Paphos offers history, wine and clear-blue sea
The birthplace of Greek goddess of love Aphrodite gifts visitors ancient sites, vineyards and clear-blue sea under 300 days of sunshine a year, together with familiar comforts such as English spoken by all, driving on the left and even an M&S.
Nestling on Cyprus’ south-west coast, it’s where the Troodos mountains meet the sea and is home to avocado and banana plantations.
The city is divided into two neighbourhoods; the stately Ktima with British colonial buildings, schools and museums all sat around the town square and Kato Paphos, which stretches along the harbour and is full of good seafood restaurants, souvenir shops and even a few British pubs.
It is no accident the house of the original party animal Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, can be found near here.
Life on the waterside is guarded by a squat castle.
Originally built as a Byzantine fort, it was taken over by Crusaders in the 13th century, attacked by the Venetians in the 16th century and used as a salt warehouse by the British in the 19th century.
Now it helps stage open-air cultural events. There’s no doubt this mix of mythology, past empires and proud modern Cypriot identity led Paphos to being awarded European capital of culture for this year.
With a fortification design nod to the castle, my hotel, The Elysium, is the perfect resting place and setting off point for all the region has to offer.
Alongside rooms are maisonettes, designed in a traditional Cypriot style with terracotta tiles and very high ceilings.
With beautiful grounds, large pools, spa, six restaurants serving a range of superb international cuisine and the best sommelier on the island in Yiannis Stefanides, The Elysium is the obvious accompaniment to Paphos.
The hotel is also ideally positioned for a beautiful coastal walk to town and sits between two epic world heritage sites: The Tombs Of The Kings and the Paphos Archeological Park.
You can spend a few hours imagining you are Indiana Jones or Lara Croft discovering Hellenistic and Roman structures by the sea and a few more hours coming face to face with third-century Cypriots enjoying local wine in dazzlingly well-preserved mosaics. Each tells a vivid story.
Take a trip to the interior and you can explore today’s winemaking. I visited the hilltop Vasilikon winery with its vast views over vineyards towards the sea on the horizon, and the village-based Kyperounta winery near Mount Olympus.
Both of these excel at using native grape varieties such as mavro, maratheftiko (reds) and xynisteri (white), as well as adding local distinctiveness to classic French varieties by way of the area’s limestone bedrock and hotter climate.
The Elysium hotel is a perfect resting place when not exploring the island
Most tourists cling to the coast, but they are missing out. An hour’s drive inland is the Troodos mountain range, passing fruit orchards and medieval villages as you go.
Omodos is a perfect example with its pretty alleyways and busy market selling such things as figs, honey and glassware.
Restaurants in this area concentrate on nearby produce rather than seafood.
So at 1,200m above sea-level freerange chicken and national lamb dish kleftiko are the menu superstars, with Psilo Dendro restaurant and its famed trout farm being the top pick.
Here you can sit under dappled sunlight and dine on fish plucked straight from mountain stream water.
In 1191, Richard the Lionheart married Berengaria of Navarre on Cyprus and he described the local wine commandaria as the “wine of kings and the king of wines”. And when the island’s annual wine festival follows the motto, “drink wine, it gives you life” you know that when it comes to great people, great food and great wine, Cyprus is the pick of the bunch.
Life on the waterside is guarded by a squat castle, that now stages open-air cultural events
Elysium Hotel (dialling from the UK: 00 357 2684 4444/elysiumhotel.com) offers five nights from £378 (two sharing), B&B.
Price includes winery tours and three days of car hire.
easyJet (0330 365 5000/easyjet.com) offers return flights from Luton to Paphos from £42.
Paphos tourism: visitpafos.org.cy