(February 2009)

Island of love

Agnes Fletcher has visited Cyprus, an island which is a glorious, grand mosaic – where manifestations of an extraordinary past and a vibrant present are laid out across the country in a rich and colourful pattern

Cyprus is a stepping stone to three continents – Africa, Asia and Europe; a stopping place between east and west. Its rich history, preserved in many World Heritage Sites, spans 10,000 years and includes rule by Egyptians, Assyrians, Persians, Romans, Byzantines, French, Venetians, Turks, Greeks and British.

Since 1974, the island has been divided into the Turkish-sponsored Turkish Republic of North Cyprus and the Greek Cypriot-governed Republic of Cyprus in the south. They share Nicosia as their capital.

The south is urbanised, though still influenced by the Orthodox Church, with the cities of Larnaka, Nicosia, Pafos, Agia Napa and Limassol being busy centres. In the Turkish north, an international boycott has affected both tourism and economic development.

It is far less affluent, more sparsely populated and Islam is the main religion.

The third largest island in the Mediterranean, despite being a popular tourist destination, Cyprus is still unspoiled. It has something for just about everyone: beautiful beaches, breathtaking mountains, museums and archeological sites, championship golf courses, lively nightlife, wine-tasting and luxury hotels and spas.

The cult of Aphrodite, the ancient Greek mythological goddess of love and beauty, was born here and the island was the first country the apostles Paul and Barnabas visited on their mission to spread Christianity. When Cyprus became part of the Byzantine Empire, art and architecture flourished, especially in the 12th century – and much of it survives.

It’s said that if you simply scratch the surface of the island you will unearth a relic from the past. All of the island’s main cities have an archaeological museum, with the main one in Lefkosia.

Alongside the culture, nature provides an enormous variety of plant and animal life. The scenery includes rugged coastline, sand and pebble beaches, rocky shores, sun-baked plains and mountain forests – bring a paintbrush or a camera! For bird-watchers, Cyprus is on the migration path between Africa, Asia and Europe.

Because it is such a popular tourist destination, in recent years facilities for disabled people in the south have improved. However, relatively few public buildings, shops or visitor attractions have ramps so access can be very difficult for wheelchair-users. Many museums are in older buildings without lifts. Access to archaeological sites is also difficult.

Pavements in towns and villages (where they exist) are often uneven. The situation is echoed but to a greater extreme in the poorer Turkish north.

In terms of attitudes, Cypriots can seem a bit complacent when it comes to disability. Cypriot civic society has not done enough as yet to create wheelchair access in its streets and public places. However, Cypriots themselves are friendly and helpful and there is a general willingness to help overcome the access hurdles.

Only a few museums and archaeological sites in the south (and none in the north) offer Braille or audio guides for people with visual impairments or induction loops.

Don’t let that put you off. In the larger hotels in the south, you’ll find a reasonable level of wheelchair access – though do check things like the width of bathroom doors in advance. Prices are economical compared to the UK.

There are a number of companies that specialise in holidays for disabled people – renting equipment, providing airport transfers and excursions in adapted transfer vehicles, accessible accommodation and whatever personal support you may need during a stay in Cyprus.

A keen ambassador for exploring Cyprus as a disabled person is Chris Neophytou. Chris has used a wheelchair since his late 20s and created the first holiday complex specially designed for wheelchair-users and their families in Polis, one of the most attractive and fastest growing seaside resorts. Located on the north-west coast of Cyprus (though still in the southern Republic), Polis is close to the Akamas Peninsula and the harbour village Latchi.

As Chris says: “I knew from experience how difficult it is for wheelchair-users to find a place they could go to for a holiday; a place where they felt safe and where they had a sense of freedom. I used my own experience and knowledge as a disabled person to create the perfect holiday place: that’s the key really, giving people pleasure, but within a safe and friendly environment.

“For those seeking the thrill of a new adventure, parasailing, snorkelling and scuba diving are all possible, as is swimming in the Med. We have a glass-bottomed boat with a ramp and hoist to get people into the sea. Here in Cyprus, almost anything is possible.”

Polis has relatively good pedestrian areas and there is little traffic, so it’s safe to use the road wherever the pavement is not suitable for wheelchairs. Many public buildings, like the archaeological museum and some restaurants have adapted access for disabled visitors.

For the pastier of us Brits, especially those like me with arthritis, the weather in Cyprus is fantastic all year round. The island enjoys an intense Mediterranean climate of hot dry summers, starting in mid-May and lasting until mid-September, and rainy, mild winters from November to mid-March. With almost year-round clear skies and sunshine, daylight ranges from 9.8 hours in December to 14.5 hours in June. Even in the depths of winter, temperatures range from 18°C inland to about 14°C on the coast. During the hottest months of July and August, temperatures range between 29°C on the central plain to 22°C on the inland Troodos Mountains.

While southern Cyprus makes a relatively easy tourist destination now, there are big plans afoot to improve what it offers to tourists. There are positive signs of a good outcome on reunification of the island and a massive development project to transform the port of Larnaca into the eastern Mediterranean’s leading cruise ship hub. A new airport for Larnaka will be completed in November 2009.

In the next few years, there will be a massive expansion of holiday homes for sale and rent, new hotels and new facilities – although the government has learned the lessons of Spain and has careful restrictions on what can be built where. Recent access laws provide the hope that, for disabled people, Cyprus will soon be complete as a holiday paradise.

Getting there:
EU passport holders may cross from the south of the island to the north via the pedestrians-only Ledra Palace crossing point in Nicosia, or via one of the vehicle crossing points (at Agios, Dometrios, Pergamos and Strovilia).

Getting around:
As a member of the European Union, the Republic of Cyprus follows European norms. English is widely spoken.

To visit north Cyprus, EU visitors only need a valid passport but, to avoid being refused entry on later visits to the south, passports should be stamped on a separate loose sheet of paper. The euro is the currency in the south. The north uses the Turkish lira.

Accommodation and services:
You’ll find reasonable rates and a variety of accommodation to suit different pockets in Cyprus – but check the access details carefully in advance.

For accommodation in Polis:
C & A Tourist Apartments, Tel: 00 357 26 321881.
Email: chrisneo@cytanet.com.cy Website: www.ca-tourist-apts.com.cy

For equipment hire such as electric hoists, manual and electric wheelchairs, scooters, shower chairs and commodes to hire by the week: Paraquip, Tel: 00 9964 7669. Email: gc@paraquip.com.cy Website: www.paraquip.com.cy

Further information:
• Cyprus Organisation for the Deaf, tel: 00 357 22 356767.

• [Republic of] Cyprus Tourism Organisation, tel: 00 357 22 691100. Website: www.visitcyprus.com Provides a leaflet with information on facilities for wheelchair users.

www.disability-cyprus.com (company offering accommodation, equipment and support)

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Polis 8831, 

   ++ 357 99498515    
++ 357 99647669
++ 357 26322856




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