Cyprus: Reclining and dining
There's much to do in Cyprus. But then again, you can get by doing very little.
On our last visit to Cyprus, we could not escape the attention of the ubiquitous cats (brought to the island, so legend has it, by St Helen in the fourth century to combat the snakes). Whenever we ate al fresco, our fish would attract a bunch of scrawny mendicants, slaloming between our feet in search of an under-the-table offering.
You do not find many cats, however, roaming the grounds of the Four Seasons in Limmasol. And those that we did come across when we stayed last summer looked sleek and pampered. If its facilities had included a cat spa, no one would have been surprised.
We had opted for Cyprus for a week of peace and sun because of the favourable prices compared with other destinations such as Italy. From the welcoming flute of sparkling wine and the hot towel for our hands that greeted us when we first stepped into the imposing atrium of the Four Seasons, we could not fail to be impressed.
The Four Seasons was opened in 1993 by the local Mouskis family. It was the first hotel to introduce an in-house signature (Shiseido) spa. The hotel is beautifully landscaped, its bars and terraces ornamented with attractive, modern sculptures and water-features. Inside, it is furnished with a metropolitan sophistication you don't expect in a seaside resort. Even the kindergarten has its own fountain. We had come to do no more than recline and dine, and here was somewhere to do so in style.
A glass of fresh orange juice preceded us to our breakfast table outdoors by the koi pond. Some of the fish, with their Jackson Pollock streaks, were as old as the hotel itself and I spotted one that appeared about to re-enact evolutionary history by trying to wriggle on to the rockery. Many of the guests were Russian, whose presence explained an otherwise incongruous sight in a Mediterranean climate: the number of fur shops along the way to town.
Third week of March, inland room for one night £120.87: for family of two adults and two young children, studio room £216.73
While the hotel was pretty full, it never felt crowded. There was no scramble for a poolside seat; sunbed reservations were not allowed, you were shown to a vacant spot by an attendant. Islands of palms rose from the lagoon pool, providing places of shelter where you could rest mid-swim. On the lawns below, beside the seaview studios, thatched shades sprouted like mushrooms.
Further down a stretch of beach led to a placid sea. The grey tone of the volcanic sand might seem off-putting first, but it was all spotlessly clean. You have to go further east to find golden beaches.
On our previous trip, I took a jeep safari to the cooler, cedar-clad slopes of the Troodos Mountains and we went to see the fabulous classical mosaics in Paphos. The size of Cyprus makes it easy to go places. A little way west of the city, you might catch a Shakespeare or a Greek tragedy in the Kourion amphitheatre on the coast. Or you can follow one of the wine routes: boutique wineries have blossomed in recent years and Limassol has a festival in August. But we felt little incentive to leave the hotel, especially when I discovered our TV had Sky Sports and thus unlimited access to the Ashes.
We paid a couple of perfunctory visits to the regenerated old town of Limassol about 15 minute's drive away. Bars and taverns fringe the pedestrian precinct around the Medieval Museum, the site of an old fortress. But the scars of recent economic misfortune were visible in some of the empty shop fronts along the narrow streets. Behind the hotel, a promenade across the sand runs almost all the way into town, where you can stroll by the sea, observing beach life.
I did not yield entirely to indulgent idleness. As well as yoga or aqua-aerobics in the spa pool, the hotel offered a daily activities programme including sushi-making or mixing cocktails.
I took a couple of short post-breakfast excursions led by the indefatigable Heike, one of many staff who has worked at the hotel since inception. The Erimi Wine Museum, housed in a villa about a half an hour's drive away, tells the story of 6,000 years of viniculture. Cypress wines were highly prized in talmudic times and used in the preparation of incense for the Temple. We sampled Commandria, a fortified dessert wine which has been made for more than 1,200 years and was the once favoured tipple of banqueting kings.
A short walk from the hotel lay the excavated ruins of the 3,000-year-old city of Amanthus, white among the wild pomegranate, fig and almond trees. Its treasures were looted by raiders centuries ago but the remains are impressive: you can see the ancient latrines, water tanks and the indentations made in the stone walls by the ropes as people hauled up their buckets.
By 6pm, the sun had dipped enough to allow an hour of tennis with my teenage son, Joshua. And then, after a shower, we joined my wife Karen for happy-hour daiquiris and margueritas, accompanied by cashews and warm almonds on the terrace bar.
Apart from the buffet Café Tropicana, the hotel has three gourmet restaurants - Italian, Greek and Chinese. On a verandah overlooking the pool and serenaded by a violinist, we enjoyed delicately sliced tuna carpaccio, red snapper baked moist beneath a golden crust of salt, cauliflower crafted to look like coral beside our dover sole. Then there was the exquisite patisserie to ogle in Colours Café: on our last visit before our night flight, the staff packed us a complimentary box of pastries for breakfast - a typically thoughtful gesture from this superlative hotel.