Return to the real Love Island - Cyprus
Niagarous volumes of water have passed under many metaphorical bridges since I last visited Cyprus. It was 1994 and the very happy occasion of our honeymoon: a fortnight in October in an elegant hotel on the beach - the gift of a dear friend, the late Gillian Bowler, no better woman to pick a stunning vacation location.
Aptly, myself and my late husband fell in love with the Island of Love, so called as it is reputed to be the birthplace of Aphrodite, the very goddess of said same many splendored thing. At the time my husband and I took a drive out along the coast and paid homage to Aphrodite's Rock, a sea stack of stone jutting out of sand and sea, sunlight glittering on the rocky surface. From these cobalt waters, lore has it, this mythic deity emerged on a shell in a mist of sea foam.
Then there were so many reasons to be smitten by this special place - beautiful countryside, gorgeous people, ambrosial food. And, needless to say, being newly wed and in love added its own lustrous patina. So to be invited a quarter of a century later to revisit the same south western coastline of Cyprus makes my heart beat a little faster.
I'll be spending the weekend at the Annabelle, considered a grande dame of Cypriot hotels and happily only a 20-minute cab ride from the airport. Paphos, where we are staying, is so rich in culture the entire town has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. Think of an open air museum and you get the general picture. There's the medieval castle which crowns the pretty harbour (take a walk up to the roof of this impressive citadel for fantastic views across the countryside) and, nearby, the Kato Pafo Archaeological Park where we spend a fascinating and instructive morning in the House of Dionysus learning about the meticulously preserved collection of ancient mosaics depicting pastoral scenes from Greek mythology.
For history lovers, in this neck of the woods there's also Kourion where the Sanctuary of Apollo is located, and further north the Tombs of the Kings, a Hellenistic necropolis where royalty were buried in carved underground caverns by the sea and the Agia Kyriaki, a 12th Century church said to be the site of the persecution of St Paul, and the Pillar Chrysopolitissa to which the saint was tied and whipped for his beliefs.
Annabelle has just reopened after a major facelift and is indeed looking very beautiful: all the bedrooms have been refurbished and have dainty balconies overlooking the pools which stretch down to the beach. They have a state-of-the-art spa called Ouranos - the word means 'sky' or 'heaven' and management describe it as a haven of heightened tranquillity. As it's the start of the summer instead of plumping for my usual massage I decide on an exfoliation (excellent) after which they dispatch me with a gift bag of chocolates and body oils, my tranquillity definitively heightened after a spell in this heavenly haven.
We're invited for sundowners at Annabelle's sister hotel Almyra. (There's a third sibling in the Thanos group - Anassa further up the coast is more family oriented). Almyra is next door and from the moment we walk in, it's clear this place rocks to an edgier, cooler vibe. That said, the sedate pace of Annabelle is both restorative and relaxing.
Cocktails are served on the roof terrace - underneath are a series of suites - where weddings, private parties and receptions are hosted and we are treated to an incredible vista over the glittering Mediterranean, the lowering roseate sun mirrored in our pink gin and tonics. This class act is followed by a superb meal on the dining terrace - sushi, crab tempura, slow cooked duck and a fragrant ginger creme brulee. For post-prandials, the young international staff bring us to the beachside bar attached to the hotel - it's modelled on a Greek taverna and this Saturday night a brilliant local band are belting out songs to a boisterous crowd.
Next morning a couple of my energetic younger colleagues return to Almyra's Eauzone spa for yoga and a healthy power breakfast, and to both, these chic Londoners give the ultimate imprimatur - 'cool'. They are entranced as I am a couple of hours later, when we take a walk among the flora (wild fig trees, junipers) and fauna (foxes, falcons and fruit bats) of the splendid Avakas Gorge and visit the green turtle conservation station at a quiet secluded beach, Lara Bay.
I remember, among other things, discovering the joy of mezze on my honeymoon, and on this return we have a couple of superb lunches where we get to sample these Cypriot tapas. Our first tasting is at a vintage cafe called Koutourou located in Ktima, Paphos's old town which underwent a huge renovation for its role last year as European City of Culture. Charmingly old-fashioned and authentic, the restaurant is packed with locals, always a good harbinger.
A variety of mezze are presented for our delectation - taramasalata, baked olives, hummus, Asian and Greek salads, baked aubergine - and that's just for starters. The entree of grilled sea bass accompanied by lentils and orzo is sublime as is the dessert which concludes this feast: baked halloumi with honey.
The owner, a Greek giant with a personality to match, lectures us on the importance of lunch, with which a bunch of journos more used to a hurried sambo at the desk can but agree.
Legend has it that Marc Anthony was so captivated by Cyprus he bought it for Cleopatra, and Cypriots love to declaim the fun fact that an English royal wedding took place at Limassol Castle when Richard the Lionheart married his Queen Joanna.
Idyllic locale for a honeymoon, perfect spot for a sun holiday (its lucky denizens get an eight month summer) Cyprus is an enchanting isle which thrums with myth and art and beauty. Welcome folks to the real Love Island.
* Rates at Annabelle start from €186 per night based on two people sharing an Inland View Room, including breakfast.
* Suite rates start from €367 per night based on two people sharing a Garden Studio Suite, including breakfast.
* Half-board upgrades cost €40 per person or €80 for full-board.
* Rates at sister hotel Almyra start from €216 per night based on two people sharing an Inland View Room, including breakfast.
* Ryanair operates regular flights from Dublin to Paphos.
* Annabelle is a 25-minute drive from Paphos International Airport.
For more information, check out both annabelle.com.cy and almyra.com
NB: This article originally appeared in the Sunday Independent.
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