Cyprus Delights

Experiencing a Mediterranean island paradise

Try this,” urged Zoe Anastasiou, my well-versed docent who was much more at ease driving on “the other side of the road” than I was. “You’ve never tasted anything like it.”

“Mochi in Cyprus?” I asked. We were both off-base. Anastasiou had introduced me to Cyprus Delights, a traditional confection that resembles the Japanese delicacy in both appearance and flavor. The sweet treat’s name seems symbolic of this Mediterranean island that is truly one pleasure after another.

Basking in 360 days of sunshine each year, Cyprus sparkles at the crossroads linking Europe, westernmost Asia and Africa. The 3,572-square-mile retreat is literally an open-air museum brimming with ancient remnants from the conquerors and rulers who have controlled it through the ages.

“Many Americans know little about Cyprus,” explained Anastasiou. “So they’re pleasantly surprised by our multicultural history, excellent food and hospitable people.” Less than 24 hours into my sojourn, I could already agree.

Granted, it’s not the quickest of destinations to reach from Hawaii. Currently, 33 “name-brand” air carriers service the new $773 million airport in Larnaka, with Cyprus Airways connecting from the mainland U.S. via London, Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Athens. American Airlines also connects with British Airways at London Heathrow.

Most U.S. travelers arrive aboard cruise ships, with Limassol as their Cyprus port of call. Tourism officials predict that will change, however, with the ultra-sleek airport’s increased capacity. So plans are in progress to expand the day-tour market for independent travelers on multiple-night stays.

“We’re focusing on visitors with special interests like religious tourism, food and wines, wellness and pampering, and, of course, history and archaeology,” noted Anastasiou. “Ameri-cans tend to visit neighboring countries like Israel, Egypt and Greece. Cyprus is an excellent extension with its own diverse experiences.”

Lay Of The (Is)Land

With 10,000 years of history, it’s difficult to wrap your mind around Cyprus’ phenomenal past. For exploring ease, the Cyprus Tourism Organization has devised a series of thematic routes encompassing Byzantine churches, wine regions, nature trails, antiquity treks and the Aphrodite route exalting Cyprus’ beloved protectress.

Coastal resort towns of Larnaka, Limassol and Pafos are prominent springboards for these excursions. While each boasts its share of four-star accommodations by European standards, a handful of exclusive five-star gems indulge active travelers in outlying areas.

Certainly, Palm Beach in Larnaka has its appeal, as do the upscale Four Seasons and Le Meridien in Limassol. But sanctuaries such as InterContinental Aphrodite Hills Resort near Pafos or Columbia Beach Resort in Pissouri present a more refined taste removed from the bustle.

On The Road

Anastasiou and I headed out from Larnaka, a colorful town with a yacht marina and palm-lined seaside promenade built atop the ancient city-kingdom of Kition. Remnants of that once rich seaport and thriving copper trade center remain visible today in giant stone block walls and a complex of 12th century B.C. Mycenaean Greek temples.

The hills outside of town are dotted with storybook settings like Lefkara, famous for its filigree silverware and intricate handwoven lace. These craft skills have been preserved from generation to generation, passed on from father to son and mother to daughter.

Port Of Limassol

Sprawling between the ancient city-kingdoms of Amathous and Kourion, Limassol is a lively port where British pubs stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Greek tavernas. Its promenade is a vibrant spot for strolling, running or relaxing in sidewalk cafes fronting the beach. The sea attracts swimmers even in the winter, although it’s mostly locals splashing about, as visitors tend to flock here for balmy summer weather.

Limassol also is celebrated for its 12-day wine festival in late-August/early-September, showcasing 50 Cyprus wineries with tastings, dancing and traditional foods. Fortunately, several town tasting rooms also present their wines year-round, so we were able to whet our palates with fruit of the vine while strolling through Limassol’s streets.

Considered one of the most spectacular archaeological sites on the island, nearby Kourion still reaps rewards as excavations continue to unearth impressive treasures. Noted particularly for its magnificent 3,500-seat Greco-Roman theater that’s still used for modern performances, it’s home to an early Christian basilica and stately villas with thermal baths artistically embellished by exquisite 2nd century mosaics.

