotels off-limits to independent travellers. But for an undemanding, reasonably priced family holiday most months of the year, Cyprus is still a good bet.

[ Buy on Amazon: The Rough Guide to Cyprus ]

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