Earlier this year, the kids and my mum packed our bags and flew out to enjoy the children's very first proper holiday abroad.
We travelled with James Villas, a holiday company that provides exclusive handpicked villa holidays in 12 countries, mostly across Europe but also in Egypt and Florida, in the U.S.
When James offered us the opportunity to enjoy and report back on one of their holidays, we jumped at the chance and selected to stay at a villa in Aphrodite Hills, Cyprus.
Mark was originally supposed to come with us but just days before the trip we heard that he'd finally got an appointment to treat an old ankle injury and the date clashed with our travel plans. We ummed and ahhed about what to do before I finally drafted in my mum, Maeve who was stunned and delighted to pack her bags with very little notice!
Cyprus is a small island nation in the Mediterranean Sea, just south of Turkey and south east of Greece, so these are the two main, historical influences on its culture. In fact, since 1974 the island has been segregated into the Greek influenced Republic of Cyprus in the south and the Turkish Cypriot Republic in the north. Its capital city, Nicosia is the only capital city in the world that’s split between two countries, although you can travel fairly easily between them.
Sun worshippers love Cyprus for the long hot summers, history buffs for the ancient ruins and military personnel might even have been posted at one of the two British bases there.
We headed to Aphrodite Hills, located in the southern Greek part of the country. Paphos is the nearest airport, 15 miles away and there are lots of flights available from airports all over the UK. You could take a cab or group transport out to the resort, but with a family you'll probably want to do what we did and rent a car for the duration of your stay. James can arrange this for you and you just collect it from the airport when you land.
We flew out in spring, which is a lovely time of year weather-wise. As you might know, summers in Cyprus can be scorching with temperatures up to around 40 degrees, but in April we enjoyed gently warm days between 20 and 25 degrees. There was rain forecast but it only drizzled for an hour at most. All in all, it was Goldilocks weather: not too hot, not too cold, just right.
Our stunning villa
One of the lovely things about staying in a villa at Aphrodite Hills as opposed to a hotel or a B&B is that it feels a lot more like home.
Our lounge had a flat screen TV and a DVD Player and all villas have Wi-Fi and come equipped with towels, hairdryers, toiletries and washing machine. And the bedrooms? Gorgeous, comfortable, well-stocked with robes, slippers, cushions, spare blankets and all the rest. The master bedroom even had its own small balcony and large ensuite bathroom. Housekeeping also popped in mid-week to freshen everything up.
Our villa was a fully equipped, two story detached house which meant we could really settle in during our stay. It was fully climate controlled (a/c can be all the more essential if you travel later into the summer) and it has everything you’d expect from home, including a well stocked kitchen with a dishwasher, microwave, hob, oven and fridge/freezer, plus a spacious dining area.
One of the benefits of villa living is that if you fancy a night in, you can cook your own meals in the kitchen or make use of the barbecue provided.
Aphrodite Hills village has a grocery shop so you can stock up on supplies but it's a bit expensive, so if you’ve got a car and you don’t mind a 10 minute drive, it’s worth stocking up at the Papantoniou Supermarket in Pissouri - it’s bigger than the on site grocery shop and much cheaper. You can also get in a little sightseeing as the drive takes you right past Aphrodite’s Rock.
Another pleasant benefit was that the electricity plugs are the same as in the UK, so we didn’t need to bring any converters.
At the back of the villa, the covered terrace opened up onto our beautiful, heated private pool which was the height of luxury. There was also a barbecue, sun loungers and a dining area which was perfect for warm evenings in the garden.
Remembering being out in the pool with the kids and my mum actually makes me a bit emotional - it was the most extraordinarily joyous experience and I would go back in a heartbeat.
Life on resort
If you're not already familiar with Aphrodite Hills, it's a large coastal holiday resort, named of course after Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty. It's located about five miles from ‘Petra Tou Romiou’ (Rock of the Greek, also known as Aphrodite’s Rock.) According to legend, this is the actual birthplace of Aphrodite and it is a striking rock formation just off the beach on a picturesque piece of the coastline.
Aphrodite Hills was recently voted the world’s best new resort, and I can't argue with that accolade! This really is a beautiful resort in a beautiful area - this is the view just yards from our villa.
