Pair sightseeing with a beachside stay in southern Cyprus
Cyprus | February 08, 2022 | Erica Bush
Aspire heads to the island’s lavish Parklane hotel for some winter sun
Loula smiles as she makes halloumi. She stands over a large steel vat of sheep and goat's milk, collected from the animals residing in the sloping hills above, and stirs.
A setting agent has started to thicken the milky mixture, and she marks a cross in the liquid with a paddle - "for good luck", she says - before scooping out the curds and straining them through a muslin cloth.
It's a process Loula has done many, many times before. Her family has been making halloumi on this patch of land in Choirokoitia, a village on the south coast of Cyprus, for over 40 years.
Nowadays, she produces a 10kg batch every day of the year. It's a family affair - Lou la learnt the process from her parents as a child and, today, her seven grown-up children return to the farm to help out at weekends.
When she's finished, Loula ushers us into the shade of her home and lays out plates of fresh halloumi and anari - the softer, lighter cheese made from the whey - alongside crusty bread, ripe tomatoes, olives seasoned with oil and coriander seeds, and cups of thick, Cypriot coffee.
Up in the hills of Choirokoitia, it's quiet save for the odd bark of a sheep dog. The grass is dry and yellowing under the heat of the sun and dotted with hardy trees of olive, carob and pine. But hop in the car for less than 30 minutes, and the modern metropolis of Limassol unfurls.
Limassol is steeped in history - the Old City dates back to the medieval period – but it’s fabled sites have been woven effortlessly into the fabric of modern life.
The Old Market, built in 1918, is now a busy social hub named Agora, with bars, shops and food stalls selling world cuisine. The 100-year-old Municipal Garden, home to eucalyptus and cypress trees, features an annual wine festival, while the pedestrianised shopping street of Agiou Andreou is lined with contemporary stores and baroque-style buildings alike.
There are gems around every corner: Orthodox churches with orange-domed roofs, lanes dotted with mulberry trees, and impressive street art portraits of John Lennon and other icons on crumbling walls.
Winding Zik Zak street, fringed with colourful cafes and hanging plants, is where the locals hang out. It marks a crossroads of various cultures, rubbing shoulders with the Jamii Kebir (Great Mosque) and the remains of a medieval church.
"We try to preserve as much as we can," says our guide, Dimitria, as she leads us on to Limassol Castle, said to be where Richard the Lionheart married Berengaria of Navarre and crowned her Queen of England in 1191.
Across the road, the city's old harbour is thriving following a major expansion project in 2014 that saw the creation of the first superyacht marina in Cyprus.
Limassol Marina now features berths and facilities for glamorous vessels of up to 110m in length, as well as luxury apartments and villas, waterfront bars and restaurants, and a modern square for cultural events.
I soon learn that Cyprus blends ancient and modern with effortless ease, as demonstrated by a small but strong clutch of luxury hotels dotted among its storied hills and cities.
Parklane, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa, is one of the region's best properties, transformed from a Le Meridien and reopened in March 2019.
The hotel is a sprawling oasis, with 222 rooms, 52 suites, three pools, two bars and four restaurants spanning sushi and steak.
There's a spa with a Russian banya and hydrotherapy pools, a hair salon, a gym with daily classes, a mini football pitch and three tennis courts, a sandy beach and a kids' club in the structure of a castle, moat and all.
The property might be intrinsically modern but there are nods to its heritage throughout. A 4,000-year-old perfume workshop - thought to be the oldest in the Mediterranean - was discovered in nearby Pyrgos in 2005.
The site's signature scent, containing a mixture of 46 indigenous herbs and oils grown on the island, was recreated exclusively for Parklane and an amphora filled with the perfume greets each guest in their room.
In the expansive, white-marble lobby, there's a spiralling light feature made up of tiny, coloured glass petals in recognition of the island's perfumery heritage, plus white limestone pillars inspired by the nearby ruins of Amathous.
Visits to this ancient royal city, one of just two sites dedicated to Aphrodite on the island, are complimentary for guests under The Luxury Collection's popular Destination Discovery programme. Indeed, to enjoy Cyprus is to enjoy both the old and the new.
The heart of this little island lies in its sacred sites and the authentic lifestyles of locals like Loula, but advancements to the country's cityscape and its luxury hotel portfolio ensure visitors need not compromise on style or comfort.
It may only be a dot in the Mediterranean, but Cyprus certainly punches above its weight.
Book it: Inspiring Travel Company offers seven nights at Parklane from £849 per person, based on two adults sharing a Superior Inland View room, including breakfast, return flights from Gatwick departing on March 1, 2022, and private transfers.Inspiringtravelcompany.co.uk