Cyprus is a landscape that’s moulded and adapted to a lot of change over the years, but still it holds its place as one of the most treasured jewels in the Mediterranean. I was thrilled to be heading back to the island. With Greek Cypriot heritage I spent many a childhood holiday roaming the dusty streets of its villages bare foot, chasing round goats and strolling to the bakery for fresh koulouri bread. It had now been fifteen years since my last visit and I was dying to see what had changed and what the island looks like so many years on.
Although the scars of the unresolved 1970s conflict with the Turks, for many, are still raw, the Cypriots haven’t lost that warm hospitality they are known for and the good sense of humour that keeps them laughing heartily, smoking cigarettes and drinking their local thick black coffee into the small hours of the morning. Everywhere we went, we received the warmest welcome and despite the healthy stream of foreign tourists visiting Cyprus, they never seem to lose pleasure in receiving them all with open arms.
One thing I knew to expect was great food, which unsurprisingly was served in abundance. A big part of their culture and family life, food brings people together and is enjoyed unhurriedly in their traditional meze style. One thing that was less expected was the beauty and the variety of their golf courses, which we were lucky enough to experience during our stay. Now with the new Limassol Marina almost complete, Cyprus has more to offer than ever before.
Checking in to the Almyra Hotel in Paphos, we were treated to a meal of delicious contemporary food, after being shown to our gorgeous suites which all had a stunning sea view. When the weather creeps up into the pleasant late spring temperatures, the private roof top terraces are the perfect place to watch the setting sun and enjoy an al fresco drink or dinner.
A day exploring two of the area’s golf courses under a Mediterranean sun, left us with quite an appetite. Paphos is a city that draws in visitors for its stunning beaches and incredible local cuisine. We were promised it would be here that we’d discover one of the foodie treasures of this island, and that was a promise kept. Nestled into a snug corner of the city, 7 St George’s Tavern has created an ode to fresh and unique Greek food. This charming restaurant up in the hills, sits on the site of George’s farm where he grows all the produce that goes into the dishes. Spending his days foraging nettles, mushrooms, greens and berries for the menu and creating delicious organic wine (that he guarantees won’t give you a hangover), George knows his food is fresh and local which is a promise most diners want to hear. There is no menu and the dishes served change daily depending on what is fresh in that day. It is served traditional meze style but with careful consideration of the diners’ capacity for food; they keep bringing it until you say stop. We were served pickled samphire, nettle and spinach encased in pastry, pork that just fell off the bone, grilled artichokes, roast chicken, fresh lentil leaves and piles of freshly baked, pillow-like pita bread with humus, taramasalata and a Cypriot version of tzatziki. Everything that was served to us was delicious and unique. The food was heavily influenced by the Cypriot cuisine and style of dining but not in a traditional sense; many of these dishes I had never tasted on a meze menu previously. The dining process was lengthy; the dishes were served at intervals, meaning we escaped the lethargy and fullness that a standard Cypriot meze induces.
I believe that it’s the characters that bring a country alive and George was certainly a memorable one. With that unfaltering Cypriot pride, he pulled up a chair at our table to regale us with his exacting knowledge on food, foraging, wine and philosophy and we were more than happy to be his audience for the night. With one son creating wholesome dishes in the kitchen and another serving on the restaurant floor, the warm family atmosphere is prominent and adds to the feeling that you’ve stepped into George’s homely dining room for the night. Full of food, wine and good memories we reluctantly said goodnight, with promises to return.
Next stop was Limassol where we checked into the luxurious Amathus Beach Hotel. Set on a peaceful stretch of beach, the hotel housed five restaurants, over 200 rooms, two pools and a heavenly spa. The breakfast buffet was extensive with every imaginable food you could desire. Served in their light and airy dining room, the fresh coffee kept coming and the pastries were irresistible. I also indulged in a visit to the spa, with an Indian head massage treatment on their heated massage bed, which felt like sinking into endless layers of fluffy warm towels. Our stay was not long enough, although I imagine a month-long stay here would still be too short. Still I managed to fit in a swim in their indoor salt-water infinity pool and a beautiful dinner in The Cyan restaurant.
Dining at Limassol Marina on fresh seafood was also a foodie highlight; fresh octopus, red mullet and grilled sardines were served in abundance alongside Greek salads full of plump olives and salty feta cheese. Glaring longingly at the mega-yachts berthed in the marina outside, whilst enjoying the finest Greek wine and foods reminded me why Cyprus is a top European destination. The Marina itself was almost complete and already yacht owners were docking their impressive vessels here to spend some time on Cypriot soil, enjoying the self-contained stunning village they’ve created within the area with great restaurants and bars, retail shops, a fitness centre and a spa. The first super-yacht marina in Cyprus, the new development seems to be reviving the area of Limassol, introducing yet another appealing attraction to this Mediterranean island. The majority of the luxury apartments and villas have already been sold and the remaining ones look set to be snapped up in the near future.
We experienced just how desirable this lifestyle really could be with a catamaran trip from the Marina. Our gleaming white boat, glided along the settled waters around the island whilst we enjoyed cocktails on deck, bathing in the warm spring sunshine. If only one of the luxury peninsula villas belonged to us…
I really enjoyed a visit to the village Omodos, which bought back fond, nostalgic memories of my childhood visits. It was quaint and traditional, much like it would have been decades previously. Strings of soushouko (confectionary made from grape juice) hung from the bakery ceilings and piles of seeded crusty bread sat in baskets outside. We enjoyed fresh loukmathes (Greek donuts drenched in honey) and beer sitting alfresco in the village centre.
Cyprus has also preserved some stunning ruins, which could rival those of mainland Greece. We visited Kourion which had an old-romantic sentiment to it and held centuries of history under its beautiful mosaic floors. To me there is something so magical about an ancient amphitheatre; imagining the works of Sophocles, Aristophes and Euripides playing out stories of love, betrayal and revenge on its central stage. This one felt extra special; with an incredible sea view behind it, one can easily imagine balmy summer nights, sat on the old stone seating enjoying music, drama or a classic comedy.
Our Cypriot adventure was a dream and came to an end all too quickly. The country has developed a huge amount since my last visit but it hasn’t lost any of its charm and now has a whole lot to offer any kind of visitor. The place is an abundance of food, wine and warm welcomes. The difficult thing is saying goodbye to all the beauty it has to offer and those long lazy lunches that I was too quickly becoming accustomed to. Cyprus, I can promise it won’t be another 15 years before I visit again.
Accommodation at the Almyra Hotel Paphos starts at €120 per room, per night
Accommodation at the Amathus Beach Hotel starts at €185 per room, per night
British Airways flies directly to Larnaca from London Heathrow
For more information on visiting Cyprus see the Cyprus Tourism Organisation website here.