To Cyprus, the Birthplace of Aphrodite

By Emma Krasov. Photography by Yuri Krasov

The turquoise glare of the sea and the sky so bright it hurts your eyes! The sun is sultry, melting; the earth limey, hilly, all covered with blooms. Anywhere you look – red poppies, blue cornflowers, purple digitalis, yellow daisies… Among the archeological ruins, sneaky lizards are chasing each other, and quick butterflies are fluttering around tirelessly, endlessly. It’s good to be in Cyprus!

Traveling along the coast between Pafos and Limassol, and making multiple stops in all the breathtakingly picturesque places, it’s easy to imagine that time stands still here. Kronos stops devouring his children. Aphrodite continues to emerge from the sea foam next to white cliffs at Petra tou Romiou. Stone Age farmers from 8000 BCE work hard on their sturdy pottery, and ancient Romans contemplate elaborate mosaics depicting gods, animals, allegorical seasons, and mere mortals, blessed to dwell on this magical Mediterranean island.

My husband and I have been planning a visit to Cyprus for years, but somehow couldn’t make it until just a month ago. What happened was a friend of ours mentioned in a casual conversation that she considered moving to Cyprus on retirement, and then asked if we’d like to go with her for a few days while she’d be checking out the living conditions on the ground.

We took it as a sign, and what an auspicious sign that was!

Air tickets from San Francisco on Norwegian we secured for about half the price of all other airlines. Thankfully, there was only one stop, plus all the comforts of the Dreamliner with excellent service, lower cabin pressure, wider seats and larger spaces between the rows, so we landed at the Pafos International Airport slightly tired, but not utterly exhausted, sweaty, and disheveled like after a usual long and trying intercontinental flight.

After a friendly reminder lecture on left side driving provided by Marios Manoli of Manos Cars, we entered the wonderful world of driving on Cyprus. The roads are in a great condition. There’s hardly a traffic jam ever. Even though many Americans are skittish about driving the British way, it’s easy on Cyprus, because all rental cars have red license plates, so native [polite and law-obedient] drivers can see you a mile away, and swerve or signal if you’re trying to venture on the wrong side of the road.

At Constantinou Bros Asimina Suits Hotel, we settled in a beautifully decorated room with a balcony and a gorgeous view of a nighttime-lit swimming pool surrounded by palm trees, and a sea horizon beyond it. We dined at a next-door sister property, Constantinou Bros Pioneer Beach Hotel, on freshly caught fish from the sea, seasonal asparagus with feta cheese, chocolate-pistachio cake, and sweet local Commandaria wine.

Back at Asimina, while having drinks at the lobby bar, retiring to our room for the night, and taking an early morning swim at the indoor pool we were surely thankful for this adults-only slice of heaven, where boisterous “little angels” couldn’t impose on our much needed relaxation time.

The best was yet to come. Our champagne breakfast outdoors, overlooking the pool and the sunlit lawns around it, was served on white tablecloth by a friendly staff who also delivered a birthday cake for my husband without any prompting from us, and with many smiles and pleasant words.

The rest of Yuri’s birthday, we spent on a tour of Pafos and its vicinity with our guide, Michael Neoptolemos. We visited Pano Pafos (uptown) with sweeping views of the neat white-walled buildings snuggled among the green gardens on the hillside toward the sea and The Place – a communal artist workshop of painters, ceramists, glassblowers, leather- and mosaic-makers, and creators of amazing art pieces made from silk worm cocoons – an ancient craft, pertinent to the area.

We had lunch at a traditional rural Sofia’s House in Letymbou village, where Sofia herself served us home-baked bread and homemade halloumi cheese in which she inserted fresh mint sprigs from her own garden.

We drove to the Ayios Neofytos monastery known since the 12th century, and visited the Encleistra – a saint hermit’s cell in a cave, with walls covered with ancient murals.

Then we boarded a cruise boat in the fishing port of Latsi, and marveled at the shiny blue sea at the Blue Lagoon and Fontana Amorosa.

We dined on multi-course Cypriot meze at a shoreline tavern overlooking a crescent bay known as the Baths of Aphrodite. Here, local guides like to quiz their listeners on the goddess’s trivia. “Was the goddess of love and beauty married, or was she single?” asked Michael with a sly smile.

Married! Of course, she was married – to the god of fire, Hephaestus. However, all other gods and even some mortals, her lovers, fathered many of her children. The goddess of love birthed Eros to Ares, Hermaphrodite to Hermes, Priapus to Dionysus, and so on, but always managed to become a virgin again after taking a bath here, in this warm and welcoming sea near Cyprus…

The next day, we had another tour of the endlessly fascinating Pafos area. Our new guide, Eva Christodoulou took us to the archeological park with Tombs of the Kings from the Pagan times and St. Paul’s Pillar from early Christendom.

That afternoon we took an hour drive to the sun-drenched port city of Limassol where cruise ships make their Cyprus stops, and where large seaside resorts abound, filled with multi-lingual crowds.

We settled at Saint Raphael Hotel Limassol, a grandiose family-friendly enterprise with several restaurants and swimming pools, huge event facilities, a long sandy beach, and many manicured lawns. In the morning we were ready for new discoveries, and our Limassol guide, Christos Vassiliou drove us by the steep mountain road through the incredibly dense and beautiful forest to Kykkos monastery, built around an 11th century church. Recently restored and renovated, the monastery’s richly decorated buildings boast colorful Orthodox frescos and golden mosaics, and serve as a place of worship for many visitors coming from Russia and other Eastern lands.

With our knowledgeable guide, we hiked to Caledonia Waterfall – a must-see for any nature lover. Then lunched on the best meze on Cyprus (or we think so!) at Katoi Tavern in the village of Omodos. The tavern director, Charalambos Pericleous, gave us a little orientation on what meze actually means. “When you greet your guests at your home you serve them what you like to make. Another household would serve something different. Same with meze. Every restaurant and every home have their own recipes and assortments for meze.”

7. Katoi Restaurant Omodos5. Commandaria wine

Little plates with different appetizers in meze reflect the season, the market, and a chef’s choice, however, the main course is usually either fish or meat, and usually more than one kind of each.

After this highly satisfying lunch, we tasted local wines at Ktima Yerolemos winery that has in its possession an ancient wine press, then strolled through the cobble-stoned streets of the friendly mountainous village.

Before heading home, we visited quite a few historic sites with Christos. The Kolossi Castle, where flowers were springing from every crack in the ancient walls; the Kourion archeological site, the house of Eustolios with well-preserved mosaic floors, and Greeko-Roman amphitheater facing the sea, and the ruins of Apollon Ylatis temple, studded with old stones and young laurel and pomegranate trees between them.

Before heading to the airport, we lingered on a Pafos beach among many other sunset catchers, watching the unfolding drama of blood-colored clouds over the wine-colored sea.

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