Sherna Noah takes her family to relax in Cyprus and take in the long view of the divided island’s story.
I had planned to see for myself whether plunging into the Baths of Aphrodite really does deliver eternal youth. Sadly, I never got the chance. It’s now forbidden to enter the inviting shady pond, where the world-famous goddess of love and beauty apparently bathed under a canopy of fig trees.
The location for a week of unwinding was a five-star retreat, the Amathus Beach Hotel, Paphos, which also has thousands of years of archaeology on its doorstep.
That’s where we began – visiting the Tomb of the Kings, an ancient burial ground. We walked underground into sandstone chambers, where society’s richest were placed in tombs more than 2,000 years ago.
Inside the columned chambers, once decorated with frescoes, high-ranking officials were laid to rest with their jewels, weapons and, our guide told us, their slaves – so they could serve them in the afterlife. From there, we went to a medieval castle, a highlight for my toddler, because you can peep into claustrophobic cells where prisoners were incarcerated by the conquering Ottomans. A climb to the top is rewarded with a view of the harbour, while in September the castle provides a backdrop to open-air opera in the town square.
For me, the most spectacular sight in Paphos was a series of brightly-coloured mosaics, in honour of the god of wine, which would have decorated the floor of a Roman villa, the House of Dionysos. Discovered in 1962 by a farmer cultivating his vegetables, the mosaic floors of four Roman villas are on an Unesco World Heritage protected archaeological park, where you can also see a partly restored Roman Odeon.
Our hotel may not have had a mosaic in homage to a wine god, but it did have a fantastic pool bar. With water on one side and – for those who don’t fancy getting wet – dry land on the other.
You could swim to the bar and cool off by enjoying your drink sitting on an underwater bar stool if the fancy so took you.
As well as a playground and children’s club, the hotel also has a paddling pool, where our toddler splashed about happily protected from the sun’s rays under an umbrella fixed inside it.
It also has a heated indoor pool which is perfect for a cold evening swim to work up an appetite for dinner. This included a choice of freshly made Italian dishes under the stars at La Terrazza, exquisite sushi at the hotel’s pink glass-encased Asiachi restaurant or a la carte at La Rotisserie.
In the morning, I’d prise myself out of bed, with its luxury Swiss-made mattress, and walk out on to our terrace to enjoy our own tiled seven metre-long plunge pool, which could be set to a temperature of our choice and had jets and a waterfall feature. If we were feeling more energetic, a perfect cove of soft sand and calm blue water was a 10-minute walk away.
We took it easy, spending a few hours on the local beach and then walking to the harbour for a delicious fish mezze or ice cream. From there, we walked to the 12th century stone church of Ayia Kyriaki, which was holding a flower festival. It’s near the stone pillar where St Paul, according to tradition, was bound and beaten for preaching Christianity.
The traditional Cyprus we sampled when we hired a car for the day to explore nearby villages felt a world away from everything.
We headed to the cave-like Ayios Neophytos Monastery, said to have been founded at the end of the 12th century by a Cypriot hermit.
Nestled in the conifer forest mountains, the cave contains beautiful frescoes. But almost as spectacular was the drive there – past poppy fields and olive groves, with horses grazing in paddocks, stone-built homes with orange and lemon trees growing outside and coffee houses where men could be seen playing Cypriot backgammon.
Being a small island, it didn’t take us long to get to the forest-covered Akamas Peninsula, the wildest region of Cyprus. It was here that we visited the Baths of Aphrodite, after following a trail past eucalyptus trees and a little stream. The region has a stunning coastline, deserted beaches, and hundreds of species of flora and fauna. I could have easily spent longer there.
But we had an appointment back at the hotel, in the spa, where I’d booked myself in for a couple of treatments.
Tantalising items on the menu include a caviar and pearl facial and green coffee or aromatic Moor Mud wraps.
I enjoyed the sauna and steam room, then headed for my 55-minute Royal Thai massage, with aromatic herbal oils. Afterwards, I relaxed with a cup of rose tea while watching brightly-coloured fish swim in an aquarium in the spa. Who needs Aphrodite’s pool?
Sherna Noah travelled with Sovereign Luxury Travel and stayed at Amathus Beach Hotel Paphos where seven nights’ half-board in mid-November, including return flights from Manchester, starts from £769.
Sovereign Luxury Travel reservations: 0844 415 1936 and www.sovereign.com.
Amathus Beach Hotel www.amathus-hotels.com.