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Chypre Guide

Cyprus is divided into six districts: Nicosia, Famagusta, Kyrenia, Larnaca, Limassol and Paphos, with  Paphos, Limassol, Larnaca, Ayia Napa, Nicosia, Protaras, Pissouri, Polis, Paralimni, Alaminos, Avdhellero, Lachi, Perivolia, Tokhni, Kalavasos and Voroklini being the most popular tourist destinations. Cyprus is divided into two halves - the North side (Turkish) and the South side (Greek).

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 now reigns on the island, and for British visitors there's a persistent sense of deja 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, TGIF, M&S, KFC, Pizza Hut and McDonalds are all 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, airlineposter destinations, yet the place grows on you with prolonged acquaintance (as evidenced by the huge expat/immigrant population in the South, estimated at 60,000, 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 on the south coast, or longer, dunier expanses on north-facing shores. Horizons are defined by one of two mountain ranges: the convoluted massif of the Troodhos, with numerous spurs and valleys, and the wall-like escarpment of the Kyrenia hills, seemingly sculpted of papier-mache.

In terms of special-interest visits, archeology buffs, wine-tasters, flowersniffers, bird-watchers and mountainbikers are particularly well catered for, though state-of-the-art nightlife and cultural diversions can be thin on the groud outside Nicosia, Limassol and Ayia Napa, in keeping with the predominantly fortyand 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, and by circumstance in the North, which has effectively put at least two of the bigger resorts plus numbers of 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.

Cyprus Facts

Cyprus is the easternmost island in the Mediterranean, with a surface area of 9251 square kilometres (3572 square miles). The total population is 870,000, comprising 650,000 Greek Orthodox, Greek-speaking islanders, 80,000 Sunni Muslim, primarily Turkish-speaking natives, and 140,000 foreign-born immigrants or seasonal residents. All these figures are debatable as there has been no island-wide census since 1960. After 1974 Cyprus was divided into two zones: the South, comprising 68 percent of the land and predominantly Greek

Cypriot-inhabited, the balance largely populated by Turkish Cypriots and an undetermined number of settlers from mainland Turkey. The capital of both regions is Nicosia.

The Southern republic is a stable democracy, with regular, keenly contested elections, and since May 2004 a member of the EU. The head of state is the president; there is no prime minister. The House of Representatives has 56 seats; 24 more are reserved under the 1960 constitution for Turkish-Cypriot deputies who have not, however, occupied them since 1963. Instead they sit in the fifty-seat assembly of the North.

The Northern system provides for both president and prime minister, and on paper has all requisite democratic trappings, but only since 2000 has there been a serious challenge to the consolidation of power in the hands of an oligarchy, and a relaxation in repression of their opponents.

Tourism constitutes the island's number-one industry: around two million vacationers in recent seasons to the South. Government dreams of attracting four million in future are neither logistically nor environmentally sustainable. British visitors make up roughly half the number, with Scandinavians, Germans, Greeks and Russians following in that order. By contrast, the North gets just 30,000-60,000 guests annually, with Brits again leading the way. Fresh produce, juices and wines are the princip'al agricultural exports of the South; shipping, banking services and medical care are other significant foreign-currency earners. Since 2000, the North's economy has effectively imploded, with its only significant money-spinners being higher education offered at a number of small universities, and remittances from the thousands of Turkish Cypriots who commute to work daily in the South.