It's easy to fall in love with the Cypriot port town of Paphos, says Poppy McPherson
With sun, sea and centuries of history, Paphos, on the west coast of Cyprus, has won over British travellers for decades. The Unesco-listed town, famed in Greek mythology as the birthplace of goddess of love Aphrodite, is a good base for exploring the rest of the island and an enchanting destination in its own right.
SELL: EASY SUNSHINE
The climate is a major selling point. “Cyprus really is an all-year-round destination,” says Nasos Hadjigeorgiou, tourism manager at the Paphos Regional Board of Tourism.
In the summer, temperatures can soar to 40C and even in the colder months, the mercury usually stays at an average 17C. “Some of my clients say it’s cheaper to come to Cyprus for the winter than to pay for central heating in the UK,” our guide Mary tells me.
As the world shrinks, Cyprus is rapidly being seen as a short-haul destination at four or five hours’ flight time, rather than a mid-haul. Paphos, in particular, is extremely accessible.
A range of airlines, including easyJet, Monarch, British Airways, Thomas Cook and Thomson, flies daily from Stansted, Gatwick, Liverpool and other regional airports.
Ryanair started flying to Paphos in April and now has a hub there. Once a new road from the airport to the town is completed, clients will be ferried between the two in five minutes.
An upgrade of the town centre is already under way. “Phase one has already been completed,” Hadjigeorgiou says. “We have good facilities on the beaches like new changing rooms and have 11 more blue-flag beaches on the way.”
Shopfronts along the harbour will be modernised. For clients who like to pepper hedonism with a hard day’s golfing, the town already has five courses, with another four in the pipeline.
STAY: GO LUXE
The market caters for all budgets, but the real strength is the high end. The town has nine five-star hotels, including some stand-out examples. The jewel in the crown is the Anassa, where Phillip Green blew the budget on a £5 million Roman toga party last year.
Less expensive, but still stunning, is the Anassa’s chic little sister, Almyra, a minimalist-inspired hotel owned by the same group just a 10-minute walk from the town. Clean design meets home comfort in the contemporary lobby, which is styled after a family house and divided into different living spaces with sofas and soft chairs.
A magnificent glass backdrop looks out on to the slate outdoor pool and landscaped gardens. The 189 rooms have a similar look, with clean but comfortable white linen beds. In pride of place are the Kyma suites, just steps away from the sea, and with access to a private rooftop.
An adult-only spa offers solace but children are still looked after here – not least by the fluffy chocolate brown cat adored as ‘Gizmo’ by kids and ‘Mr Boss’ by the hotel staff. During the summer months, 90% of guests are families with young children. The hotel also offers a crèche and baby packages to save clients bringing nappies and baby food on the plane.
A short stroll down the front, the four-star Athena Beach presents a larger and more affordable alternative. Despite the size, the hotel feels friendly, and buzzes with families. A large balcony curves from the entrance to overlook the pool – perfect for half-price cocktail hour. There are dance classes and boules tournaments – ideal for older single travellers.
“It’s better to be a great four-star than an average five-star,” says general manager Yannis Karamanos. All 430 rooms come with flatscreen TVs and the six junior suites include private plunge pools and espresso machines.
The evening buffet offers a varied dinner menu or guests can wander down the road to the five-star Asimina Suites Hotel, part of the same chain – Pixie Lott stayed there with her boyfriend last summer – to sample perfectly-cooked steak and excellent service.
SEE: COUNTRYSIDE CULTURE
Rich ancient sites are within easy reach of the town. A few minutes’ drive from the harbour, the archaeological park is home to Roman mosaics that date back to the 2nd century. We admired the intricate depiction of the Greek gods and heard their charmingly human stories. “Narcissus was a man who was so in love with himself he broke the heart of a woman. Sound familiar?
You’ll meet a lot more of them,” jokes Mary, our guide. The site merits a good few hours’ exploration, but clients should bring their own water in summer as bottles are not sold nearby. The old Cyprus is still very much alive in the hill-top villages that surround the town. “Paphos attracts Cypriots as well as tourists. They come for the old customs,” Mary tells me as we watch the traditional Palm Sunday procession at Saint Neophytos monastery, near Tala village.
Nearby, we explored a 12th-century painted cave where Saint Neophytos holed himself up, before we ate a fresh fish lunch at Latchi harbour and a took a trip to the grotto where Aphrodite is said to have bathed. The day costs €20 through the Cyprus tourist board and agents who pre-book can earn at least 10% commission.
A drive up to the Troodos mountains is one of the most popular excursions. We negotiated sheer drops down limestone cliffs, pine forests and wandering donkeys as we followed the road up to Mount Olympus, the island’s highest point. The snow stays on the slopes until February and in spring the roadside explodes into colour with citrus groves, poppies, wild peonies and orchids.
We stopped at Omodos village, where locals still hand-make lace and weave baskets, sipped a sweet glass of Commandaria and ate lunch at a taverna. Hearty hardly covered it. Meze dishes included pitta bread and olive paste, walnut dip, artichokes and tomatoes and grilled sausages soaked in wine, tender lemon children and spiced minced lamb.
Best of all was deliciously sweet halloumi cheese fried with honey and sesame seeds. Then came a coconut and fresh cheese dessert with a crystallised almond and rose water coating. “It’s more than my life’s worth to give you the recipe,” the chef told us.
If clients are in the mood to boogie off the baklava, they can head to the host of lively bars and clubs that line ‘bar street' in the town centre. Or, if they have a car, Limassol, the party capital of Cyprus, is a 40-minute drive away. Cypriots and tourists alike crowd out bouzouki bars and dance to the eastern twang of the traditional instrument.
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