Where better to spend Valentine’s day, than the Island of Love.
A world away from the usual tourist attractions, the authentic charms of Paphos are just waiting to be discovered – not least its lush landscape, 3,000 year-old treasures and fascinating mythology, you are sure to be seduced.
‘Anthony was so keen to impress Cleopatra that he gave Cyprus to her as a gift,’ says Ioula. Here you can visit the spot where Adonis and Aphrodite first met at an enchanting rock pool on the Akamas peninsula.
A young nation with a small population, Cyprus is a curious mix of the self-consciously modern and fiercely traditional. When your guide introduces himself, you know you’re in a land obsessed with its ancient history. Most people speak English and Brits account for more than half the annual tourist quota, but it’s the Greek influence that dominates the language, culture and cuisine of Cyprus.
Allegedly, Aphrodite arises from the waves by this rocky outcrop every 9 January – so if you happen to be in the vicinity, you can try your luck. Failing that, you can admire the remains of the goddess of love’s 12BC sanctuary nearby. Most of the temple was destroyed in an earthquake in 15BC and the rest was used by locals as building materials or plundered by wilier foreigners, who sold their souvenirs to museums such as the Louvre.
Among the treasures still in situ are a 3,000-year-old bathtub, inscriptions carved in a syllabic script that has yet to be deciphered, and a colossal amphora with Arabic inscriptions – an apt emblem of this cultural melting pot.
Although Aphrodite was squeamish about bloody sacrifices – she preferred offerings of perfume, flowers and pancakes – ritual ceremonies concluded with a sacrifice of pigs, in remembrance of her favourite lover, the Greek god Adonis, who was killed by a wild boar.
Later, our guide shows me the spot where Adonis and Aphrodite first met: an enchanting rock pool on the Akamas peninsula, a nature reserve in the western corner of Cyprus. Adonis was hunting in the forest when he stumbled upon Aphrodite bathing naked beneath the waterfall.
‘This is where she had a shower before and after,’ our guide quips. Although legend has it that whoever drinks the water will feel younger and more desirable, a sign warns: ‘Beware. The water is not potable.’
As we stroll along one of the walking trails that crisscross Akamas, our guide points out pale pink anemones (‘Aphrodite’s tears’) and scarlet poppies (‘Adonis’s blood’). Afterwards, we drink in the sea views at Aphrodite’s Bath, a municipal café with unbroken views across Chrysochou Bay, as flirtatious sparrows swoop in and out of the eucalyptus trees.
Lunch is an ice-cold Keo beer, green olives and grilled octopus on the waterfront of Latsi, famous among Cypriots for having the island’s freshest fish. Later we head back to soak up some of the suns relentless rays, relaxing and dreaming of the Island of Love.