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Old port and marina in Cyprus

A luxury guide to Cyprus: The best hotels, restaurants, bars & places to visit

By Amy Ockelford on 24th April 2018

I’ve been visiting Greece for decades for the beautiful weather, breathtaking scenery and wonderful people. But it had never occurred to me to head just across the water, a little further east, to Cyprus. That is until Visit Cyprus invited me to see everything the third largest island in the Mediterranean has to offer…

Granted, it’s a fairly long flight to enjoy a Mediterranean island – especially when there are other beautiful spots along the Med to enjoy without venturing so far – but easyjet made the trip painless. We arrived on a gloriously sunny Thursday, warm considering the early date in March that we were travelling, outside of the island’s usual high season.

Our first stop for this short but sweet (and jam-packed) trip was a meandering drive into the mountains. Our destination: the rural and rustic village of Kalopanayiotis. The long, winding road took us deep into the Troodos Mountains with far-reaching views across the breathtaking Cedar Valley and forested peaks. We weave past layers of bright green pastures of lush spring grass and blossoming almond trees staggered up the mountains are home to the island’s most important inhabitants – the goats (and producers of its most famous export, halloumi) – and its carob trees. (Millions of tourists visit Cyprus every year, flocking to the coastal towns to enjoy the beaches and tavernas. But my hint would be to head straight into the mountains for an authentic and memorable trip to the real Cyprus.)

Casale Panayiotis
Casale Panayiotis is a boutique, five-star hotel

We were weary by the time we arrived at Casale Panayiotis – taking a rather unusual and unexpected mode of transport for the last part of our journey, a funicular down the steep hillside and to the boutique, five-star hotel.

Casale is a unique hotel – not another five-star resort created for tourists and segregated from the real local community – this hotel is embedded in the village, a cluster of old farm buildings, renovated and brought back to life as a restaurant, library, and collection of rooms and suites overlooking the valley.

The rooms, dotted up the hill and along the lane which cuts through the heart of the village, ooze rustic charm with beamed vaulted ceilings, wood-burning stoves and earthy colours.

Thankfully, after more than seven hours of travelling, there was time to relax at Myrianthousa spa – an oasis of calm and tranquility. I’ve been lucky enough to visit a number of spas in my time and, while most spa experiences are of a similar ilk, this place just kept surprising me with a new idea or trick behind each door. The panoramic views from the hydrotherapy pool are breathtaking, and, for an extra luxurious touch, you can enjoy the view from the comfort of a chaise lounge – no sun loungers in sight! If you’re feeling a little clammy after the sauna, what better way to cool down than in your very own snow cave (yes, a snow cave)? After a chilling visit to the snow, I was ready for my 25-minute ‘drift away’ massage – a treat for all the senses with soothing music humming in the warm, cosy treatment room and beautiful scents and fragrances weaved into the treatment.

Myrianthousa spa
Myrianthousa spa offers an oasis of calm and tranquility

Dinner was another treat for the senses, a delightfully authentic meze feast – in fact, more meze than we could have imagined, all washed down with local Cypriot wine. We had refreshing tzatziki, tahini and flatbreads, delicious grilled halloumi, spicy sausage kebabs and Greek salad. Despite filling up on the first round of plates, more and more continued to come, each round more delicious than the last.

The following morning, I awoke to another banquet of food – this time the breakfast buffet which we enjoyed from a window table with a view along the valley. Kalopanayiotis is a beautiful hamlet clinging to the steep sides of the Troodos mountains. Steeped in history, the traditional mountain village is built around the monastery and church, which still provide structure and meaning to daily life for the local Cypriots – the bells chiming out throughout the valley to signal the start of the morning service. We wandered over to the Agios Ioannis Lambadistis Monastery to learn the ancient myth of Saint John and take in the serenity of the Unesco-listed site. But it was soon time to hit the road again, this time making our way over to the capital city of Cyprus, Nicosia – or Lefkosia to the Cypriots – the heart of the island as well as the centre of the division of Cyprus, with the Turkish inhabited land to the north and the Greek Cypriots to the south.