Staying in a villa within the resort was great, as it felt private and secluded but we could walk to Aphrodite Hills in five minutes. This is a small village with a wide variety of shops, restaurants, spa retreat (do go, it's incredible), gym and play areas for the kids.
The proximity of the village meant we had a lovely and pretty rare combination of the privacy and isolation of the villa and the convenience of all that the resort had to offer. Let me tell you in more detail about the things we got up to on resort.
The Aphrodite Hills Golf Club Restaurant
One of our favourite on-resort meals was lunch courtesy of the James Villas team at the five-star Aphrodite Hills Golf Club Restaurant, which is named after the resort's championship golf course.
This bright, comfortable restaurant offers a delicious combination of traditional Cypriot dishes as well as a range of dishes inspired by classics from around Europe. They also offer a ‘Junior Golfers’ menu with child-friendly flavours and portion-sizes.
All the mains were delicious and perfectly seasoned, and as we ate, we soaked up the sunshine and enjoyed views of the 18th green. The golf course is a beautiful combination of the natural dry Cypriot landscape and the verdant, irrigated golf course.
It's a really luxurious experience, finished of perfectly with these mouthwatering desserts.
While mum took a dip in the pool one afternoon, I took the kids into the centre of the resort to play at the playground, then we lunched at the Zimi Trattoria, located right in the middle of Village Square.
This is an Italian restaurant with a really a nice selection of pasta, wood fired pizzas, savoury breads, and other mains and desserts.
It’s a lovely place for a simple meal with a glass of wine, and we very much enjoyed dining al fresco in the sun. So much so that we all returned for an excellent evening meal later in the week.
The Pithari Tavern is another great eatery based on the site. It's a traditional Cypriot tavern which serves a nice variety of Greek and Cypriot dishes.
They specialise in meze, a Cypriot culinary institution much like tapas, so we chose a couple of dips and grills from the wide selection as our starters. The meze dishes are generous, so we had to be careful not to overeat before our mains arrived.
Next, mum and I opted for a lovely halloumi pasta dish which provided the inspiration for a recipe I cooked in our villa later that week. I'll share it will you later this week.
Meanwhile, the kids opted for fish and chips, perhaps missing home comforts just a touch, and were not disappointed.
Mum and I were too full for dessert, but the kids put their ice creams away nicely.
I definitely recommend the Pithari Tavern. Every dish was tasty, well-balanced and filling. With the evening setting in and attentive, friendly staff, there was a lovely atmosphere to the meal.
The playground and Kid's Club
The sandy-floored playground was a big favourite with the kids. We visited every day and it gave mum and I the chance to relax a bit as the kids played.
The playground offers plenty of places to climb, slide and play for both younger and older kids.
And both Miss J and JD were brave enough to take on the zip wire, although I wasn't!
A couple of times during our stay, we also took advantage of the Aphrodite Hills Kids’ Club.
If you want a break, you could leave the kids all morning / afternoon if you wanted, collecting them for meals. There are a huge number of activities like arts and crafts, sports like football, water games and talent shows. The activities are divided into age groups so that there’s something suitable for all kids.
The kids’ club is for children over three; however there is also a crèche for younger children.
Miss J and JD loved the staff although I must confess as they're fairly young and we wanted to spend time with them, they only went for an hour each time and we stayed nearby. They probably would've been happy staying all day though, as they loved the staff and had great fun.
Aphrodite Hills Horse Riding School
If you stay at Aprodite Hills, you simply must book a session or two at the riding school.
The scenery is breathtaking on the bumpy drive up the hills in the school's 4x4, and once you arrive, you'll be beautifully looked after Patricia and her team.
Kids and adults can learn to ride the well-cared for horses and ponies. JD and Miss J were quite nervous about riding a horse for the first time, but in the care of the instructors, they couldn't wait to get on, and still describe this as one of their most treasured memories of the holiday.
As well as riding, the kids also learned about feeding, grooming and looking after the horses. Suffice to say, they've been nagging me about starting regular lessons in the UK ever since.
We had such a gorgeous time at Aphrodite Hills, we could have easily stayed there and not ventured off-resort at all. But of course, we couldn't visit Cyrpus without exploring what the country has to offer. Come back on Wednesday, when I'll be sharing our adventures in Paphos, Pissouri and beyond.
We visited Aphrodite Hills on a press trip as guests of James Villas.