Last minute, I decided that a birthday weekend away was in order. I went on Skyscanner, utilized the 'Everywhere' destination option, selected an affordable flight to a city I had never been to and convinced a friend to join me. Just like that, I was off to Paphos.
Paphos (AKA Pafos), on the southwest coast of the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, is a city of contrasts. Here, the mountains meet the sea and old meets new. The heritage is awash with Greek mythology and the land with ancient ruins, but all the amenities of modern tourism exist. Paphos consists of two separate areas. Ktima, the 'Old Town', which is actually quite new as it underwent a renovation prior to the acceptance of the European Capital of Culture title, in 2017. And Kato Paphos, where the waterfront is lined with pubs showing English Premiere League matches, chain restaurants, souvenir shops, luxury hotels, UNESCO-protected archaeological wonders and medieval fortresses.
The divergences don't start at city level. Cyprus, as a country, is also divided. A Greek coup in 1974 led to Turkish invasion, which resulted in about forty percent of the north part of the island being occupied by Turkish military to this day. The rest is ruled by a Greek Cypriot government and is a recognized member of the European Union. The two areas are physically split by over a hundred miles of barbed wire and a UN buffer zone. Neither war nor diplomacy have been able to mend this country and Cyprus continues to be one of the most heavily militarized parts of the world.
I stayed at the Almyra Hotel, next to Paphos Harbor and Paphos Castle. The castle, originally a Byzantine fort, was built to protect the harbor. Over the years, the purpose of this structure changed from a fortress to a prison to a warehouse for salt. It now serves as the backdrop at the Paphos Aphrodite Festival, occurring each August/September.
North of the castle is the Coastal Broadwalk, a paved footway along the coast that passes by the Archaeological Park, beaches, a lighthouse, resorts and a neighborhood that looks like it could be in the tropical edition of Desperate Housewives.
Although not shown on Google Maps, the coastal route dead ended, so we cut through the Elysium Hotel to get to the Tombs of the Kings. Contrary to the name, no kings were buried here. The name comes from the magnificence of the tombs, not their contents. The Tomb of Kings is a UNESCO World Heritage Site where archaeological excavations have revealed underground, ancient tombs, carved out of rock, dating back to the 4th century BC. There was something about celebrating my birthday surrounded by ancient relics that made me feel slightly better about aging.
After walking about 16,000 steps (according to my iPhone's Health app), we decided to cab it into Old Town and get our grub on! We spent a good deal of time at Noir, on the corner of Kennedy Square, where the tapas, wine and chat with our friendly Bulgarian waiter was enjoyable. It then started absolutely downpouring, so we moved inside and waited out the storm before bopping around to other bars/restaurants.
The food in Cyprus is delicious! Greek, Turkish and Middle Eastern influences combine to make one heck of a cuisine. Meze plates are served everywhere, veggies are fresh, olive oil is produced locally, the souvla (meat grilled over charcoal) is the king of meat dishes and halloumi is abundant. If you want a typical Cypriot meal, head to Hondros Taverna, You won't be disappointed.
The tasty dishes, rich culture, friendly people, low crime, well-developed roads and mild weather make Cyprus a popular place to visit year-round. Given that Cyprus has an average of 3,000 sunny hours per year and receives only about 14-16 inches of rain annually, we were particularly unlucky in our time there. The night we arrived there was an extreme thunder and lightning storm, which was actually brilliant. Rain was predicted for the whole of our second day, although we got away with only about half the day being wet. Finally, the morning of our last day, we experienced that perfect weather people always talk about in association with Cyprus. Regardless of the weather, it was still nice to get out of London and celebrate my birthday in a new part of the world!
Know Before You Go:
Carob syrup is produced locally and is the “black gold” of the island
Cyprus is known for its natural cosmetics, including handmade soaps
All taxis around Paphos were a flat rate of €8
The Euro is the currency and most places are cash only
The wall plugs are the same as used in the UK