The island has been split since the Turkish invasion in 1974, with almost 40% of the north of the island within the occupied zone. This is just the most recent in a long line of invasions and conquests that have left Cyprus with a hugely dynamic and diverse culture, and such a rich history. Everything from the food to the architecture to the art is a melting pot of different periods with varying influences from the Greeks to the Ottomans to the Turkish. The latter of these was to be our inspiration for the afternoon – after learning about this history in the Cyprus Museum and Byzantine Museum – as we went to experience a traditional Turkish bath at Hamam Omerye. The historic building houses a central lobby and relaxation area, with arches leading off into a serene garden and into the warm, steamy communal bathing area.

Limmasol
Limassol is a city on the southern coast of Cyprus

The most Instagramable stop of the day was our lunchtime hang-out, The Gym in the city centre. With chic modern décor and bohemian finishing touches, the surroundings were quirky and extremely photogenic! With beautiful cocktails in every colour and delicious, homemade food, it was easy to while away the hours in this laid-back corner of the city.

One hour south of the capital is Limmasol – an old port city that had fallen into ruin but, in recent years, has undergone an extensive renovation project, bringing the city back to life without damaging the authenticity and history of it’s old, twisting streets. The former carob mill is now a collection of bustling tavernas and restaurants encircling the square, the old vegetable market has been reimagined as a theatre and the animal market now thrives as a pub and nightspot. By night, the sandstone buildings are lit with a warm glow and strings of fairylights stretch across the meandering streets. By day, during our visit in low-season, it was somewhat deserted – but I can imagine during the summer months it’s streets are teaming with tourists and the atmosphere is buzzing. We headed waterside for another meze treat at To Kypriako where staff treated us to platters of meats, salads, vegetables, dips and breads – all washed down with the local tipple, of course.

Our bed for the night was provided at the four-star Atlantica Miramar Beach Resort. The rooms were simple and plain but clean, comfortable and practical. A bottle of red wine and platter of fruit greeted me as did a beautiful sky of rich reds and oranges as the sun sank below the horizon and the waves gently lapped against the shoreline just beyond the still, glowing pool. While the hotel was perfectly functional it was somewhat lacking in the luxury department. The large development had as much architectural and design merit as a 1970s concrete tower block in east London. Our stay was pleasant and convenient, but it’s not one I’ll be writing home about.

It was soon time to wave goodbye to the Miramar from the sun-kissed deck of a Relax Cruises catamaran. We spent a glorious sunny morning sailing the southern coast of Cyprus with the crew, enjoying cakes, pastries and the odd rum and pineapple. The trip was a great photo opportunity for the Instagrammers among us and the two-hour excursion was relaxing, even if the boat was a little more Club 18-30 than billionaire’s yacht!

Aphrodites-Rock
Aphrodite’s Rock, the birthplace of Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love is one of Cyprus’s most sacred and romantic attractions. Image credit: Marcus-Bassler

Following a short stroll around the marina, we headed back inland for some more history – to the Kourion Ancient Theatre. The impressive ruins of the 3,500-seater amphitheatre give visitors a glimpse into one of the ancient cities of the Kingdom of Cyprus, the semicircle of steps dating back to 2nd century BC and offering magnificent views of the Mediterranean. After taking in the sights from the top of the theatre, it was back into the mountains to visit the wine-making village of Omodos. This antiquated and picturesque village sits in the heart of the mountains, it’s quaint cobbled streets leading tourists on a trip back in time. The pretty village has retained much of the traditions of Cypriot living from the family-run bakery – where traditional sweets and treats are still handmade and sold – to the winery vaults where we tasted the local produce: white, rose, red, dessert and the infamous Zivania – and all before lunch at the picture-perfect To Katoi. While we received our third meze meal on the trot it was, once again, completely different from the previous banquets. And, once again, was packed full of flavour.

We headed towards Coral Bay as the evening drew in, winding through the banana plantations to George’s Ranch, perched on the coastline. The equestrian centre – home to more than 40 horses – was where we met our steeds for the evening. Aboard Princess, my grey Irish Sport Horse, I led the way as the horses picked their way through the floral scrubs and around the red rocks, following a sandy path to the cliff’s edge just as the sun set. It was a beautiful spot to enjoy our final sunset on the island – and my, what a sun set.

