Weekend: Travel: Find Perfect Peace at a Five-Star Hideaway; Emma Brady Enjoys a Celebrity Lifestyle as She Explores the Rich History and Culture of Cyprus

Article excerpt

Byline: Emma Brady

I f the tabloids are to be believed, Cyprus is the new mecca for young holidaymakers who party to excess 24 hours a day, giving British tourists a bad name.

But on arrival at Larnaca airport I noticed most travellers waiting patiently for their luggage were either families or couples - not hordes of Club 18-30 ravers.

Even though I knew this was a fivestar trip, where I would be treated like a queen for five days, I was still pleasantly surprised.

Paphos is the quiet antithesis of the noisy and more boisterous resorts like Agia Napia and Limassol.

No wonder, then, that many of the local hotels and spas boast a starstudded guest list that could rival that of The Ivy.

Prince Albert of Monaco, Tom Jones and Elton John are just three of the celebrities who regularly stay in the quaint harbour town.

On arrival at my base hotel - the new pounds 25 million Elysium Mediterranean Beach resort - I soon realised staff treated everyone like a star.

The Elysium, which means 'place of perfect peace', boasts five pools, including a hydrotherapy pool, and is a perfect holiday hideaway where escaping the rat race is all too easy.

It also has a relaxing Aveda spa and beauty therapy centre, where I was treated to a revitalising facial massage (pounds 22) before heading off to dinner. I positively floated out of the treatment room.

Cypriot cuisine offers a unique fusion of eastern and western flavours, often served up in a traditional meze, a banquet of between ten to 30 local delicacies.

Everything from kalamari, grilled halloumi cheese to loukanika (smoked Cypriot sausages) is served with unlimited fresh pitta, dips and salad.

But it is the perfect way to prepare for a hectic day of sight-seeing; although the island is small, it is packed with ancient history and colourful traditions. It is soaked in sun, mythology, culture and a distinctive culinary flavour, but - unlike many Mediterranean resorts - it has not been diluted by popular British bar culture. Paphos town was once the capital of Cyprus, during Hellenistic and Roman times, and therefore boasts a wealth of important archeological and historical sites.

The Tombs of the Kings, a network of underground tombs dating back to 400 BC, lies just a short walk from the Elysium.

Ornately carved from limestone, these graves were used to bury high ranking officials rather than royals but got their name from their majestic nature.

Behind the harbourside tavernas and gift shops, the Houses of Dionysos, Theseus and Aion provide a fascinating look at mosaics depicting scenes from Greek mythology.

Theseus' battle in the Minotaur's maze and the legend of Pyrrus and Thibius which inspired Shakespeare's classic tale of love, Romeo and Juliet, are among the well preserved mosaics on display.

Pafos medieval fort, originally built in the Byzantine period to protect the harbour, now provides a spectacular backdrop for annual opera extravaganzas and music concerts during September.

After a hectic morning of sightseeing, a fish meze (pounds 13) at Spondas restaurant provided solace away from the 30C heat, although my stomach was already beginning to feel the strain.

After a few hours spent lounging beside the pool and indulging in a few Sex and the City Cosmopolitan cocktails at the pool bar, it was time for another traditional meze.

Cyprus is certainly full of gastronomic delights, which are in plentiful supply, but the best advice for diners is to enjoy these banquets siga,siga, - Cypriot for 'slowly, slowly'.

Washed down with more local wines and traditional drinks, a brandy sour is the tipple of choice, there's always room for just a little bit more.

Cyprus is very British in many respects: the currency is in Cypriot pounds not euros, cars are driven on the left and there is a major Army base in Larnaca. …