When people in the Arab world need a restorative break, they frequently head for the island of Cyprus. It's less than an hour by air from most Middle Eastern capitals, and yet it seems a world apart.
Once on Cyprus, many gravitate to the beach communities of Larnaca, Limassol or Paphos, but these places are so crowded with package tours that they aren't much fun unless you absolutely have to see thousands of topless Scandinavian bathers.
A few of the cognoscenti , myself included, instead make for the capital, Nicosia, where a really wonderful weekend can be had, unbelievable as it might sound, at the Hilton International Hotel.
Because Nicosia has declined in importance since the Turkish invasion in 1974, the hotel is off the beaten path of tourism and is wonderfully uncrowded. Behind the hotel are small pool-side cabanas--with fenced-in patios, walls of frangipani and manicured lawns--that remind me of the ambiance at the Beverly Hills Hotel and that offer relief from the artificial sameness of most chain hotels.
The hotel has the island's best restaurant, The Orangerie, which features nouvelle cuisine and delicious Cypriot wine at reasonable prices. Even the coffee shop is a nice retreat, with newspapers in English, Greek and French hanging from racks.
There are also many diversions, including tennis and squash courts located behind the cabanas. If the impulse grabs you, you are still only 30 minutes from the beach, where you can enjoy a fresh-fish lunch for about $5, go sailing or simply laze in the sun.
For those who run out of reading material, the Hilton is but a short distance from the Bridgehouse, the best English-language bookstore in the Mediterranean region.
Hilton International, Archbishop Makarios III Avenue, Nicosia, Cyprus. Telephone 011-357-2-64040. Cost: $85-$122 per couple. The cabanas are $122 a night.