By Lucie Robson
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the charms of Paphos beaches, but the most memorable beach I have ever been on is on the edges of Varosha on the opposite side of the island in Famagusta. It has the crystal-clear water beaches in the Republic that have been awarded so many Blue Flags and its enviably rich golden sand, for which beaches from this enclave all the way up to the tip of the Karpas are famous, leaves many a Paphos shore wanting.
The beach at Famagusta is memorable not only for its natural characteristics but the man-made ghost town surrounding it.
A spot allocated for swimmers is overlooked by deteriorating hotels, lift shafts exposed, signage faded, abandoned during the 1974 Turkish invasion. These are cordoned off by a ramshackle fence that disappears into the sea at the beach edge and is met by a broken string of buoys. This creates a gaping gap through which anyone can swim into the restricted zone. Nobody is supposed to swim beyond this point into Varosha proper. If you do, a policeman, seated in a makeshift tower, blows a whistle at you. In all fairness, you could not blame anybody for crossing this line, as it is hard to take such Mickey Mouse style security seriously.
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But, in spite of the broken sea barrier, an invisible barricade is very strong as, when I visited, nobody ventured beyond this watery line. In fact, it was as though they were not on a beach being stared at by the empty eyes of vacated hotel rooms and buildings preserved in an ugly, traumatic moment of the island’s recent history. A group of boys held a diving contest at a mysteriously deep spot at the beachside, families picnicked and listened to music, children snorkelled and tourists sunbathed.
What has always struck me over the years as efforts towards a Cyprus solution have been undertaken is there has been little consideration about how one of the island’s chief economic activities, tourism, would be impacted. Specifically, how would Paphos, already competing with Larnaca, compete with the likes of beautiful sandy Famagusta and the Karpas?
Likely such matters are secondary concerns to the return of Morphou and a political makeup. Anyway, competition is always a good thing.
But it’s worth noting that when Famagusta was a developed, sophisticated tourist destination before the events of 1974, Paphos had one, maybe two hotels.
Many Cypriots, mostly Nicosians, have said to me that Paphos was least hurt by the invasion because, with the precarious situation in the occupied areas, suddenly local tourism flourished. While Varosha fell into ruin, Paphos visitor numbers grew.
Any success Paphos has had has not been handed to the district. The local tourism authority is very active in promoting the area and attracting airlines and anyone knows what hard work the hospitality sector needs.
But, if there is a solution or even simply a resolution to the Cyprus problem, how will Paphos tourism fare in the longer term?