Walking in a warming wonderland: Discovering why Cyprus is a mecca for winter-sun seekers

Sofia slides the paddle deep into the stone oven and pulls a steaming loaf out into the fresh morning sunshine. Its base gives a hollow thud as she taps it to check whether it’s ready, before placing it carefully on a worn wooden board.

Next she turns to a bubbling pot and lifts out a strainer, on which sits a freshly made hunk of halloumi, which she began work on in the small hours. She places it on a plate, cuts a slice and passes it over, her weather-worn face, framed by a headscarf, breaking into a broad smile.

‘Eat, eat,’ Sofia implores.

The cheese is melt-in-your-mouth fresh and bears little resemblance to the stuff in shops. Chased down with the steaming bread and a cup of strong local coffee, it’s the ultimate mid-morning snack.

Joe Minihane stays at Elysium, a resort in the heart of Paphos (above) on the south-west coast of Cyprus 

Cyprus has long been a go-to for those in search of winter sun. With temperatures topping 25C into late November and rising again in February, it’s the perfect place for a dose of Vitamin D and days by the pool.

Elysium, a resort in the heart of Paphos on the south-west coast, offers this in spades, with the chance to slip into the warm Mediterranean at daybreak before settling down to a languid breakfast on a sun-soaked terrace.

However, for travellers who want to get a broader taste of the island, there’s the opportunity to venture inland, to parts of Cyprus that are particularly quiet and peaceful as the year draws to a close.

One of the joys of Elysium (above) is 'settling down to a languid breakfast on a sun-soaked terrace'

One of the joys of Elysium (above) is ‘settling down to a languid breakfast on a sun-soaked terrace’

'Cyprus has long been a go-to for those in search of winter sun,' writes Joe. Pictured above is a room at Elysium

‘Cyprus has long been a go-to for those in search of winter sun,’ writes Joe. Pictured above is a room at Elysium

That’s why Costas Malaou, from Elysium, has brought us here, to the village of Letymvou and Sofia’s beautiful traditional home.

She is steeped in the slower, older ways of life that endure throughout the island. In the courtyard, a brazier burns and a table is laid with a selection of local cheeses and meats, plus more coffee and a tray of home-made baklava. The village priest sits at an adjacent table, stroking his wild greying beard while Sofia’s husband busies himself preparing more bread.

Exploring authentic Cyprus is one of various outings laid on by the resort and there are four of us today, including Costas. We might otherwise have been sailing on the Blue Lagoon or touring the Unesco-protected Tomb of the Kings, but Costas says this option is something that more and more guests want to do.

Elysium (above) treats Joe to an exploration of 'authentic Cyprus', parts 'that are particularly quiet and peaceful as the year draws to a close'

Elysium (above) treats Joe to an exploration of ‘authentic Cyprus’, parts ‘that are particularly quiet and peaceful as the year draws to a close’

After eating, Costas, who insists that the vast spread we’ve just devoured is merely a snack ahead of lunch, walks us around Sofia’s small living room, where traditional costumes adorn the walls. It’s a side of Cyprus that can be all too easy to miss with the allure of a good book and a parasol back at the hotel.

Just a short drive higher into the mountains, we reach Tsangarides Winery. After a look around the chilly cellar, we’re led to a terrace set high above the vines with a view over rolling hills. We sniff, swirl and sip a series of delicious wines and tuck into an obligatory platter of nibbles.

Costas explains that this place has been at the forefront of a resurgent wine scene in Cyprus, where the tradition is as old as that in France or Italy but without their international reputations. There’s certainly much to be said for an afternoon tipple as the sun glints through the surrounding eucalyptus trees.

Step back in time: The sleepy village of Letymvou. Here Joe steps inside 'a beautiful traditional home'

Step back in time: The sleepy village of Letymvou. Here Joe steps inside ‘a beautiful traditional home’

Food and drink are at the heart of Cypriot culture. There’s also a generosity of spirit that is inescapable, a sense that even the smallest producer or homeowner will give you everything they have to ensure you enjoy the finest possible welcome.

We wind our way back down to the coast, past the iconic rock column Aphrodite’s Rock. Here, Instagram obsessives crowd the beach for a perfect shot of the site where, legend has it, the eponymous goddess was born. Then we continue up a series of hairpin bends to a roadside restaurant called Mario’s.

The joy of this place is noticeable as soon as you walk into its cavernous dining room, where glass walls lead out on to a vast patio high on the cliffs. A gentle breeze ruffles the tablecloths as we slide our chairs in for our second lunch of the day.

Aphrodite’s Rock. 'Here, Instagram obsessives crowd the beach for a perfect shot of the site where, legend has it, the eponymous goddess was born,' says Joe

Aphrodite’s Rock. ‘Here, Instagram obsessives crowd the beach for a perfect shot of the site where, legend has it, the eponymous goddess was born,’ says Joe

TRAVEL FACTS 

Joe Minihane was a guest of the Elysium. B&B costs from £261 per night (elysium-hotel.com). Flights from Gatwick to Paphos cost from £22.99 one way with easyJet.

Bowls of freshly made houmous and taramasalata are laid out with oven-hot pitta, before huge plates of lightly battered whitebait, succulent squid and an ink-blackened octopus arrive.

Costas won’t hear any protestations about full stomachs as he serves up. Our group of three food-obsessed Brits have spent the day gorging on local delicacies, so we can’t really argue.

We each take some deep breaths, loosen our belts and get ready for more. Costas raises a glass to our health and when we finally finish, we’re ready for a late afternoon nap to ease off all of this epicurean excess.

We arrive back at Elysium just in time for the sun to slide behind the horizon. It’s a quiet end to the day, and you could be forgiven for thinking you’d flown 12 hours from London rather than a far more palatable five.

A pair of rock pipits dart around as the light quickly fades and thoughts, somehow, absurdly, turn to dinner.

In Cyprus, it seems, there’s always room for more.


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