A taste of Cyprus
With a long season extending from early Spring right through to late Autumn, Cyprus is a perfect choice if you are craving a blue sky fix. Even through winter, the temperature on the coast rarely drops much below 15c. The island is also popular due to its strong British connections - they drive on the left, the sockets are of the 3 pin variety and English is widely spoken. There's a huge choice of quality hotels and villas which keeps prices competitive and makes it a thoroughly reliable choice for a relaxed holiday.
Much of the tourist focus is on the coast. Unless you are an avid clubber and feel drawn to the party town of Ayia Napa, most visitors will choose to base themselves in the large resorts of Limassol, Paphos or, if you prefer a quieter scene, perhaps around the Akamas Peninsula. As is always the case though, head inland and you see a completely different side to the island – dramatically contrasting scenery, rural life steeped in tradition and villages unchanged for centuries. For me at least, this is where the real interest lies.
On this trip we split our time between Limassol and Paphos. Flying in to Larnaca with Norwegian.com, Limassol is less than an hour’s straight drive down the coastal motorway. We stayed at the Four Seasons Limassol (www.fourseasons.com.cy), an independent 5 star hotel (not part of the Four Seasons group). Set on one of the better stretches of Limassol beach, the hotel has 3 pools and excellent facilities but what really makes it stand out is the attention to detail; super thick mattresses on the sun beds, generous nibbles served with drinks, ever smiling staff, excellent food, extremely comfortable beds and clever tech in the rooms. We were staying during the October half term and there seemed to be lots of multi generational family groups – always a good sign that a hotel really looks after all its guests, whatever their age.
Limassol as a resort is not exactly picturesque – there is a pleasant tourist area around the castle and the new marina is definitely worth visiting but personally I found the town underwhelming. I gather the newly developed area around the university has lots to offer in the way of restaurants and nightlife but its the kind of place where you need local insight to get to know the best places to check out. One advantage of basing yourself in Limassol though is its central location – nowhere is much more than an hour’s drive away so with a car you can really see a lot. One outing took us up in to the foothills of the Troodos Mountains. Within half an hour’s drive we we were in what felt like a different world. By late autumn the landscape was looking quite dry after the long summer but it only takes a little rain for the green to return and in Spring, I am told, it is transformed by a blanket of flowers.
We spent a lovely morning in the company of Zoe Kounounis and her sister in law (also Zoe) who run the Arsorama Village House in Arsos (www.arsorama.com.cy). They have followed a growing local trend, – restoring what was a family village holiday home in to boutique self catering apartments. Centred around a shady courtyard, there are four private units each sleeping 2-4. One used to be the village barber shop – if only those stone walls could talk, what stories they could tell! Staying in this type of village accommodation is a wonderful way to experience a more authentic slice of Cypriot life – there are lots of options for walking in the mountains, visiting some of the many churches and monasteries, wine tasting in local vineyards and enjoying rustic cooking. The uber bubbly and ever smiling Zoe has done a particularly fine job with her conversion and spending a few hours in her company learning how to make Koupepia (stuffed vine leaves) and a tasty, deep fried honeyied doughnut (the name of which I will never be able to pronounce) with her was a real joy.
Wandering around the local villages is a lovely way to spend a day – there are plenty of local tavernas and, more often than not, there will be a church or nearby monastery to explore. Best of all though is to follow the wine trails (get hold of the free Tourist Board produced guide for maps and listings) – we visited several different wineries and without exception, were given a warm welcome and generous tastings. Having never tasted Cypriot wines before, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised at the quality and variety. The local varieties of the white Xinisteri and red Maratheftiko are well worth a try.
Another day trip took us to the Akamas Peninsula. The most visited spot is Aphrodite’s Baths where legend has it the Goddess of Beauty bathed after meeting with her many lovers. In truth its a dark looking and slightly underwhelming water filled cave but persevere and you will be rewarded with a network of walking trails across the peninsula offering spectacular views of the gorgeous coastline and crystal clear turquoise seas.
Back on the southern coast we spent the second half of our week in Paphos. Kato Paphos is the ‘Tourist Area’ (it actually says that on the road signs which feels a bit weird) and takes in the harbour, seafront promenade and Poseidon Avenue where you find the main concentration of hotels. We stayed at the Asimina Suites, part of the well known Constantinou Bros group and a 5 star all suite property towards the far end of the Avenue. In terms of the size of the suites, the lovely pool area and gardens leading down to the small beach and the sunset facing, ocean view location it can’t be faulted but overall we did find it lacking in atmosphere.
There was also quite a lot of road and building work going on downtown which we later discovered is all in preparation for Paphos being a European Capital of Culture in 2017 – looks like next year will be good year to visit with an extensive programme of arts, music and cultural events planned (see paphos2017.eu). And if Ancient History and Greek mythology ranks high on your reasons to visit Cyprus, Paphos is certainly a good base. There are dozens of sites within easy reach including the coastal landmark of Aphrodite’s birthplace and the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Paphos Archeological park which is mere stone’s throw from the harbour.
Cathy travelled as a guest of Norwegian.com and the Cyprus Tourist Office. Norwegian.com offer twice weekly low cost flights from London Gatwick to Larnaca. Winter fares start from just £40 one way. For detailed tourist information see www.visitcyprus.com
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