Travel review: A welcome in Cyprus like nowhere else on earth
Cyprus attracts millions of tourists and is a real gem of a holiday destination in the Mediterranean. It offers so much, with a rich culture stretching back 10,000 years, superb beaches bathed in sunshine and inland, the brooding vista of the Troodos mountains with their picturesque villages.
The hospitality of the people is also legendary.
While its resorts of Paphos and the playgrounds of Ayia Napa and Protaras are popular, lesser known is Larnaca, ancient capital of the island.
That Cypriot hospitality became a reality for us with a special Easter invitation.
Celebrating Orthodox Easter in Cyprus is quite something as Easter is perhaps a more important celebration than even Christmas. A celebration of religion, food and amazing hospitality.
Our arrival on the island was in between Easter in the UK and the Orthodox celebrations which took place a week later. That’s when we received that surprise invitation.
Having used a restaurant/bar on a few occasions, out of the blue the owner Yanis invited to join his family for an Easter Sunday barbecue.
A lamb roasting on a spit and a proper celebration of Greek food and drink followed. Not only did he pick us up, he dropped us back as well. How’s that for hospitality?
That was a highlight during a stay of just over a week in Cyprus.
We stayed just five miles outside the town, at two fine hotels which share a private beach.
Both are only a 20-minute drive from the airport to the five-star Golden Bay Hotel and the Lordos Beach Hotel, a slightly smaller four-star luxury hotel, offering similar facilities, but on a slightly smaller basis.
Both offer excellent facilities, luxurious surroundings and fine dining. The rooms are comfortable and well-appointed with state-of-the-art bathrooms and tea and coffee making facilities. We stayed at Golden Bay for three nights before moving just 50 yards down the road to the Lordos Beach Hotel for a further five nights.
Facilities at both hotels include a gym, indoor pool, spa area and jacuzzis, while wi-fi is free throughout.
Rooms vary from the cheapest, but still well-appointed Comfort, through to the spacious suites with large private balconies with a jacuzzi.
At the top end, Golden Bay offers the Presidential Suite, with two bedrooms, sea views, open-air hot tub and a separate relaxation/entertainment area.
Both hotels are fully air-conditioned with 24-hour reception and check-out service, a TV/reading room, and conference facilities, while the Golden Bay even has its own chapel.
There is also a kids’ club and playground on the Lordos site.
Both boast multiple pools and any number of free sunbeds around the pool and on the beach which is just yards from the hotel. There are also beach bars.
There are various water sports available, including jet ski, glass-bottom boat and, if you have the nerve, the inflatable flying sofa. Taking a dip is no trial in the warm waters of the Med, even in late April.
We stayed on a B&B basis with an excellent breakfast choice of food to suit all nationalities. Snacks can be bought at the hotel throughout the day with fine dining available in the evening. Staff are polite and helpful and both hotels offer a touch of elegance.
There are many fine restaurants in Larnaca itself, just a 15-minute drive away, while there are shops, bars and restaurants opposite the hotel.
If you just fancy the local cuisine or just a drink, just across the road is Isabellas, where the owner Yanis offers a warm Cypriot welcome. There’s also a chance he will invite you back to his home for a barbie, as he did with us.
The town of Larnaca has a swish beachfront and plush marina. The recently redeveloped seafront promenade development features dozens of bars, restaurants and blue flag beaches. Just about a mile up the coast is the chic McKenzie Beach, with its rows of bars and nightspots and spectacular sandy beaches.
We had previously visited in March and while it was mostly sunny, there was often a chill in the air. No such thing in late April, maybe in the very early hours, but the temperature hit 30C on one occasion.
The location means it might be wise to hire a car, although local bus services are frequent and cheap.
Cyprus is a big island and there are many car hire options. We went with the Anemayia car and bike rental firm in Larnaca which offers friendly service and a choice of vehicles at very competitive prices. They will pick you up and drop you to the airport and offer free delivery to all locations in Larnaca City.
One excursion was to the picturesque villages of Lefkara, which specialises in lacemaking. The local women can be seen sitting in the streets demonstrating their art.
Other options are visiting the spectacular Troodos mountains, or a visit to Nicosia, now the only divided city in Europe after the island split into two parts following the Turkish takeover of the north in 1974.
Also worth visiting is the medieval fort, built by the Ottomans and used as a prison by the British and the spectacular ninth century St Lazarus Church, right in the heart of the town, which houses the tomb of the saint.
The opening message on the Larnaka tourism website says: They ALWAYS come back. You can see why.
Important information about visiting Cyprus
Bill stayed at the popular Golden Bay Beach Hotel (www.goldenbay.com.cy) & The Lordos Beach Hotel (www.lordosbeach.com.cy) on the outskirts of charming Larnaca
Prices for the Golden Bay Hotel start at £133 B&B for a Comfort double or twin room in mid-July
Prices for the Lordos Beach Hotel start at £129 B&B for a double or twin room with side sea view in mid-July
To rent a car, try Anemayia (www.anemayiacarsbikes.com). Prices start at around £20 per day.
For more information, visit www.larnakaregion.com