Be seduced by myths, meze and Mediterranean scenery in this seaside city – not least as it has been named a European Capital of Culture 2017, says Imogen Lepere.
Why go? Throughout its history, Cyprus, and Paphos in particular, has charmed the most unlikely people. Mark Antony gave it to Cleopatra as a token of his love, and Richard the Lionheart briefly laid down his crossbow to marry there. So what is it about this Mediterranean island that seduces people? The legendary associations with Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, help but the truth is there’s something irresistible about the cobbled streets of Paphos’s old town, its pale crescents of sand lapped by turquoise sea and the hint of mystery suggested by the distant mountains with their mantle of pine forests. This year there’s even more reason to go as it’s been named the joint European Capital of Culture alongside Aarhus in Denmark. Expect indie film premieres on the beach, international art exhibitions and a host of live theatre and music events.
What to do Step back in time in the Tombs of the Kings, a mysterious warren of catacombs that laid undisturbed from 300BC until 1977, then explore Paphos Castle 00 357 26 306 217, a hulking presence on Kato harbour. A 30-minute walk away in the old town is BeanHaus 00 357 99 088 891, beanhaus.eu a micro coffee roaster. Paphos Municipal Gallery Gladstone 7, 00 357 26 930 653 showcases the work of local artists and will be running a host of special exhibitions in 2017 (entrance is free). For traditional crafts, head to The Place theplacecyprus.com which has been transformed from a crumbling warehouse to a creative hub. You can watch basket weavers, potters and lace makers at work then pick up some loukoumades (pastry balls soaked in honey) at the Garden Café. Dive into the island’s mythology with a swim at Petra tou Romiou rock. This stack of limestone marks the spot where Aphrodite was born in a cloud of sea foam (legend claims those who swim around it three times will look forever young), then bask in the spring sunshine on the magnificent beach.
Where to stay? The 2.5ha of gardens at Annabelle 00 357 26 885 000, annabelle.com.cy meander along the seafront, complete with footbridges over shady pools. Although there are 218 rooms, it has a boutique atmosphere. The views from the hills above the city are breathtaking and Aphrodite Hills Resort 00 357 26 828 000, aphroditehills.com is perfectly situated to make the most of them. Choose from a suite at the luxurious hotel or one of the self-catering villas sprinkled over the 235ha of protected parkland. Chic Almyra 00 357 26 888 700, almyra.com boasts a slate-lined, freshwater pool and Notios, a Japanese-Mediterranean fusion restaurant run by Nobu alumni Rob Shipman.
Where to eat and drink? Cyprus has been occupied by various nations throughout its history and the food scene has a magpie quality to it. The Venetians brought ravioli, so islanders stuffed the pasta parcels with halloumi, simmered them in broth and called them ravioles. Lebanese and Turkish invaders left meze. Just metres from the sea, Filiotis Fish Tavern 00 357 99 127 913 boasts white chairs and cheerful blue tablecloths. Order octopus in vinegar and tomatoes topped with crumbly feta. Kourides Restaurant Evagora Pallikaridi, 00 357 26 949 182 specialises in lamb licked by open flames until crispy and served with a plate of white onion, pickled chilli and lime. In the afternoon, tables fill with elderly guys playing tavli (backgammon). For local wines and modern Cypriot cuisine try Koutourou Ouzeri Filippou Antoniaidi, 00 357 26 952 953 or for a meze feast opt for 7 St Georges Tavern Anthipolochagou Georgiou Savva, 00 357 99 655 824. Expect 20 seasonal plates, including rice-stuffed marrow flowers, olives and kleftiko (lemon-marinated lamb served on the bone).
Time running out? Follow in the footsteps of medieval camel traders along the 17km Venetian Bridges nature trail in Paphos Forest. The 3km section between the deserted village of Vretsia and Roudia Bridge is particularly peaceful. cypruswalksetc.com
Trip tip The afternoon siesta typically runs from noon until 4pm. It’s a good chance to see the city’s crumbling houses and more recent stuccoed villas minus the crowds but shops will be closed.
Currency is the euro. Time is two hours ahead of GMT. Flight time from Doha is approximately 4.5 hours. The cost to carbon-offset is $4.96. For more details visit climatecare.org
Qatar Airways flies from Doha to Lanarca daily qatarairways.com
Visit Cyprus is the local tourist board’s online resource and is packed with inspiration for your trip. visitcyprus.com
Bitter Lemons of Cyprus by Lawrence Durrell (Faber & Faber, $9.95) is an account of living on Cyprus between 1953 and 1956, during the independence movement.
Photos by Sarah Coghill; Gary Latham; Carl Pendle; Marcus Bassler; Stefano Gerardi; Cyprus Tourism Organisation