Postcard from… Cyprus

Cyprus is easy to visit and hard to leave; when I arrived just under two and a half years ago I never planned to spend more than six months or so on the island before heading back to London. However, as with so many people before me, Cyprus grew on me quickly and I decided to stay, taking a position in the corporate department at the largest law firm on the island, Andreas Neocleous & Co LCC.

Life here is good, and the list of qualities to keep a lawyer in Cyprus would be a long one. For me the list includes warm seas and cool mountains all within easy reach of each other, a five minute commute, an easy going lifestyle, a cosmopolitan mix of nationalities and cultures, great food, the chance to develop new practice areas and participate in the consultation process for legislative amendments, and a golden opportunity to ride a fast, loud, and lurid green Kawasaki sports bike all year round on great roads.

Although Cyprus is often assumed to be similar to an Aegean Greek island, any visitor landing at Larnaca airport at noon in July will know instantly that they have stepped into a blisteringly hot Middle Eastern island oven. Cyprus is a mere 20 minutes flight from Beirut and, although spring and autumn are perfect, and the short winter adds snow to the greenery of the mountains, in summer the beach, the mountains, or an air-conditioned room are the only tolerable locations.

It being a scorching summer, I risked short-circuiting the laptop in a deluge of sweat if staying on the coast, so I headed up to the mountain village of Kakopetria. There I escaped the heat in an Argentine run taverna, Tziellari, frequented by diplomatic staff from the various Nicosia embassies and a flotsam of expatriates. After a “fusion meze” of empanadas, asada, halloumi, Cyprus coffee and an animated conversation, over an ice cold beer with Victor, the chef and owner, on the feasibility of finding a cow and a good plot of land to hold a full-scale Patagonian style outdoor barbeque party, I couldn’t postpone writing any further.

A frustrating misconception about Cyprus is that it is an “off-shore” jurisdiction when in fact it is an EU country with a low tax regime. Historically, to the extent that “off-shore” implies a disconnected relationship with centres of business and politics, Cyprus has never been truly “off-shore”. Although a small island, Cyprus has a big history, having been a central and secure link between mainland Europe and the Middle East since antiquity. Cyprus was once the vineyard to the pharaohs, supplier of copper for the Bronze Age Mediterranean, a safe harbour for merchant shipping and a sanctuary for troubled neighbours, most influentially for the first exodus of early Christians from Palestine (there is still a small Aramaic speaking community in Turkish occupied Cyprus).

Arguably, the historic role continues, as shipping remains a key business, the wine is still good, and Cyprus still provides sanctuary, notably during the evacuations following the recent Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and more mundanely, for hordes of expatriates seeking a comfortable retirement. Importantly for a lawyer, Cyprus remains a secure and competitive jurisdiction to link up international business.

As a visiting lawyer observed, Cyprus isn’t an isolated island with minimal recreation for a lawyer other than cleaning the yacht, it is “a proper country”. The diverse opportunities to develop new clients, products, and practice areas make Cyprus a very interesting place for an English solicitor at this point in time, and work aside, it is also an excellent home.