Stressed out from life in Israel? Hop over and relax in Cyprus

The attraction for Israelis to Cyprus is likely motivated by the atmosphere, the hospitality industry, and proximity. Much of the republic is dominated by majestic mountains.

 THE VINEYARD next to the Ktima Gerolemo winery in central Cyprus. Wineries are blossoming on the island.  (photo credit: MICHAEL STARR)
THE VINEYARD next to the Ktima Gerolemo winery in central Cyprus. Wineries are blossoming on the island.
(photo credit: MICHAEL STARR)

Cyprus is one of the most popular vacation destinations for Israelis, and travel to the Mediterranean island is only increasing.

Israelis were the second largest group of tourists in 2022, with 278,000 visiting the Republic of Cyprus, according to Louis Hotels. In 2023, Israelis are projected to exceed 300,000 visitors.

The attraction for Israelis to Cyprus is likely motivated by the atmosphere, the hospitality industry, and proximity.

Much of the republic is dominated by majestic mountains covered in thick black pine forests. Nestled in the slopes are numerous villages, populated with luscious citrus, fig and pomegranate trees. Israelis seeking an authentic Grecian experience can rent a car or take a guide to these villages, and enjoy the remote calm.

From the highest peak, Mount Olympus, almost the entire island can be seen, down to the coastlines. Along the coasts lay cities such as Paphos, Limassol and Protaras. Cyprus has a wide variety of beaches in these municipalities – white sand, black sand, and stone.

 THE ROYAL APOLLONIA exudes a confident and refined elegance. (credit: LOUIS HOTELS)
THE ROYAL APOLLONIA exudes a confident and refined elegance. (credit: LOUIS HOTELS)

Family vacations in Paphos

Paphos, in legend linked to the Greek goddess of love and beauty Aphrodite, is on the east coast of the island. White cliffs, stone pillars and sea caves carved by the ebb and flow of the blue-green Mediterranean waters dot the nearby shoreline. A grounded vessel, the EDRO III, has become a fixture and attraction on the coast as much as the rock formations.

The city is divided into upper and lower Paphos. The older buildings in Upper Paphos have a unique aesthetic, and for those interested in shopping, the narrow alleys and pedestrian roads are packed with confectioneries, boutique shops, cafes and restaurants. Unfortunately, some of these shops appear to have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and an economic crisis; the sight of boarded-up windows is not uncommon across the island. Another common sight in the cities are the open skies. The skyline of many of the cities is low, with few high-rise buildings.

Louis Hotels said that its properties in Paphos were the most popular for Israelis. For families seeking to get away from the stress of routine, Louis Hotels has the all-inclusive Imperial Beach hotel. A family room of two adults and two children costs NIS 1,379 per night or NIS 6,896 for five nights. The site has multiple pools, including a “quiet” pool for adults, a heated indoor pool, and children’s pool. 

The spa has a sauna, jacuzzi and steam room, but massages and other treatments cost extra. There are three restaurants and kid’s entertainment programs. A manager said that they prided themselves on their bar and food service, which they provided throughout the extensive pool grounds. “Our responsibility is to keep the families happy,” he said.

Those looking for a five-star, adults-only hotel might consider Louis Hotel’s Royal Apollonia, in the port city of Limassol, on the south end of the island. From the classy lobby that descends like stairs into the wide pool and beach, to the comfortable rooms, the Apollonia exudes a confident and refined elegance. The spa is more extensive than the Imperial, with massage rooms and high-caliber masseuses. 

The buffet features a rotating international cuisine each night, and the Asian fusion restaurant Akakiko has sushi and tuna tartar that completely eclipses the taste, texture and presentation in Israeli Japanese cuisine restaurants. The Apollonia has honeymoon rooms, and those with outdoor hot tubs all face the sea. The rooms can range from NIS 2,062 per night to NIS 10,310 for five nights.

Explore the island from Limassol

LIMASSOL IS a perfect staging ground for forays inland to see the small wineries and green vineyards that sprawl along the hills.

“Cyprus reached a new level of quality in the last few decades with the rise of small wineries,” said Afinodoros Afinodorou, owner of the Ktima Gerolemo winery. The wineries had blossomed from just four wineries in recent years, he said, to 75.

His winery grows its own grape varieties. “Although we are small, we can produce 120,000 bottles of wine a year,” he noted.

Israelis unbothered by unkosher wine might try Commandaria, a sweet dessert wine that Afinodoros said was famed for having been served to Richard the Lionheart during his time on the island during the Crusades. Other popular Cypriot alcoholic beverages include Zivania, a grape pomace brandy, and anise-flavored ouzo, which Israelis would likely find similar to arak.

Not far from Ktima Gerolemo is the Omodos village, which occasionally holds wine festivals. Tourists can visit a gilded Greek Orthodox church that houses Christian artifacts. The main attractions to be found along the village’s stone paths are the shops with traditional crafts like lacework, and bakeries selling chickpea-leavened bread. Treats and chocolates include those made with carob, which seemed to be favored as an island staple. Sweet shops also sell candied nuts or loukoumi – like Turkish delights, but marketed in Cyprus as Cyprus Delight. 

Similarly, the coffee shops offer Cyprus coffee, which Israelis will identify as Turkish coffee. Israelis will also be familiar with Halloumi cheese, which is indigenous to Cyprus. Halloumi seemed to be served as an appetizer at every restaurant, and as a palate cleanser at Ktima Gerolemo. Halloumi cheese is eaten fried, but in Cyprus it is prepared in multiple ways – served with a sweet dessert, or as a savory dish of melted cheese covered in breadcrumbs.

Protaras, on the lower, eastern tip of the island, is a resort town lesser known to Israelis, according to Louis Hotels. There the chain has the King Jason, another sprawling luxurious complex that also features a flow of space between the pool, lobby and buffet. The decor of the rooms has some odd tastes, and is surpassed by the Apollonia. 

Nearby are the Althea Kalamies villas, which are fully equipped with kitchens, televisions and other amenities, including a private pool. With two floors, and three to four bedrooms, the villas are intended to serve families or friend groups of up to eight people. A villa for six can range from NIS 2,657 per night or NIS 13,288 for five nights. 

Protaras has a bustling nightlife, but it may not have the same appeal to Israelis as other cities that allow access into the mountains and authentic villages.

Ultimately, it is this authenticity that Israelis often seek when they travel abroad. Louis Hotels hopes to attract more Israelis with “real experiences” of Cyprus, such as its traditional breakfast and hiring locals “who can give the authentic hospitality which is part of Cyprus.” According to their data, most Israelis are seeking all-inclusive family vacations at hotels that had water-park facilities.

Louis Hotels said that they were so invested in reaching out to Israeli audiences that they were seeking to hire Hebrew-speaking staff, to make Israelis feel more at home. Some have already made themselves at home, permanently. A family of Israelis living in Cyprus told The Jerusalem Post that they had decided to live there when they realized how much calmer the place was.

“You don’t know how stressed you are there until you’re away,” said an Israeli mother with her children.

Getting away from the stress to a peaceful Cypriot beach isn’t difficult. According to Louis Hotels, nine airlines are operating from Tel Aviv or Haifa to Paphos and Larnaca, and are expanding their combined flights to 100 a week from July to August. Sun d’Or operates two daily flights to Larnaca and four weekly flights to Paphos. Flights take about 40 minutes.

For Israelis seeking to leave the stress of the bustle of the Jewish state behind, Cyprus is only a hop over the pond for a family or romantic getaway. No wonder it has become so popular.

The writer was a guest of Louis Hotels and Sun d’Or.