Cyprus: An island of water, wine, and wonder
After ten days exploring Egyptian treasures and the Nile, we were ready for the antidote to the chaos and hustle of Egypt...Cyprus was exactly what we needed! (more about Egypt in another post) This island country was a quick flight from Cairo but felt like a world away from the bustle of bazaars, the sandy land, and the ten million people filling Cairo's streets. Although Cyprus is geographically in Western Asia, it is a member of the EU and very much feels Southeastern European. In fact, it immediately reminded us of of a cross between Italy and Greece, with green rolling hills, ancient ruins, and blue water, It doesn't get better than that! Cyprus is located less than 700 miles east of Greece and we loved hearing everyone speak Greek (it's also located south of Turkey).
We flew into Larnaca International Airport, 1.5 hours from our destination, and then took a car down the coast to the seaside town of Paphos. After a quick and beautiful ride hugging the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, we settled into Annabelle Hotel for the next ten days.
The island of Cyprus is small, which means you can do and see a lot without spending too much time traveling around the country. It's only 150 miles wide (east/west) and 62 miles in length (north/south). Settled by the Mycenaean Greeks, and held by the Assyrians, Egyptians and Persians before Alexander the Great finally got his hands on it in 333 BC, Cyprus was part of the Eastern Roman Empire (and sometimes under Arab control) until the Third Crusade. Then the Venetians ruled the island until the Ottomans conquered them in 1571. That's a lot of history and influences! Finally in 1878 Cyprus was placed under UK administration until it was formally annexed by the UK in 1914. Today there continues to be a disagreement about some land in the northeastern part of the island. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, as it's called, is only recognized by Turkiye whereas the international community recognizes this land as part of the Republic of Cyprus. In fact, when were rented our car the contract stated that we could not drive in the disputed part of the country.
The town of Paphos, where we were staying, is located on the southwest coast and overlooks the bluest of Mediterranean waters for as far as you can see. Supposedly, the goddess Aphrodite's mythical birthplace was at Old Paphos - lucky goddess! While there are still ancient ruins to see here, and a small fortress, today Paphos has a harbor, great restaurants and bars, and a lovely path to walk along the distance of the sea. It's all about the blue water and sunshine!
Of course we wanted to enjoy relaxing by the pool but we also wanted to explore the town and island. We started by visiting the history, checking out the fortress and vast archaeological site that is just steps from the center of town. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was filled with prehistoric temples and tombs and beautifully restored decorative floor mosaics that date back to the 2nd Century AD.
We both quickly agreed that Annabelle Hotel is one the loveliest experiences we've had, it was perfectly beautiful and the pools, spa, and grounds were stunning - every morning we woke to unsurpassed sun and sea views and at night the sunset lit up the sky. Although it was tempting to just park ourselves there for ten days, we had so much more of Cyprus to see, so we decided to rent a convertible and head to the mountains (did we mention the weather is Cyprus is absolutely perfect, nothing but clear blue skies and warm temperatures).
Founded by the monk Neophytos in the 12th century, the monastery overlooks the sea in the distance and green gardens and mountains surrounding the chapel and monastery buildings. When we were there, the monks were working in the garden below, harvesting vegetables and the lemon trees were bursting with fruit. The whole place was beautiful and definitely worth a visit. It was almost enough to make us want to join the monks!
From the monastery we headed for lunch and wine at Vasilikon winery. Cyprus has several wineries and some unique grapes, so we couldn't wait to taste the local varietals. After winding through mountains and the adorable village of Kathikas with its whitewashed stone buildings and colorful doors and windows (population 330), we found Vasilikon.
With breathtaking views across the vineyards toward the Mediterranean Sea, there isn't a better place to enjoy lunch (and a tasting flight of their wines) than on the terrace overlooking all of the scenery that surrounds the winery. So that's exactly what we did and left with a few bottles of Vasilikon wine to enjoy in the future.
After lunch we hit the road again, winding through the mountains until we reached Polis, a town at the northwest end of the island of Cyprus. Located at the center of Chrysochous Bay, this small town's harbor was filled with fishing boats lounging on the water in the afternoon sun. We grabbed some gelatos and strolled along the harbor walkway until it was time to visit the fabled Baths of Aphrodite just up the way. After parking and walking along a path we found the fabled grotto where (myth has it) Aphrodite was bathing when Adonis saw her and fell in love. Sounds beautiful! But...not so much in real life. It's more like a stagnant puddle with rotted branches falling over it. This definitely would not be worth the trip if we hadn't already been nearby. We took a photo and immediately departed.
The next day we continued our wine tour of Cyprus, starting with Lion Spirit Winery in Kato Platres. We hadn't made a reservation for a "formal" tasting but were told we could taste a few of the wines while our host was awaiting the next group, so we gladly accepted the invitation.
Well, eleven "tastes" later we had enjoyed white, red, and rose wines as well as spirits the winery produces (brandy, whiskey, gin, and hazelnut cream). Our host, Dragos, was from Romania and loved hearing about our recent experience in his home country (read more here). He was amazingly knowledgeable and lots of fun.
So much for needing a reservation, this was one of the most in-depth, extensive, and best tastings we've ever had and the wines were wonderful - we left with several bottles and a memorable experience.
It was time for lunch, and our host at Lion Spirit recommended we head to the small village of Omodos. Such a great idea! This village is picture perfect, with stone streets, small tavernas, orange and lemon trees, a church, and small local shops with Cyprian foods and handmade items. It was like stepping into a magical little town, and our lunch was good, too.
After lunch it was up, up into the mountains we drove until we reached the highest winery in Europe. Located at an altitude of 1200 meters high, Kyperounda winery is located on the steep and sandy slopes of Kyperounda and Madari peaks, the second highest in Cyprus after the Troodos Mountain range. It was late in the day and the winery was about to close but we managed to taste some wines and leave with a few bottles of our favorites.
During our remaining days we stayed closer to home, walking to the old town, watching football matches with the many Brits who were also visiting (apparently Cyprus is a popular destination for the British...lots of English accents and red sunburns around town), and enjoying downtime at our hotel. We also managed to discover some odd but really fun experiences at local bars, including The Flintstones Bar, which looks exactly like it belongs in the cartoon and offered amazing cocktails, and another local place featuring entertainment by a Cher impersonator. It was amazing and so much fun to watch and sing along to - who knew that we knew so many Cher songs? But even more notable was that the entirely British audience (aside from us) knew every single word of the lyrics. Apparently she's got quite a following there!
If you'd like to try some of the delicious cocktail recipes we enjoyed in Cyprus, check out Worldwide.Cocktails on Instagram, we've included them as well as other creations we've enjoyed along our travels.
After ten days in Cyprus we were in agreement: This place is amazing. We rarely commit to going back to a place we visit (because it's a big world with lots to see), but we immediately agreed that we will be going back to Cyprus.
From the food to the kind people, the gorgeous land, and spectacular weather, we fell in love with this island country. It truly is perfect. Cyprus and its people are amazing and a true gem in the Mediterranean. This isn't the last they've seen of us!
Enjoy a taste of our travels with drink recipes on Instagram - Worldwide.Cocktails.