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Weekend: Travel: Find perfect peace at a five-star hideaway; Emma Brady enjoys a celebrity lifestyle as she explores the rich history and culture of Cyprus.

Byline: Emma Brady

I f the tabloids are to be believed, Cyprus is the new mecca for young holidaymakers who party to excess 24 hours a day, giving British tourists a bad name.

But on arrival at Larnaca airport I noticed most travellers waiting patiently for their luggage were either families or couples - not hordes of Club 18-30 ravers.

Even though I knew this was a fivestar trip, where I would be treated like a queen for five days, I was still pleasantly surprised.

Paphos is the quiet antithesis of the noisy and more boisterous resorts like Agia Napia and Limassol.

No wonder, then, that many of the local hotels and spas boast a starstudded guest list that could rival that of The Ivy.

Prince Albert of Monaco, Tom Jones and Elton John are just three of the celebrities who regularly stay in the quaint harbour town.

On arrival at my base hotel - the new pounds 25 million Elysium Mediterranean Beach resort - I soon realised staff treated everyone like a star.

The Elysium, which means 'place of perfect peace', boasts five pools, including a hydrotherapy pool, and is a perfect holiday hideaway where escaping the rat race is all too easy.

It also has a relaxing Aveda spa and beauty therapy centre, where I was treated to a revitalising facial massage (pounds 22) before heading off to dinner. I positively floated out of the treatment room.

Cypriot cuisine offers a unique fusion of eastern and western flavours, often served up in a traditional meze, a banquet of between ten to 30 local delicacies.

Everything from kalamari, grilled halloumi cheese to loukanika (smoked Cypriot sausages) is served with unlimited fresh pitta, dips and salad.

But it is the perfect way to prepare for a hectic day of sight-seeing; although the island is small, it is packed with ancient history and colourful traditions. It is soaked in sun, mythology, culture and a distinctive culinary flavour, but - unlike many Mediterranean resorts - it has not been diluted by popular British bar culture. Paphos town was once the capital of Cyprus, during Hellenistic and Roman times, and therefore boasts a wealth of important archeological and historical sites.

The Tombs of the Kings, a network of underground tombs dating back to 400 BC, lies just a short walk from the Elysium.

Ornately carved from limestone, these graves were used to bury high ranking officials rather than royals but got their name from their majestic nature.

Behind the harbourside tavernas and gift shops, the Houses of Dionysos, Theseus and Aion provide a fascinating look at mosaics depicting scenes from Greek mythology.

Theseus' battle in the Minotaur's maze and the legend of Pyrrus and Thibius which inspired Shakespeare's classic tale of love, Romeo and Juliet, are among the well preserved mosaics on display.

Pafos medieval fort, originally built in the Byzantine period to protect the harbour, now provides a spectacular backdrop for annual opera extravaganzas and music concerts during September.

After a hectic morning of sightseeing, a fish meze (pounds 13) at Spondas restaurant provided solace away from the 30C heat, although my stomach was already beginning to feel the strain.

After a few hours spent lounging beside the pool and indulging in a few Sex and the City Cosmopolitan cocktails at the pool bar, it was time for another traditional meze.

Cyprus is certainly full of gastronomic delights, which are in plentiful supply, but the best advice for diners is to enjoy these banquets siga,siga, - Cypriot for 'slowly, slowly'.

Washed down with more local wines and traditional drinks, a brandy sour is the tipple of choice, there's always room for just a little bit more.

Cyprus is very British in many respects: the currency is in Cypriot pounds not euros, cars are driven on the left and there is a major Army base in Larnaca.

But in some places, such as Agios Neofytos Monastery, located 9km from Paphos, women must cover their knees and dress conservatively while visiting, so as not to offend the men.

For a real getaway, the monastery welcomes lone travellers to stay in dormitories. In turn, the visitors can help the monks with daily chores.

An alternative to five-star treatment is a stay on a typical farm house where guests help prepare meals and tend the land. The Vasilias Nikoklis Inn, in Nikoklia village, 17km south-west of Paphos, offers a real taste of Cyprus, in the shadow of the Troodos mountains. We were welcomed with drinks and an array of local pastries, despite having eaten a massive meze just hours before. But the hospitality shown by proprietor Tasos Constantinou was infectious and impossible to resist, despite my bulging belly.

Everyone staying at the charming guest house, which has eight double rooms, is treated as a star in their own way, with late night conversations in the living room-cum-bar.

As if that was not enough on this gastronomic tour of the resort, a fivecourse meal with a wine tasting menu was waiting for us at Annabelle's - the A-list hotel.

Like the Elysium, it has several restaurants, but unlike other hotels, TheDeck and its other eateries are open to non-guests. It is situated between Bar Street and Pafos harbour and as we ate classical arias drifted over into the grounds, providing the perfect soundtrack to a sophisticated evening.

But despite the five-star luxury, holidaymakers can enjoy the celebrity-style dinner for pounds 42, including wine.

To work off all the fresh fish, fine wines and local delicacies I'd eaten during the holiday, I felt the need for some exercise.

One of the most popular excursions in Paphos is a jeep safari to Avakas Gorge (pounds 45 including meze at a local tavern), which includes a perilous path through a breathtaking, natural limestone gorge.

Still following the coastal roads out to Akamas the pure sands and tempting waters at Lara Bay provided a Bond girl moment as I attempted to emerge from the sea like Aphrodite.

That didn't work so my final chance to embrace Cypriot traditions would be at the final meze of the week, at a Demokritos restaurant, on Bar Street, where traditional Greek-Cypriot dancing is also on the menu.

However, for those who fancy a night at the karaoke or sipping a few cocktails late at night, Bar Street is the place to be but it is very family-orientated.

Clubs, bars and restaurants remain open well into the morning, but unlike other populist holiday resorts it is not overrun with lager louts.

My final fling with the celebrity lifestyle came at Le Meridien Hotel, in Limassol, where a new spa offers a range of cutting edge beauty treatments, including a series of Thalassotherapy pools which help purify and detoxify the skin by varying mineral levels and water temperature.

Unfortunately it was time to catch the plane back to reality and rainy Britain - but at least I know where to go to live like a star, just for a few days.

Travel Facts Emma Brady travelled to Cyprus courtesy of the Cyprus Tourist Organisation (www.visitcyprus.org.cy or 0207 569 8800) and Cyprus Airways which has daily departures from London Heathrow to Larnaca.

Superbreak offers hotel airport packages for those who want a comfortable night before their flight.

A night's stay at the four star Sheraton Heathrow Hotel costs pounds 40.50 for one night, based on two people sharing. Call 01904 644455 or log on to www.superbreak.com

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The Tombs of the Kings is a network of underground tombs dating back to 400 BC. Ornately carved from limestone, these graves were used to bury high ranking officials rather than royals but got its name from the majestic nature of these mausoleums
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Geographic Code:4EXCY
Date:Feb 1, 2003
Words:1282
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