Cyprus Aims to Boost North American Arrivals

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Reed Travel Features

NICOSIA, Cyprus -- Dramatic mountain scenery, a rich treasury of ancient sites, a Mediterranean shoreline dotted with appealing, deluxe resorts and affordable prices are some of the attractions that marketers of travel to Cyprus promote.

Although the North American market still makes up a small percentage of the more than 2 million visitors to Cyprus annually, the numbers are climbing with the substantial increase in tour operators that now offer value-packed vacation programs to Cyprus. A few escorted tours encourage travelers to retrace the footsteps of figures as diverse as St. Paul, Alexander the Great and Leonardo da Vinci.

Further tourist growth is coming from cruise passengers as major ship lines have added the port of Limassol to their routings, and the island's location in the eastern Mediterranean makes it a natural add-on destination to trips to Israel, Egypt or the Greek islands. Neophytos Christodoulou is the new director of the Cyprus Tourism Organization in the U.S. He said there is considerable work to be done in educating the trade and the consumer about Cyprus.

"Everyone seems to know where Turkey and Greece are. In fact some seem to think we're another Greek island," said Christodoulou, as he pointed out that Eastern influences in the culture -- from Syria, Egypt and Persia -- make Cyprus "different, not exotic."

The people of the Republic of Cyprus speak Greek, or at least most of them do, as the republic does not include northern Cyprus (37% of the island), which is occupied by Turkey. A U.N. buffer zone separates Cyprus from the Turkish-controlled north, and tourists staying in the Republic of Cyprus can enter the northern zone for day trips only.

The city of Limassol, 60 miles west of Larnaca, is part seaside resort and part commercial center.

Other than its sandy beaches, the main attraction is Limassol Castle, where Richard the Lionheart married Berengaria of Navarre and proclaimed her Queen of England. Outside of town, travelers climb the steep steps of the beautifully restored Greco-Roman amphitheater at Kourion, established in 1595 B.C. and one of the most spectacular archaeological sites in Cyprus.

Paphos, 50 miles from Limassol, is a town rich in Hellenistic and Roman remains, an official member of the Unesco list of Cultural Heritage Sites. Essential attractions are the Paphos mosaics that cover floors of what once were second- to fourth century villas, as well as the Tombs of the Kings in eight massive underground complexes. But seeing essential Paphos also means visiting the Archaeological Museum, monasteries and churches.

The Troodos Mountains are dotted with remarkable painted Byzantine churches, nine of which have been listed by Unesco as World Cultural monuments. The most famous are Kykkos and Trooditissa, heralded for their icons, frescoes and inspiring architecture. Easily reached from Limassol or Paphos, the Troodos are popular with bird-watchers, mountain bikers and hikers.

Larnaca, the main airline gateway to Cyprus, has one of the island's most cherished sites: the church of St. Lazarus. Additionally there are two wonderful museums: the Larnaka District Archaeological and the Pierides Foundation; both contain exceptional examples of Mediterranean art.

For information, contact the Cyprus Tourist Organization at (212) 683-5280.

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