On the sea of Aphrodite

A weekend in... Paphos. Avoid the discos, sunloungers and other tourist paraphernalia and discover the other side of Paphos, the birthplace of legends on the western side of Cyprus.

December 1, 2008, Abu Dhabi: Yacht moored near a fort, Paphos, Cyprus
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Strategically positioned between Europe, Asia and North Africa, Cyprus boasts year-round sun, breathtaking views and an impressive cultural legacy. My-cenaean merchants from Greece first reached Cyprus, followed by the Persians, Assyrians, Romans, British, Venetians and the Ottomans. English King Richard I, known as the Lionheart, conquered Cyprus, married Berengaria of Navarre and crowned her queen on the island in 1191. Greek influences have remained the most pervasive within Cypriot culture, strongly visible through its music and cuisine. Paphos, on the green, mountainous western side of the island, boasts clean waters and beaches, a picturesque harbour, Byzantine icons, Roman mosaics and Ptolemaic tombs. Nea Paphos is the archaeological site of the ancient city of Paphos, founded in the fourth century BC; the city is also home to the Tombs of the Kings, a Unesco world heritage site.

With the view out over the harbour to soothe the senses, rich mosaicsdepicting Greek legends, a few good restaurants and a busy marketplace, Paphos is one of the most interesting places to stay in Cyprus. It's also a great base to explore the many historic sites nearby, but visitors should pick their accommodation carefully. Ktima or Upper Paphos has lovely old colonial buildings and the lionshare of the museums. Kato, or Lower Paphos 3km down to road to the south is where history buffs will feel most at home, however, its also the neon-lit tourist centre. Strategically positioned at the harbour of Paphos, is a small medieval fort that is worth climbing for the view. The capital of Cyprus for almost 600 years, Paphos is itself a Unesco World Cultural Heritage site on account of its numerous archaeological treasures. It also boasts archaeological, Byzantine and ethnographical museums. The particularly lovely Byzantine church of Agia Paraskevi in Geroskipu, east of Paphos, has six domes and frescoes dating back to the 15th century. One of the most important historic sites, located two kilometres outside Paphos is the Tombs of the Kings. Carved into the desert-like landscape, the burial caves are decorated with Doric columns and date back to the third century BC. Visitors are free to wander around the tombs and to explore the underground chambers. For a day excursion out of Paphos, visit the largely unspoilt village of Polis, which is situated approximately 30km north on the wild Akamas Peninsula, and then go on to the beaches beyond. The Baths of Aphrodite, 11km west of Polis are located in a small, secluded cave with natural springs where, according to legend, Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty, would bathe in the grotto's cool waters. The birthplace of Aphrodite, Petra tou Romiou, can be found 25km from Paphos en-route to the city of Limassol. Myth has it that Aphrodite was born out of the foam of the sea at this particular spot although the inhabitants of Kythira in Greece also lay claim to her birthplace. Arguments aside, Petra tou Romiou is still one of the island's most beautiful beaches; some more romantically inclined visitors come to watch the spectacular sunsets. Kurion Amphitheatre, south-east of Paphos, overlooks the sea. To one side of the site are mosaics depicting early Christianity; visitors can view these by walking on wooden ramps under a large protective tent. The theatre is used for Shakespeare plays in summer.

Budget: The three-star Veronica Hotel is located about 1.5km from the main tourist area and 15km from Paphos airport . With 115 rooms, the hotel has a pleasing amount of greenery, a poolside to lounge in and tennis courts. Double rooms with a view of the pool cost ?50 per night (www.veronicahotel.com.cy; 00357 26 965 333) Mid-range: Family run for the past three generations, this hotel is in a 15th century Venetian townhouse renovated and refurbished in 1924. The hotel is located a few minutes walk from the harbour and its castle. It is considered an architectural landmark by many in the city and has a total of 18 rooms; spotlesss doubles start at ?80 a night (www.kiniras.com; 00357 269 41604). Luxury: The Elysium Beach Resortoverlooking the cove of the archaeological site of The Tombs of the Kings, the hotel is a 20-minute walk from Paphos harbour. It is set on grand, well manicured grounds with a fantastic view of the tiny quay and the sea. The resort spoils its guests with an impressive spa, indoor and outdoor pools, a kid's play area and variety of restaurants and shops. A room with sea view will set you back ?190 a night. Antique collectibles can be found all over the hotel (www.elysium.com.cy; 00357 26 844 444). For the ultimate in luxury, however, head to the Anassa hotel near Polis. Possibly the best hotel in Cyprus, the Anassa offers both five-star luxury and seclusion, two kilometres from the nearest village on the pristine Akamas Peninsula. Guest rooms are villas with panoramic sea views; some suites have private plunge pools and whirlpools. The newly refurbished Thalassa Spa offers one-off treatments, four- to 10-day retreats or detox programmes and uses Organic Pharmacy products. A private sailing boat is available for charter and the hotel can arrange local hiking and rock-climbing. Double rooms from ?472 including breakfast (www.anassa.com.cy; 00357 26 888 000).

Breakfast: Most hotels provide breakfast included with room tariffs. Wisdom Restaurant on Coral Bay Road in Chloraka serves breakfast starting at 9am. The chef in this restaurant comes highly recommended with 17 years of experience in restaurants around Manhattan. A typical Cyprus breakfast of grilled halloumi chees and eggs costs around ?4. (www.wisdomrestaurant.com; 00357 269 49 153). Lunch: Located on Votsi Street in the heart of the old town, Laona is packed with locals and expats. The owner Chris and his wife Soulla oversee all the shopping and cooking themselves; typical Cypriot dishes served include rabbit stifado and lamb with beans. An average meal costs around ?15 per person (Laona, 6 Votsi St; 00357 269 37 121). Dinner: Seven St Georges Tavern is a traditional Cypriot tavern that prides itself on serving organic and homemade food. Meals include a huge variety of mezze - home pickled olives, smoked meats and hot bread fresh off the oven and klefitiko - tender meat cooked for eight hours in wood fired, mud ovens - . Leave room for dessert (usually sugary honeyed sweets and candied fruit). The décor is cosy and warm with wooden tables and walls decorated with bottles of homemade preserves and jams. A meal costs around ?20 per person (www.7stgeorgestavern.com; 00357 2696 3176).

First published in 1957, Bitter Lemons of Cyprus by Lawrence Durrell paints a sad but colourful picture of village life and the rebellion of the Greek Cypriots who insisted upon union with Greece in 1931. The Lonely Planet guide to Cyprus has useful maps and hiking information.

Emirates (www.emirates.com) flies daily from Dubai to Larnaca, two hours drive from Paphos, from Dh1,860 return including taxes. Cyprus Airways (www.cyprusairways.com) has twice weekly flights from Dubai leaving on Sundays via Bahrain and Thursdays direct from Dh1,900 including taxes.