We finished our whistlestop tour of Cyprus in the island’s smallest – but most well-known – city; Paphos. They say: ‘Leave the best to last’. And that’s certainly what Cyprus Tourism Organisation did with the stunning and exquisite Elysium Hotel. (Elysium, in Greek mythology is considered a place or state of happiness, and there were huge smiles on our faces as we stepped inside the opulent hotel’s lobby.) The grand, double-height lobby – finished with marble floors, shimmering chandeliers and a spiral staircase centerpiece – sets the tone for the rest of this vast, five-star complex. We were welcomed with refreshing lemon drinks and warm rose water hand towels, instantly relaxing us into our stay. It was only natural, therefore, that my next stop was the spa. A quick dip in the pool and soak in the Jacuzzi prepared me for another evening of indulgence.

Tombs_of_the_Kings_1
The Tombs of the Kings is a large necropolis lying about two kilometres north of Paphos harbour

A short drive from the hotel, Muse café bar is perched high above the lower city, with views across the roofs below. The trendy, contemporary nightspot was packed with people enjoying low-lit dinners and drinks with friends. We ordered a round of cocktails and toasted to our final night on the island before a table-full of dishes arrived (I cannot recommend the lobster pasta more). Wearied from another busy day – and full of rich food – we headed back to Elysium for the night. I capped off my night with a quiet drink on the balcony of my palatial room, overlooking the softly-lit, landscaped pool and central square, lines with lemon trees and olive trees. But bed – the most heavenly bed I have ever slept in, might I add – was calling and it was time to call it a night.

We couldn’t visit Cyprus without visiting some of the island’s most famous landmarks and historic sights, so we spent our final morning on the sun-drenched island learning about its ancestors and gods. Our first stop was to witness some of the architectural and engineering feats of the ancient inhabitants – the Tombs of the Kings. The Unesco World Heritage necropolis has been partially excavated so we ventured down inside one of the grand and ostentatious crypts to explore the crooks, crevices and caves. You couldn’t help but shiver with goosebumps at the thought that someone else stood here to grive their loved one thousands and thousands of years ago.

A short drive through the city past Psolonome’s Tree and along Paphos harbour, we headed out of civilization to the islands most popular tourist destination – Aphrodite’s Rock. Petra tou Romiou, as it’s also known, is an outcrop of rocks just off the coast, rumoured in mythology to be the birthplace of Aprhodite; the goddess of beauty and love. The crystal blue sea, jagged coastline and pebbled beaches make this a spot worthy of Aphrodite’s beauty.

Unsurprisingly, for an island that gets 300 days of guaranteed sunshine a year, tourism is the main industry for Cypriots. And the local communities are incredibly welcoming to foreigners, proud to show off all their little island has to offer.

The five star Elysium hotel is a perfect destination for all seasons

Unlike the country – which remains divided – my mind is well and truly made up on Cyprus; a beautiful country rich in history and culture, with stunning scenery and something for every kind of holiday-maker from the rich, looking for a little bit of luxury, to the modest, hoping for a family holiday filled with laughter and memories.

Amy’s trip was provided by Cyprus Tourism Organisation (visitcyprus.com).

Accommodation was provided by Casale Panatiotis (casalepanayiotis.com), prices for a double room from €120 per night; Atlantica Miramare Beach Hotel (atlanticahotels.com/hotels-in-limassol/atlantica-miramare-beach-hotel), prices for a double room from €88 per night; and The Elysium Hotel (elysium-hotel.com/en), prices for a double room from €205 per night.

Easyjet operates flights to Paphos from London Gatwick and London Luton airports (easyjet.com/en/cheap-flights/cyprus, prices from £26.49 one way.

Myrianthousa Spa (casalepanayiotis.com/myrianthousa-spa), prices from €45 for a 25-minute massage.

Activities included Byzantine Church of Agios Ioannis Lampadistis; Cyprus Archaeological Museum; Byzantine Museum, Saint John’s Cathedral, House of Kornesios; Kourion Ancient Theatre; Tombs of the Kings.

Dining at The Gym; To Kypriako; To Katoi; Muse Café Bar.

Turkish bath experience at Hamam Omeriye (hamamomerye.com), prices from €59.

Boat trip provided by Relax Cruises (relax-cruises.net); prices from €35 per person.

Horse ride with George’s Ranch (georgesranchcyprus.com); prices from €35 per person.