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Travel Guide: Food and culture on Cyprus

12th Oct 2011 1:54am | By Editor

Warm weather, sandy beaches and glorious food - Cyprus makes an ideal getaway. WORDS: Helen Chappell.

Of course, the weather in the autumn, winter and spring months is the main draw for rain-weary UK visitors. There's a laid-back vibe to life here once the tourist hordes have departed, and the landscape is greener and more floral. With daytime temperatures hovering around 25˚C in October and November and again from early March (though December to February can be nippy and unpredictable) it'll feel a lot sunnier and more relaxed than dark, damp Britain.

Hire a car or take local buses to explore the dramatic Troodos mountains. You may spot skiers and snow sparkling on the peaks.

Visit in springtime if you're determined to get in some beach action. Ayia Napa hogs the best sandy shoreline - we snatched a couple of sunny hours on the white sands of Nissi beach.

But don't dismiss more rugged options elsewhere. Governor's Beach off the Nicosia highway is small and secluded, though you get pebbles not sand. Coral Bay, just outside Pafos, is a sweep of dark yellow sand with calm blue waters all year and sheltering rocky cliffs. But best of all, we enjoyed watching the sun go down over the bay from the veranda of the Paradise Bar in Pomos. Soothed by jazzy chill-out sounds, we were well set up for a night of clubbing at the Bario del Mar over on Geroskipou beach.

We had decided to head for the coastal hubs of Limassol and Pafos for a two-centre break, relishing the contrast between modern swank and old town charm. For a town, which vies with the capital Nicosia to be the most cosmopolitan, Limassol has a fascinating old quarter and historic sites nearby to die for.

In town, we found dinky little Limassol Castle, where Richard the Lionheart is said to have married his queen. Then we drove 12km west to Kourion, a spectacular Roman amphitheatre overlooking the sea.

Pafos is smaller and more bohemian than Limassol, and in the prettier and greener part of the island. The Birthplace of Aphrodite (three white rocks jutting from the sea) may underwhelm you but you'd need a heart of stone to resist the charms of Pafos old town and the exuberant mosaics in the Villa of Dionysus - leaping dolphins, sea monsters and naked nymphs included.

After that, you may be in the mood for a romantic walk along Limassol's Seafront Pathway. Start near the Poseidonia Hotel and wander beside the sea (and sometimes over it on wooden bridges) for 5km. At night it's lit up with lanterns.

The best stroll we found in Pafos is through the old harbour. Swanky yachts and fishing boats tie up at the water's edge, while racks of straw hats spill out of shop doorways and cafe tables dot the quayside. At the end of your walk lies a tiny fortress perched on the end of the bay, once fought over by French, Venetians and Turks. Climb to the top and sit on the battlements for dizzying harbour views.

If you want to get a flavour of traditional produce and help out the local rural economy at the same time, take a bus from Limassol market place and explore the surrounding villages. Smoked meats, rosewater, cheeses and the mind-blowing local spirit Zivania will tempt you in the local shops and markets. (Be warned - get leathered on Zivania and you won't know what's hit you.)

In Limassol town, swing by the Cyprus Handicrafts Centre (25 Themidos Street) to buy locally produced ornaments, furniture, toys and baskets.

For the ultimate feel-good purchasing experience, we drove 10km north of Pafos to the hillside Agios Neofytos Monastery. After gaping at some of the finest Byzantine frescoes in the world, we helped the monks to run their retreat centre here (open to all) by buying honey and preserves in the monastery shop.

Food is a surprising plus in Cyprus - we never managed to eat a bad meal anywhere.

We loved the stunning hilltop location of the Tochni Tavern in Tochni village, 20km east of Limassol. From our outdoor terrace table, we could see the pretty stone-built village, across the valley and out to sea. There's a friendly, rustic mood and food to match - smoky steaks and kebabs, delicious fried Cyprus potatoes and horiatiki salad.

Our best find in Limassol was the Aliada Restaurant (117 Irinis Street). A beautifully restored old house, white walls engulfed by purple bougainvillea, it offers an impressively generous four-course set menu. For about £12 a head (excluding wine) you get home-made soups, a vast, bewildering buffet, charcoal-grilled meat and veg, and wicked puddings. Winter bliss indeed.