A winter getaway in Cyprus

Every city in Cyprus has its specialty – in addition to the beaches, of course.

The Columbia Beach Resort (photo credit: Lahav Harkov)
The Columbia Beach Resort
(photo credit: Lahav Harkov)
When Israelis think about vacationing in Cyprus, their first thought is probably of the beach. Cyprus is known as a great place to lie on the sand and swim in the clear blue water, which is why tourism quiets down in the winter, but there’s much more to the island than that.
There’s no lack of things to do in Cyprus in the winter months, when the weather is very mild – similar to Tel Aviv – and if you’re not the type to lie on a beach chair and tan all day, there are advantages to visiting the European island country when it’s less crowded, foremost being the price.
Aegean Airlines is offering winter flights from Ben-Gurion Airport to Larnaca starting at $56. Departures to Larnaca and return flights to Tel Aviv are conveniently available five days a week, and the flight is so short, one hard candy is practically enough to prevent your ears from popping during both the takeoff and the landing.
Sites and activities
Every city in Cyprus has its specialty – in addition to the beaches, of course.
Paphos was declared European Capital of Culture for 2017, meaning that it would be designated by the EU to organize a series of cultural events for a year, and it is already preparing in 2016. The theme for the cultural year will be “Open Air Factory,” transforming open spaces in the city throughout the year into platforms for music, drawing, theater, dance, film and more by artists from Cyprus and other parts of Europe, turning Paphos into one big cultural stage.
Aside from the rich cultural pickings in Paphos, the city is a good place to try traditional Cypriot taverns, which serve mezze, a meal built on a seemingly endless array of small dishes.
If you’re looking for a very traditional culinary experience, there’s the Seven St. Georges Tavern, a family- run restaurant that grows all of its own vegetables, and if you ask, the family patriarch, George, and his sons can give you a very charming explanation about how the food is made and the vegetables are grown – and tell you how much he loves Israel. The restaurant is very accommodating to vegetarians.
If you’re looking for a dinner show, there’s the Fettas Tavern, which features traditional Cypriot dancing to live music. Their dancers seem to defy gravity, balancing a dozen glasses on their heads with the audience’s help.
If you’re seeking sportier pursuits, there are bike tours of Paphos, which go past the Kato Paphos Archeological Park and adjacent harbor.
As for history, the Kato Paphos Archeological Park is on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list, and features remain from prehistoric times to the Middle Ages, though most of it is from the Roman period, including beautiful mosaic floors.
Another place to go for interesting history is Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus. There you can see checkpoints and pass the no-man’s land by the Green Line – no, Israel is not the only country with a Green Line.
This one divides Cyprus from Turkish-occupied Northern Cyprus.
The Nicosia Old City, which abuts the Green Line, is a fun place to walk around – or take a Segway tour – with old churches and museums, along with boutiques and cafés. Near one of the checkpoints is the fascinating Center of Visual Arts and Research, opened in 2014, which gives a fascinating overview of the past 500-plus years of history in Cyprus through paintings, clothing and other artifacts. Make sure to look out for newsletters and other artifacts from the transit camps on Cyprus where the British sent Jews after the Holocaust who wanted to go to Mandatory Palestine.
Larnaca is perhaps the most convenient place to visit in Cyprus from Israel, since that’s where the Aegean flights land, but it’s also a great place to visit in the winter, since its local tourism board offers free activities until the end of April for anyone staying in a hotel in the region. Every day there’s something else, whether it’s bird-watching, basket weaving, visiting a camel-park, a historic walking tour, and more.
A delicious village visit
If you venture outside the cities, there are interesting things to see – and even more to taste – in Cyprus’s villages, as well. Niki Sweets in Agros makes marmalade, jam and other traditional Cypriot sweets. You can watch Niki and her staff make soutzoukos, a long rope of a candy that is made out of almonds and grape juice. If it’s wine you’re interested in, the Tsiakkas Winery – the eponymous vineyard of the family who runs it – offers tours and tastes not far from Limassol. As for Cyprus’s famous halloumi cheese, the Giannakis Stefani Dairy Factory in Prasteio village is the place to go to get it as fresh as possible, along with an explanation as to how it’s made.
Also outside the city is the Aphrodite Hills Golf Course, a short drive from Paphos. Aphrodite Hills, which is also a resort and has vacation apartment rentals, offers golf lessons from friendly and patient English-speaking pros, starting from €54.
You can get anywhere in Cyprus within an hourand- a-half if you rent a car (driving in this former British colony is on the left side of the road), so it’s easy to enjoy world-class resorts and still quickly reach whichever sites you’re interested in. If you don’t want to rent a car, many of the hotels have shuttles to nearby sites.
The most stunning lodging option on the island is the Columbia Beach Resort in a quiet and secluded spot in Pissouri, midway between the cities of Limassol and Paphos. Just walking into the lobby and seeing the pristine beach view is breathtaking. The 95 luxury suites are built along the pool, which has a sea view, as does the heated indoor pool, which winter visitors will enjoy.
The Hebe Spa offers a full range of treatments; you’ll come out of a massage feeling incredibly relaxed and invigorated.
For a more active visit, there are mountain or road bike tours, water sports and tennis courts, squash courts and other sports on site, plus transportation to nearby golf courses. It’s no wonder Columbia won the World Travel Awards honor for the Mediterranean’s Leading Spa Resort in 2015. The adjacent Columbia Beach Hotel is not as pricey as the resort, but offers access to the beach and much of the resort’s services.
If you’re looking to stay in a luxury resort, but for it to be closer to a city, there are plenty of options available.
If you’re focused on a spa experience, the Almyra Hotel in Paphos is a great choice. Its Almyraspa will relax you, and you can take a dip in its indoor pool.
The beachside suites open right up to the shore, if you want to brave a winter dip or just lie on a lounge chair on your private deck and watch the waves. In Limassol, there’s the Amathus Hotel, which is great for families, with an active kids’ club, a family dining area and a special swimming and beach area just for kids, complete with water slides, of course. Plus, Amathus’s junior suites have private pools.
There are plenty of rustic options, as well, in Cyprus’s smaller villages up in the mountains. One is the Katoi Restaurant and Holiday Homes in Omodos, which offers an experience much like staying at a tzimmer in Israel. The restaurant offers mouth-watering mezze, and is very accommodating to vegetarians.
Omodos has quaint shops and pathways to explore by foot, but a car is needed for attractions beyond the village. 
The writer was a guest of the Cyprus Tourism Organization and Aegean Airlines.