Also just beyond Limassol, amid olive plantations and fruit orchards, are Kolossi Medieval Castle and St. Nicholas of the Cats Convent, which houses more felines than nuns. According to legend, the animals are descendants of those imported by St. Helena in the 4th century to control the snake population. Their feline forebears obviously did an outstanding job, since the 100-plus furry residents seem more inclined to laze in the sun than forage for reptiles.

Those into Cypriotic beverages can set off along a half-dozen distinctive wine routes. We chose Krasochoria, a slow but scenic journey traveling through the pine-studded Troodos Mountains, which brim with 10 Byzantine churches on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Off the track, but well worth the effort, Kykkos Monastery is considered Cyprus’ most significant religious site. A rich interior of Christian and Byzantine mosaics and frescoes, and an intricately detailed golden altar screen make Kykkos a remarkable work of art in itself.

From here, it’s one picturesque village after another, with Omodos being the most photogenic. Vines dangle across narrow cobblestone streets, clinging onto wooden frames devised for that sole purpose. And as expected, the dominant color is blue. Strolling along, we chatted with local women sitting in their doorways and creating intricate embroidery. They seemed content with small talk and avoided sales pitches – which was even more incentive to purchase these remarkable pieces.

We also came across tasting rooms with tempting products from village wine producers, and shops selling kafeneion (coffee), Lefkara lace and brightly hued boxes of Cyprus Delights, naturally. But our best find was the avant-garde Stou Kir Yianni restaurant, where we feasted on a traditional Cyprus meze.

The epitome of epicurean experiences, this lavish repast of local specialties bombards palates with either a seafood or meat medley and hearty sides of vegetables, Halloumi cheese, pita breads, olives and dessert – often chased with a traditional spirit known as Zivania. You can expect up to 20 dishes, so bring your appetite and pace yourself.

Festive Pafos

With its town center and pleasant harbor anchored by a 16th century medieval fortress, Pafos has long been a visitor magnet. But antiquity status as the center of Aphrodite’s cult is what garnered its UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site status.

Today, you can swim at Petra tou Romiou (where the goddess Aphrodite was believed to have risen from the waves), make a pilgrimage to her sanctuary at Koukila and visit the grotto near Polis, where legend says she bathed. The wilderness at Polis and Akamas Peninsula appeals especially to adventure lovers, with scenic hiking trails, secluded beach coves and boating along a dramatic coastline that forms part of Aphrodite’s playground.

It’s here that we arrived at the 177-room Anassa, a five-star resort befitting its Greek name, “Queen.” Whitewashed villas with terracotta roofs re-create a traditional Greek village, complete with its own Byzantine church.

Within the low-rise buildings and landscaped grounds, the design reflects Cyprus’ rich cultural heritage through Roman mosaics, Greek motifs and Venetian frescoes. All spacious rooms and suites are decked out with balconies framed by Anassa’s trademark powder blue shutters – some spoiling guests with private plunge pools and whirlpools facing the sea.

Rooms are cool and airy, with king-sized beds dressed in crisp linen sheets, marble bathrooms, separate lounging areas, mini-bar, Wi-Fi and television. It’s seemingly impossible to avoid relaxation here.

For pampering, Anassa’s Roman-style Thalassa Spa is a tranquil escape, with an indoor heated pool flanked by custom-designed lounge furniture. A trio of outdoor pools feature two with fresh water and multi-leveled with waterfalls.

And dining is just as exquisite. Guests select from four restaurants, with Anassa’s signature Basiliko gourmet eatery set in a stone cavern. With nightly rates from $345, it’s the ideal way to celebrate this delightful slice of Mediterranean paradise.

Booking Information
Cyprus Tourism Organization: www.visitcyprus.com
Cyprus Airways: www.cyprusair.com
American Airlines: www.aa.com
Anassa: www.thanoshotels.com
Stou Kir Yianni: www.omodosvillagecottage.com

tagged in Cyprus
Theme developed by TouchSize - Premium WordPress Themes and Websites