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Marion Ainge asks a favour of Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love and beauty
If you want to look 10 years younger, it might be an idea to visit Aphrodite's birthplace in Paphos, Cyprus. For here, at Petra tou Romiou, legend has it that if you swim round the rock three times, the goddess of love and beauty will grant you this wish. I was sorely tempted until I realised the task had to be completed at midnight, when there is a full moon.....naked.
Putting vanity aside, you can turn back the years by exploring the culture and history of the western side of this beautiful island. The old Mediterranean port of Paphos and European Capital of Culture 017, dates back to Neolithic times. Every year, Paphos Aphrodite Festival stages grand operatic performances in front of the old fort.
It was out of the main tourist season, early morning and quiet when I walked along the promenade to the harbour, where gulls cried and swooped, hoping for a morsel of the day's catch, and boats bobbed on the sunlit sapphire sea. Just behind the shops and restaurants, in Paphos Archaelogical Park UNESCO World Heritage Centre, a major part of this ancient Greek and Roman city is still under excavation. The House of Dionysus is one of four large, restored Roman villas which showcase the amazingly well-preserved, hand-crafted mosaic floors, among the finest in the world, depicting mythological scenes and hunting scenes.
Two kilometres away is another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Tombs of the Kings. These burial grounds were constructed for high ranking officials and the aristocracy up to the third century AD. Carved from rock, some majestic with an atrium, Doric columns and a bed, they emulate a house for the living.
Any treasures found here were probably stolen by grave robbers. I scurried up the steps to escape from a tomb before the opening at the top closed for ever, leaving me, trapped in the dark, with no means of escape. Clearly, I've watched too many scary films.
In 1159, a monk, Neophytos, excavated a hillside cave to form a cell, a small chapel and a tomb for himself. Nothing like being prepared. Over the years, the St Neophytos monastery, which features richly-hued frescoes and wall paintings, was expanded. In tiny villages, donkeys carry paniers of vegetables, grapes and cereal, old men with weathered faces sit at wooden tables outside the coffee house and aged grandmothers, or ya yas, are clad in black from head to foot.
At her house in Letymbou, Sophia showed us how to make bread, halloumi cheese and kolokoti, vegetable pies. Overseeing my efforts, she laughed as I pummelled and kneaded, and re-did it when I'd finished. In an open oven in the garden, bread is baked by husband, Andreas, then sold to neighbours.
Some parents still provide a a dowry house for each daughter on their marriage. Our driver, Lena, had bought and rented out houses for both her daughters, but was hoping her two sons would choose a bride with her own property.
Following the agrotourism trend, some villagers have vacated their traditionally-furnished family house, and have installed a swimming pool, plus a couple
of one-bed garden apartments to offer an off-the-beaten track tourist experience. Years ago, when my parents moved to Cyprus, my dad bought some plastic casks of rough village wine. The cost was for nothing and it tasted cheap, too. Today, many acclaimed Cypriot wines have attracted admiration. At the award-winning Tsangerides winery in Lemona village, around 300,000 bottles of wine are produced annually.
Our jeep took us to the Akamas region, north west of Paphos. Passing stunning sea caves, we stopped at Lara Bay, one of the best, most tranquil beaches
on the island. In June, on the beach, there are often more nesting green and loggerhead turtles than people, in this important turtle conservation area. Not far away, apparently, the goddess of love, beauty and eternal youth, showed her face, and much more at the Baths of Aphrodite, where, brazenly,she is said to have bathed with Adonis, one of her many lovers.
Unsurprisingly, the unspoilt, picturesque little port of Latchi, nearby, boasts a catch of renowned fish restaurants. We enjoyed a fresh fish lunch with salad and chips at the Port Latchi harbour front restaurant. One evening, at the high-ceilinged, traditional Koutourou Taverna in Kato Paphos we feasted on a splendid meze with honey-baked halloumi, spicy sheftalia (local sausages) chick-pea puree, grilled aubergine and much more.
What fun we had at Halamanduro Tavern, Geroskipou. Another great meze, traditional bouzouki musicians, singers and locals who took to the floor to demonstrate their traditional dance skills, which were, of course, far more impressive than our lame attempts.
Our base was the modern, stylish, recently renovated, four star St George Hotel, Golf and Beach Resort, Chlorakas, just 19km from Paphos airport and six kilometres from the town. The hotel has 225 rooms - mine had a lovely, tree-fringed view of the pool and gardens.
I'll be going back to Cyprus very soon. I wonder if I visited her birthplace again, Aphrodite might look kindly on me if I just splashed the water over my face.
For more info visit www.visitcyprus.com
www.stgeorge-hotel.com from £103 inc breakfast per night per room
www.easyjet.com Manchester to Paphos from £118.04 return dep June
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View from Marion's room at St George hotel
Marion making bread
Paphos fort and harbour
St Neophytos Monastery
St George Hotel