Legend has it that Aphrodite was born in Cyprus. Out of the sea foam on a lovely stretch of Mediterranean island sand, the goddess of love emerged to inspire the ancient Greeks. But the ancients aren’t the only ones she inspired, and even now her mythical beauty lures people to the country of her birth to fall in love. I am one of them.
My love affair with Cyprus starts in a familiar way. After a flight from Heathrow with Cyprus Airways, I arrive in Larnaca and am driven to the Almyra hotel in Paphos. It’s reminiscent of my last trip to Cyprus, when I also stayed at the Almyra, but it is the beginning of a very different travel experience.
This is not least because rather than being in Cyprus on a romantic getaway with a (now ex!) boyfriend, I am there on a romantic getaway with the Cyprus Tourism Organisation. That is, they have invited me to discover the island’s romantic side, from wedding venues to spas and honeymoon activities.
The Almyra is as pretty as ever, and although I’m in a room in the main building instead of a sea-front suite this time, I still love the hotel’s minimalist, modern aesthetic and beautiful sea views.
Throughout my stay I am introduced to new features at the hotel, including a healthy breakfast menu at the spa. My group also ventures outside of the hotel for a buffet dinner and live entertainment at its sister property, the Annabelle.
But we don’t spend much time in Paphos on this trip. There are too many other places to fall in love with, and we are off to discover them.
Back I go to Aphrodite’s birthplace by the sea, then to the Baths of Aphrodite in Polis, where legend has it that if you bathe you will stay young and in love forever (so long as you ignore the ‘no swimming’ sign).
Soon the talk of love has me in need of a drink. Luckily, we are visiting the wineries of Cyprus. The island has six wine routes that go to local cellar doors for tastings, and we happen to be on one of them.
We stop at Vouni Panagias Winery, a beautiful family-run property in the hills. After touring the grounds, which have stunning views, we taste everything from fruity white Alina to sweet Commandaria, a wine from one of the oldest named appellations in the world.
Overall I am impressed with the quality of Cypriot wine. Maybe a little too much, given that I finish all of my tastings.
To atone for my sins, I join my group in a visit to the nearby Chrysorrogiatissa Monastery, which translates to Our Lady of the Golden Pomegranate. Yum.
But back to my sins. Father Dionysios welcomes us to the property, a hilltop gem with a tiny historic church dating back to 1152, an art gallery, a museum, and a terrace with views over the valley.
He also invites us into his office for strong Cyprus coffee, fresh cherries, and a special Easter cake called flaouna, which is made with egg, cheese, and sultanas. At the end, he sends each of us off with a bottle of the monastery’s wine. As I leave, I consider converting just for the food.
But there’s more food to be found in Cyprus, and when we stop in Omodos, a little town in the Troodos Mountains, we discover shops selling sweets like soutzouko, round candies cut from strings of almonds dipped in layers of grape juice and flour.
We also discover the famous Monastery of the Holy Cross, where pieces of the actual holy cross are supposedly held, and a giant wine press that was used in traditional Cypriot winemaking until the 1960′s.
But Omodos’ real draw is its narrow streets full of lace vendors and little shops. It is so charming that I could wrap the whole thing up and take it home.
But more towns are on the itinerary, and chief among them is Kalopanagiotis. Deep in the Troodos Mountains, the village is home to a famous church called Agios Ioannis Lampadistis. Its beautiful frescoes date from the 11th to 14th centuries, and they are as stunning as they are historic.
Across a small bridge is the town of Kalopanagiotis, which has one of the most unique hotels I’ve ever seen. Casale Panayiotis has bought up houses in the village to create a 26-room boutique hotel interspersed throughout the streets.
We have lunch at the restaurant, which is located next to the library and up a narrow alley from the spa. The food is some of the best I’ve had so far, with the perfectly salty haloumi and the feta-stuffed mushrooms being two of the standout dishes.
Speaking of lunch, we have two others during the trip that are particularly good as well. The first is at the Anassa, a sister property of the Almyra located above the sea near Polis. It is a beautiful five-star hotel in Cyprus, and we dine alfresco on everything from fresh salads to mouth-watering desserts.
Afterwards we make our way past the hotel’s Byzantine wedding chapel to the spa. As I drift into massage-and-food-coma, I feel like one of the hotel’s celebrity guests. The Beckhams and Leonardo diCaprio are just a few famous names from among those that have stayed at the Anassa.
The second stand-out lunch in Cyprus is with Roddy Damalis, the owner of Ta Piatakia restaurant in Limassol, and a celebrity chef in his own right. Roddy doesn’t just cook for us, though. He cooks with us.
First he takes us to the municipal fruit and vegetable market in Limassol, which is located off Saripolou Street. It is in an attractive pedestrian zone filled with shops and restaurants, and it opens into a big square full of outdoor tables.
After picking up food from the market, we drive to Ta Piatakia, where Roddy gives cooking classes in a workshop next door. As we sip Cypriot wine, he makes everything from strawberries with cheese, local cured ham, and carob syrup to smoked salmon and prawn dako, which is sort of like a pizza made on a bed of crusty rusks. It is amazing.
Later we return to the area to have dinner at the old Carob Mill complex, which has been renovated and turned into a waterfront dining area. Our meal is at Artima, which sits across from the castle where Richard the Lionheart supposedly married Queen Berengaria of Navarre in 1191. Apparently Cyprus has been a popular wedding destination for quite some time.
The final leg of our romantic Cyprus travels takes place at the Four Seasons hotel in Limassol. The huge hotel, which is independent from the international chain but still five-star in its rating, sits right on the beach.
My room has a gorgeous view of the sea and the hotel’s little wedding chapel, and I spend some free time walking along the beach and reading by one of the four pools. In the afternoon, I get a relaxing but mysterious spa treatment that involves mud on my spine and feet, and in the evening I enjoy a romantic dinner at the hotel’s award-winning Vivaldi restaurant.
The next morning it is time to leave the Four Seasons and Cyprus. My romantic trip to Paphos and Limassol, the Troodos Mountains and Polis has come to an end, but my honeymoon with Cyprus is far from over. If the love affair continues, it won’t be long until Aphrodite draws me back again.