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STROLL WITH IT; Take a walk on the wild side of Cyprus.. as your bags go by car.

Byline: DEIRDRE O'BRIEN

WALKING holidays suffer from an image problem. The very words conjure up the whiff of damp cagoules, mouldy thermos flasks, socks worn with sandals and possibly beards. Maybe even sing-songs.

Not to mention all the hard work of lugging your backpack around and sleeping in a hostel or - heaven forfend - a tent. Not my cup of tea at all. In fact my love of the great outdoors is combined with a liking for luxury and a fear of canvas. If you're the same, there is an alternative... and it's called Headwater Holidays.

Your days are spent exploring stunning rural countryside on carefully-mapped routes, while a driver ferries your bags between hotels, some of them very luxurious. So every evening you can enjoy a feast, safe in the knowledge that your gluttony was earned with a day of walking.

I opted for Aphrodite's Trail in Cyprus's Akamas Peninsula - that's the Western tip of the Greek part of the island. This was a seven-day break, with walks mostly following coastal paths or old mule tracks through woods and villages.

We arrived at Paphos airport to a warm welcome from our driver Leonias, who had a bag of oranges fresh from his own garden... the first of many over the week. He delivered us to the friendly and family-run Aphrodite Beach hotel, where the chalet-style rooms overlook the sea. Over a traditional Greek breakfast on the terrace next morning we planned our first day's walk. On paper, it looked simple and painless, a 10-mile circular trek over a coastal hillside path followed by a nature trail. We set off armed with maps and written instructions - and of course got hopelessly lost within 10 minutes. After careful consultation, we realised we had set off in completely the wrong direction. But once that was sorted out, we were off.

And what an amazing route it was. The trail climbs to the peak of Mouti Tis Sotiras, with dramatic views as the cliffs fall away to the Mediterranean. We trekked over wooded hills, relishing the riot of wild spring flowers and the day's calm, only disturbed when we startled the odd basking lizard.

After a quick sit-down at the summit, we joined the nature trail proper. It took us down to an ancient site known as the Baths of Aphrodite, and on to the tourist pavilion for a beer and a plate of calamari, before retiring to the hotel for another enormous meal. For our second day of walking Leonias arrived bright and early to whisk us off to Makounta for a 15-mile trek to Lysos, which is inland through a deep forest. He dropped us off in the middle of an orchard and we headed off through an olive grove, into a field of citrus trees and down to the floor of a valley.

The path trailed alongside a dam and then ascended - and I really mean ascended. This was a tough, uphill four-mile climb in the heat. After a while I started fantasising - indeed almost hallucinating - about coming across a taxi rank. When we finally arrived at the main road, the instructions said it was 4km (2' miles) to our next destination, the Paradisos Hills hotel in Lysos. In my view that was 4km too far... so we phoned the hotel for a lift. Like an angel, manageress Soulla roared up in a her nifty hatchback and whisked us to the Paradisos, which took on the appearance of a heavenly mirage. Frankly, we were so footsore and filthy that at this point a Premier Inn in a scruffy London suburb would have looked like the Chateau Marmont. But it didn't take us long to realise that the Paradisos Hills really is special.

Nestling in gentle hills, this gorgeous building with shuttered rooms looking out to the sea is a true labour of love. It was the lifelong dream of Andreas Demetriou, who moved here as a young man to marry his love, Theodosia. He discovered Laouni tou Paradisou (the Paradise Hills) and tried for many years to get permission to build a hotel, often sleeping under the stars beneath a tree which is still there. Heartbreakingly, he died only days before the permit came through.

His children clubbed together to make his dream come true and the hotel is now run as a family business, with a portrait of Andreas smiling down from above the fire as his descendants welcome guests from all over the world. After a restorative meal of delicious delicacies, Cypriot wine and a great night's sleep in an amazingly comfortable bed I felt reborn.

But not quite up for the next day's 15-mile hike, so instead we spent the day loafing at the hotel, exploring the area on their mountain bikes - fairly strenuous in itself - and popping into the nearby village for a drink in the only bar. Then it was back to Paradisos for another superb meal.

Day five of the trip, and with great regret we had to leave Paradisos. But not before a delicious breakfast and a gift from the family of their own wonderful wine. As Leonias drove ahead with our bags, we set off to the next destination, Ayii Anargyris... a mere nine miles away through small villages and across farmland. The only creatures we saw all day were herds of goats, their arrival presaged by tinkling bells.

We pitched up in the village of Simou and took time out for a beer in a shop run by the splendidly-named Mr Takis Mysteirios. After our hike, the ice-cold brew was indeed worth waiting for. Our final destination was the Ayii Anargyri Spa Resort, which is an amazingly plush hotel converted from a 17th century monastery founded by two brothers in 1649.

They were well known on the island for travelling from village to village caring for the sick and the dying without ever asking for payment, hence the monastery's name, which means "without silver".

While the monks might approve of the resort's well-stocked wine cellar, they might be a bit confused by the modern-day spa, where I enjoyed an expert Swedish massage. With a lovely pool and gorgeous grounds, the hotel again proved too good to leave. So our next planned 15-mile trek somehow turned into - er, a massage, a few hours by the pool, a few games of table tennis and then, in the evening, an exquisite 10-course tasting menu.

On our final day, there was to be no cheating or slacking of any kind. After breakfast, we set off for the village of Kahika, and from there our 10-mile route took us along a ridge overlooking Lara Bay to finish in Agiou Georgiou.

The instructions promised a steep climb early in the day, then downhill all the way with wonderful coastal views. And it didn't disappoint. Ten miles (and four hours) later we toasted the end of our holiday with local wine, washing down meze and fresh fish overlooking a sparkling sea.

What's the deal

HEADWATER'S eight-day Following Aphrodite's Trail walking holiday costs from pounds 729pp with seven nights half-board in two-, threeand four-star premises, luggage transport, route notes and maps.

Prices from pounds 989pp with Gatwick-Paphos flights with Thomson Airways plus transfers.

Flights can be arranged from most UK airports. Visit www.headwater.com or call 01606 720199.

CAPTION(S):

Hiking down from the hills of the Akamas Peninsula in Cyprus (above) to Lara Bay beach (main picture) Walk this way... Deirdre wonders whether to call for another lift Ayii Anargyri Spa Resort from the outside... ... and inside one of its luxury pools
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jul 18, 2010
Words:1264
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