Hoping to transform herself into an Aphrodite, Nicole Gallagher visits the goddess’s stomping ground in Cyprus.
Locking my gaze into the splintered grooves of a pine tree, I try to hold my balance as I totter on one leg with my hands in an Anjali Mudra pose. There’s not a mirror in sight, but as I wobble from side to side, I imagine I look a bit like an unsteady Buddha.
“Your body is the king, and I am the adviser,” says my instructor Matt, who is leading the outdoor yoga session at the Zening Resort in Latchi, in north-west Cyprus. He swiftly moves from one pose to another, displaying different options for every level – including unco-ordinated beginners like myself.
Feeling the whooshing sea air against my skin and smelling the fresh herbs and flowers in the bountiful gardens, it seems appropriate to be standing here, rooted to the ground in a tree pose, literally mimicking nature.
Latchi is often referred to as Aphrodite’s playground, and there are plenty of nods to the Greek goddess of love, beauty and sexuality. With the famous Baths of Aphrodite also located close by, it’s a great spot for a wellbeing retreat – particularly as temperatures hover at 20 degrees throughout winter.
I cycle along the winding, hilly roads up to the fig tree-lined natural baths where Aphrodite supposedly frolicked with her lover Adonis. According to local legend, anyone who sprinkles their skin with the miracle-giving water will enjoy “eternal youth, beauty and love for anyone”.
I’m not a superstitious person, but I splash two handfuls of water onto my face for good measure.
As I leave the baths, it strikes me that the serpentine branches of the fig trees bear a resemblance to Medusa, who is said to have angered Aphrodite by claiming she was more beautiful. But Greek goddesses aside, there’s no disputing the beauty of this location.
Concerned the baths might not deliver their promise, I book a session at the Zening Resort’s Veda Spa. I lie back listening to relaxing music in a room dimly lit by tealights and candles, and prepare for a scalp, neck and shoulder massage.
Having spent the day feeding my mind and soul, it’s soon time to grant my body some sustenance, so that evening we sample traditional Cypriot dishes of hummus, feta, fresh salad and succulent meats in the garden of The Archontariki Restaurant in the nearby town of Polis. I’d been warned Greeks like to treat you to serving after serving of food, but when it’s as good as this, I’m not complaining. At the end of our kingly feast, a teapot of fresh mint tea is placed on the table, along with a slab of sticky baklava, allowing us to finish the day on a sweet note.
With so much fresh produce and herbs grown on the island, it’s not surprising that Cypriots still embrace homeopathic ointments and medicines.
The Heaven On Earth Herbs shop, herb garden and tea room in Pano Akourdaelia delights the senses with dizzying aromas. Shelves are laden with tinctures and herbal remedies for every problem you can imagine, from migraines, to weight loss, to dry skin. It’s like stepping into a very nice smelling – and somewhat rustic – laboratory.
Sipping on a pink hibiscus lemonade, I head outside to admire the view of uninterrupted hills. From the food on the menu to the unspoilt landscapes, everything here really is organic; the Cypriots have not meddled with anything.
The same is true of the island’s urban areas, as I discover when we visit Limassol in the south of the island, the country’s second largest city. Although 10,000 years old, it’s very much a modern city with walls decorated with colourful street art.
One of the best spas in Limassol can be found at the five-star Le Meridien Limassol Spa & Resort, which has an impressive 34 treatment rooms and offers everything from Watsu (underwater massage) to the ancient Japanese shiatsu massage.
I plump for a 55-minute Royal Thai Oil Massage, which involves a lot of stretching and acupressure movements. At one point, the masseuse crawls onto my back to pummel at knots with her elbows. She then moves my limbs into different positions which I never knew were possible.
My final stop is the Amathus Beach Hotel, another spa hotspot with discreet treatment rooms spread along a sleek, dark corridor.
Outside in the gardens, a wedding is taking place and guests are hurriedly gathering for photos. In the middle is a very pretty bride, whose veil is billowing in the sea breeze.
From Aphrodite to modern day goddesses, Cyprus has attracted a number of beauties throughout the centuries. In my opinion though, none can better the splendour of the island itself.
• Nicole Gallagher was a guest of the Cyprus Tourism Organisation UK (www.visitcyprus.com; 020 7321 4181).
Return flights from London to Larnaka with Cyprus Airways (www.cyprusair.com) cost from £221pp.
Wellbeing Escapes (www.wellbeingescapes.com/spa-holidays-cyprus#) offers spa packages at Zening Resorts from 427 euros per person (two sharing) with treatments and breakfast; and a daily rate at the Amathus Beach hotel from 200 euros per room with breakfast.