Richard Beecham visits Cyprus to see how the country is recovering after its banking crisis, and finds a remarkably proud and friendly people

Breath-taking: The view of the golf course at Elea.
Breath-taking: The view of the golf course at Elea.

We throw them into cement mixers,” said our guide, as I chewed on chunks of grilled octopus. “We can tenderise many at a time that way.”

I was to learn quickly that, in Cyprus, they do things a little differently.

On my arrival in the minimalist yet luxuriant Almyra seaside resort in Paphos, I was met in my room with a selection of Mediterranean appetisers – food would become a recurring theme on my trip – and a complimentary bottle of ouzo, which I foolishly mistook for water.

One thing that can not be confused in Cyprus, however, is the richness and variety of the island’s heritage – a geographic crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa; historical invasions paint a colourful and vibrant tapestry of ancient cultures of both west and east.

It was something that our tour guide, was passionately vocal about, informing us with infectious enthusiasm during our visit to Limassol that King Richard the Lionheart married here in 1191.

The city may have changed since then, but its vast Kourion Archeological Site has remained remarkably well-preserved, its amphitheatre in particular a vivid look into pastimes from the 2nd century. Frozen in time, its excellent acoustics make it the perfect concert venue to this day.

While Kourion boasts breathtaking stone-work, the intricate mosaics in the four houses of the Kato Pafos Archeological Park prove just as captivating – each depict tales of ancient myths and gods.

The Cypriots love a good meze and, having Googled what one was, I was looking forward to my first at the Seacrest Restaurant in Latchi harbour. A never-ending waiter-assisted river of seafood (including the octopus) ensured I was not disappointed.

The Seacrest would become the scene of another new experience for me: my first Cyprus coffee. The taste was unpalatably bitter, and I had no reason to believe that hot mud didn’t have a starring role in its cast of ingredients, but that didn’t stop our tour guide from tipping my finished cup’s murky remnants onto the saucer to read my fortune (a tradition in Cyprus).

“You will have no worries for the future, Richard!”

Following my optimistic-sounding fortune, a visit to the Elea Golf Club proved that Cyprus has something for everyone who is willing to pay for it. Its impossibly idyllic golf course was designed by golfer Nick Faldo, and its clubhouse offers a chilled vibe far from the snobbish image I had of exclusive golf courses.

After another Cyprus coffee (I was getting a taste for them) and taking in the clubhouse stereo’s relaxing Greek-folk cover of Kraftwerk’s The Model, it was time to sample another gargantuan meze at Omodos village’s Makrynari tavern. I usually treat anything more than a pre-packed sandwich as a needlessly gluttonous way to spend a lunchtime, yet at the Makrynari I thought nothing to wolfing down kebabs, deep fried halloumi and calamari. After consuming a fortnight’s calorie intake, it was time to check in at the second hotel of the trip.

Sitting in the tranquil southern bay of the island, the Columbia Beach Resort takes luxury to absurd new heights. Aside from having its own garden, my room boasted a chaise longe and a James Bond-esque control deck for the room’s eight separate sources of electrical light. This was living all right.

On a trip to Tochni village, the owner of the local tavern (surrounded by friendly cats!), Sofronis Potamitis, treated us to another meze with fritatas and sausage.

Over another Cyprus coffee (my new-found habit had become worrying), Sofronis spoke of his refreshing take on life, that sums up the wonderful attitude of the island.

“I could charge people for the wi-fi,” he said. “But why should I? I don’t run this place for a profit – I just charge money to keep going.

“When tourists stop here, I go fishing with them, I eat with them, we make friends – that is what is important.”

As the pace of the modern world grows ever quicker, I am reminded that, with the right people, the right weather and the right food, life need not be a struggle.