Credit: Cyprus Tourism Organisation

Paphos is more than just sun and sea, finds Katie McGonagle

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I’m told that if I take off my clothes and swim around the middle rock three times, legend says I’ll stay young and beautiful forever.

A tempting offer, perhaps, but from my vantage point on the rugged coast of southwest Cyprus, I’m far too transfixed by the fiery sunset behind Petra tou Romiou – the place where Aphrodite is said to have emerged fully grown from the waves – to consider skinny dipping.

Then again, while the goddess of love and beauty might not have graced me with eternal youth, she has certainly bestowed her gifts on this charming Mediterranean isle.

Sure, the pace of change – like the pace of life here – is slower than in some destinations, but that doesn’t mean Paphos isn’t reinventing itself to stay ahead of the game. Amid the new hotels, old hotels in new guises, a state-of-the-art golf course and a fresh burst of arty energy in the run-up to becoming European Capital of Culture 2017, Paphos is emerging from the country’s financial troubles with a bright future.

And speaking of the future, I might give second thoughts to that swim…

Acient Treasure

It might not seem like it now, but this little island has been at the heart of Europe’s history for centuries. As well as being the most important centre of worship for the goddess Aphrodite, its copper reserves were the equivalent of the Middle East’s oil deposits today – so important in fact, that the word ‘copper’ comes from the Latin word for Cyprus – and these rich natural resources meant it was settled by the Persians, Greeks, Ptolemies and Romans, and that’s all before we even reach the Middle Ages.

So it’s hardly surprising that some of its greatest assets lie in the archaeological park of Paphos, ancient capital of the island. The Tombs of the Kings (pictured below) are impressive for their openness and visitors can climb right down into the underground tombs of the area’s noblemen – they were high-ranking officials rather than actual kings, although there is speculation that one might have been the burial place of Cleopatra’s younger brother – to see the now-empty structures (entry €2.50).

Even more exciting are the mosaics in the House of Dionysus and House of Aion, depicting well-known tales from Greek mythology (entry €4.50). The former boasts 500sq m of 2nd-century mosaics, including a morality tale from the god of winemaking himself on the perils of overdoing it, while the latter has one of the best artworks from the later Roman world, an unbelievably skilful 4th-century mosaic which blends traditional Greek mythology with the era’s growing trend towards Christianity.

Those interested in tracing the rise of the faith – Paphos was the first place to boast a Christian ruler and had a key role in the spread of the religion – should also make time to visit the ruins of the early Byzantine basilica and Saint Paul’s Pillar where the apostle was said to have been flogged for professing his faith before converting the Roman governor.

Tombs of the Kings cred Cyprus Tourism Organisation
Credit: Cyprus Tourism Organisation

New Look

Paphos hasn’t undergone the kind of transformation seen elsewhere in Cyprus – namely in Limassol’s €500 million new marina and seafront redevelopment – but that doesn’t mean things are standing still.

The former Amathus Beach Hotel has been rebranded as the Olympic Lagoon Resort Paphos and is undergoing an eight-month rebuild to bring it closer to the style of its sister resort in Ayia Napa. The five-star premium all-inclusive property will open on June 1 but already boasts a full quota of weddings for the year and is 65% full in July and August.

General manager Theodoros Frangos says: “The Amathus was a very successful combination of city hotel and resort, but it looked a lot like a city hotel. Now it’s really going to be a resort with light colours and modern, simple rooms.

“All the restaurants were inside so now we’re moving them to the exterior to overlook the water.

“We are going back to the original idea of all-inclusive – it doesn’t necessarily mean cheap holidays. It offers the facility of having everything there, but the biggest advantage is that people know what they will spend so there are no surprises.”

Owner Kanika Hotels also has plans to open another five-star property next door, due to start construction in autumn 2016, as well as eyeing further expansion in Crete and Rhodes.

Also new on the hotel scene is the 250-room King Evelthon Beach Hotel & Resort, which opened earlier this year in a stunning seafront location near the Tombs of the Kings, plus the rebrand of one of the region’s best-known resorts into Sensatori Resort Aphrodite Hills from next May. A multimillion-pound investment will see the latter’s rooms modernised, a bigger pool area, new water features and an updated entertainment venue, while the flagship golf course and tennis academy will continue under the new brand.

Sports fans will have even more choice, though, with the soon-to-open second golf course and academy at Secret Valley (pictured below), already home to one scenic course, and expanded tennis facilities at fellow golf resort Minthis Hills, near Tsada village.

There will be plenty to exercise the mind too, with preparations for Paphos becoming European Capital of Culture in 2017. Visitors can expect more theatre performances, music, dance and art exhibitions to breathe new life into Paphos’s museums, plus improvements in access to the town’s historic sites. Keep an eye on for details.

Secret Valley Golf Course