🤩 I recently returned to Cyprus. It was as beautiful and special as ever. Twenty years before, I had touched down at Larnaca airport in the middle of the night. ‘Take me to the beach,’ I asked one of the many taxi drivers jostling for business. ‘In fact, take me to Nissi Beach,’ I added, remembering that my aunt and uncle had visited, and had described it as paradise. Cyprus had seemed like a good choice for a female solo traveller. With nice, sunny temperatures, it was a popular tourist destination. I’d be safe there, I thought. Safe and warm. But nothing could have prepared me for the magic of the island. With its warm hospitality, and beautiful scenery to offer, Cyprus has something for everyone.
The sea is warm enough to swim in, even in winter, and the island, which is steeped in history and rich tradition, boasts much more than sun and fabulous beaches. I recently went back to the Nissi Beach Hotel in Ayia Napa. Nothing much had changed and the hotel’s charm was as irresistible as ever. It sees many guests returning year after, and it’s not hard to see why. You literally walk down a short, pretty garden path to get to the white sandy beach, and soon you are immersed in a vivid blue, sparkling water, with rays of sunshine beaming down on you. If you prefer not to get your feet sandy however, the hotel has a large outdoor pool, and also a heated indoor pool. A family-friendly hotel, children are always welcome too. As Cyprus is a small island, it offers plenty of delightful excursions, all within driving distance, if you tire of the sun lounger.
An animal lover, I particularly loved the Achna donkey sanctuary, set up on the tranquil hills. It is a peaceful, happy place and also has a restaurant serving the most delicious traditional Cypriot food. I enjoyed tucking into my fresh Greek salad, overlooking a magnificent valley, listening to a mix of donkeys neighing, goats baying and lively local music. It was weird and wonderful and I thoroughly recommend it. I also went to see a swarm of bees, near Vavla village. It was exciting and slightly terrifying. No, it wasn’t exactly my best fashion moment dressed in white with my funny protective helmet on, but it was a worthwhile experience, something that one probably only ever does once. Afterwards I tasted the honey that the bees had made, and it was delicious. The lovely local girl, Georgia, who runs the bee centre is very passionate about the environment and gives tours to tourists. So if you wish to be a beekeeper for the day and enjoy making fun memories, check out www.ecophysiscy.com For food lovers, Cyprus is Heaven on Earth. As a vegetarian, I sometimes find it tricky eating abroad, but Cyprus has an abundance of fresh produce to offer. The fruit is out of this world, and I’m still dreaming about their oranges which can be seen growing all over the island! There is nothing tastier than an authentic Greek salad, and I enjoyed this in many restaurants. My most memorable meal though, was at ‘Our House’ in the delightful, tiny village of Vavla, run by the fabulous George and his wife Donna Marie. Apart from my salads, I enjoyed wild asparagus, poached eggs, halloumi cheese, freshly baked breads, and an array for vegetables including carrots cooked in homemade marmalade, brandy and brown sugar. My fish-loving friends, particularly enjoyed the popular Vassos fish Tavern, which is right beside the harbour at Ayia Napa. They raved about the calamari, prawns, mussels and sea bass, and there’s something quite splendid about eating right at the water’s edge. It is open 365 days of the year, and well worth a visit. www.vassosfishtavern.com
For a truly authentic Cypriot meal, try Ploumin tavern in Sotira village. With its olde worlde charm, it’s well worth visiting and the food will please even the fussiest of eaters. It opens at 6pm daily and is about a 15 minute drive from Ayia Napa. Larnaca town itself is a very pleasant place to while away a morning or afternoon. It’s clean and pretty and a welcome break from the sunbathing. It is home to two museums that are well worth visiting. I would certainly hire a car to get around the towns, and a trip up the mountains offers breath-taking scenery, and the freshest air imaginable. The roads are very good, and it’s a bonus that in Cyprus, they drive on the same side as the road as us!
One afternoon we enjoyed wine-tasting high above the Lefkara valley with stunning views of the rolling landscape. The winery is called Dafermou www.dafermouwinery.com and it’s a modern facility run by charming hosts, Yannis and Alexia. It’s a lovely place to chill out and enjoy some local wines. Cyprus has been producing wine for thousands of years, so no wonder they’re very good at it! Another day we visited Cyherbia Botanical Park, about a half an hour’s drive from Larnaca. With ten different herb gardens, a café, beautiful gift shop and a maze, this is a wonderful place to visit, and the owner’s mother-in-law is from Belfast! Here I stocked up on lots of lavender to bring home as a memento. So if you haven’t yet decided on this year’s family holiday, let me recommend this very special island. The kids will love it, as will you. The only problem is leaving – you just won’t want to!