If the idea of a family villa holiday fills you with dread, fear not. At Aphrodite Hills in Cyprus, you can self-cater, be independent and enjoy the perks of a hotel – including a Roman spa treatment
The notion of a villa holiday conjures up images of long lazy afternoons by your own pool, relaxed evening barbecues watching the sun set and, of course, spending time with friends and family. However, the reality can often mean fraught discussions over whose turn it is to go to the supermarket, questions over where the last of the milk/bread/gin has disappeared to, and headaches for those not used to living in close proximity to children.
All is not lost, however. I believe I have found a perfect solution – the self-catering, hotel-esque holiday. At Aphrodite Hills, a resort 10 miles east of Paphos in Cyprus, you can combine the flexibility of a villa break with the luxury and pampering of a hotel stay.
Comprising a 290-room Intercontinental Hotel, a world-class spa, a nine-court tennis academy, an 18-hole championship golf course and more than 100 privately-owned villas, town houses and apartments that can be rented, Aphrodite Hills is a force to be reckoned with. My family and I took a three-bedroom apartment with use of a communal pool in one of the “villages” within the resort. It may have been a shared pool but the reality was that we were among only a handful of guests in the vicinity as it was the first week of the summer season. The peace and quiet was welcome – though the eerie perfection and cleanliness of the resort made it slightly reminiscent of The Prisoner.
To make sure we hadn’t fallen on to the set of the late-1960s spy series, we explored the bars, restaurants and facilities to check for signs of life. Thankfully, we found some. Within the Village Square, the centre of the resort, are the Anoi Pub and Bar, the Pithari Taverna (serving authentic Cypriot dishes in either mezze or à la carte style), Zimi Pizza and Pasta and L’Atelier, a chic al fresco French brasserie. Opposite this is the Clubhouse, the heart of the resort’s golfing community, with yet another restaurant overlooking the course, and The Retreat, an enormous spa that naturally has a restaurant too. Going hungry isn’t an option at Aphrodite Hills.
With its 27 treatment rooms, hydrotherapy rooms, couples’ massage suites and outdoor massage pavilions, The Retreat is a far cry from the small cluster of rooms tacked on to the edge of the gym so often found at resort hotels. I opted for the "thermae" experience, a detoxifying treatment dating back to Roman times which involves a journey through a series of heat rooms at progressively higher temperatures, interspersed with cooling showers and rooms full of ice shavings.
Initially, you feel extremely self-conscious as you are dropped off at the Laconium – a heated room with low humidity, where you are told to relax for 15 minutes. It's a strange concept, since "relaxing" for an allotted time tends to have the opposite effect. From there, you pass through to the steam-based Caldarium for another 15 minutes, then on to the Frigidarium for only a few minutes, thankfully. In this chilled room, you can choose to rub ice shavings into your limbs to stimulate circulation.
After this, the temperature is notched up in the Sauna, then it's into the steamy and surreal Hammam, with its colourful glass panels in the ceiling. By this point, you are unable to think for yourself. I found myself contemplating the possibility of spending the rest of my days wandering from room to room in a robe and slippers for specified amounts of time.
The final room is the Tepidarium – after a lukewarm shower – where you are encouraged to sleep for 20 minutes or so on heated stone beds. I woke up feeling relaxed and energised, but slightly at a loss as to what to do with no one to guide me on my 10-minute walk back to the apartment.
My lack of hand-eye co-ordination excused me from humiliating myself on the golf course or tennis courts, so I opted for an hour’s horse riding instead. Picked up from the apartment and whisked by 4x4 into the hills above the resort, I found myself on George’s Ranch where I rode Apache, my stunning former racehorse, through olive groves with panoramic views of the coastline and countryside.
Such are the facilities, you do not need to leave Aphrodite Hills – but on the third day, three of us hopped on board the shuttle bus to the Zias Beach Club – 20 minutes from the resort. Perhaps we had been pampered too much, but reality wasn’t up to much after the pristine comfort zone of the Aphrodite Hills. The pebbles, sea breeze and slightly unkempt air left us unimpressed – and after a quick drink, we hopped straight back on the shuttle bus and headed for the pool bar at the Intercontinental.
Had we become part of the Prisoner programme at the Aphrodite Hills? Perhaps, but it was a very pleasant place to be incarcerated… with not a large white bubble in sight.