10 reasons why our half-term break in Cyprus was worth the pre-holiday hassle

Sasha Slater
·8-min read
Goodbye rainy London, hello Cyprus
Goodbye rainy London, hello Cyprus

No one can underestimate the number and complexity of hoops you have to jump through to escape our shores in 2020. 

The days of a spontaneous last-minute jaunt to Paris, Rome or, perish the thought, New York, have gone. In their stead are fiendishly expensive swab tests and panicky waits for long-delayed virus results. One hotel we were booked into had to close after 13 of the kitchen staff tested positive – at that point, it really looked as though the gods were against us.

Weirdly, the Twitter page of Grant Shapps has become a must-watch. The Secretary of State for Transport chooses Thursday afternoons to announce new quarantine-free air bridges to some locations, and to revoke them for others. Hitting the ‘refresh’ button has become essential for anyone (like me) who is desperate to get away.

One of the few remaining air bridges – they are as flimsy as they sound – is currently to Cyprus. Our extravagant plans for 2020 family holidays to India, Norway, France and Italy have all fallen through, but Cyprus has kept on trucking long enough for us to get out here for the tail end of the season. 

And, I have to say, despite the stress and cost, it has been worth it. Here’s why:

1. It feels normal

Unlike increasingly eerie England, Paphos – the ancient capital of the west of the island – is getting on with life. As now feels pretty standard, you wear masks in public indoors unless you’re eating or drinking. But we can all cope with that. Otherwise, people are relaxing in bars, serving in shops, and tooling their speedboats to and fro as though nothing had changed. I’m not a lover of European disco but sitting in the dark on the seafront watching a laser light display from a little shoreside bar while its thumping R&B drifted across towards us as we sipped a glass of wine was a surprising, nostalgic joy.

2. It feels safe

Because we had to go through the hell of testing before we set off, we knew that everyone on the Sunday-morning flight had a clean bill of health. The EasyJet staff did a fairly meticulous check of our multiple certificates at Gatwick, and then again at Paphos airport we were double-checked by someone wearing full PPE – perhaps for effect. In any event, you’d be unlikely to pick up anything nasty from a fellow guest at the hotel, or anyone on the plane. The staff at Annabelle, the five-star resort hotel where we are staying, are all very dutiful in mask-wearing and sanitising. Even the remote control in the room comes in its own plastic bag. 

3. It’s hot

I mean, properly hot. When we left London, the forecast was for seven days of icy mizzle. So to touch down in 30C with not a cloud in the sky was sheer joy. Cyprus basks in 300 sunny days a year but the friendly receptionist at Annabelle (15 minutes from the airport – the dream transfer) said this autumn is surprisingly toasty even for Cyprus. 

Cyprus is one of our last holiday options - Getty
Cyprus is one of our last holiday options - Getty

4. We’ll never forget it

2020 has been a horror. Far too many people have died. Even more have lost their jobs. And the future is looking anything but rosy. Fear, illness and sorrow have left their mark on the past few months. And even for those of us who have so far been lucky enough not to lose a loved one or their livelihood, it’s been difficult. Day after day of not seeing friends, not sending the children to school, not going out, not living anything like a normal life, turned the early part of the year into a claggy porridge where there was no telling a Saturday from a Tuesday, or April from June. And in this grey sameness this one solitary week of sunshine and snorkelling will stand out in technicolour. It’s like we’ve flown from Kansas to Oz. 

5. The food’s different

Let’s face it, even I’m sick of my own cooking. My daughter decided to become a vegan during lockdown just to avoid eating any more of my wholesome stews. So to sit at breakfast and have a nice waiter ask you whether you’ll be having supper on the rooftop cocktail bar, Ouranos, or perhaps at Mediterraneo, the beachside Italian, or perhaps Amorosa, the fine-dining option, or the more straightforwardly kid-friendly Fontana, is bliss. Plus, if you want to get all adventurous, the Annabelle’s sister hotel, Almyra, just down the road, has a fusion Japanese that is apparently the place to eat in Paphos. 

An indoor pool at Annabelle
An indoor pool at Annabelle

6. You can get to grips with nature

Yes, much was said about the delights of reconnecting with the great outdoors during lockdown. But when you live five minutes from King’s Cross Station, there really isn’t that much nature to enjoy. We have a small garden, and it was nice to see the odd butterfly and bee take an interest in our lavender, but other than that we’re really dependent on foxes and pigeons for our exciting nature notes. Not so in Paphos where we bought a couple of snorkels and stepped straight out of the hotel and into the pristine bay to see shoals of fish that looked suspiciously similar to the ones we ate in the fritto misto at Mediterraneo. I mean, there are turtles hanging out just a few rocks along from last night’s disco bar. You want nature? This is the place.

7. It shakes the family up

We’ve got into an ugly groove at home. Too much working after dinner, too much squabbling over what to watch (currently a battle between Emily In Paris, Schitt’s Creek and old reruns of Seinfeld), and too much bickering among and between the generations is bad for everyone. The old joys of a family escape feel that much more necessary all of a sudden. And now instead of arguing about who hid the remote, my daughter’s actually asking me to play Racing Demon with her before supper.  

8. Someone else is organising it

I’m not normally one for a tour operator but these days you’d be completely mad not to rely on one. When it looked as though Cyprus would be canned as a quarantine-free option, Scott Dunn immediately pivoted to a conversation about mainland Greece instead. Plus they’re much more up to speed with all the forms you need to fill in and the regulations. And frankly, when all I managed as a family holiday was 30 hours with my son in the countryside around Toulouse before Shapps closed that little air bridge, I have lost my faith in my own organisational abilities. Bring on the professionals. 

There's underwater worlds to explore - Getty
There's underwater worlds to explore - Getty

9. It’s surprisingly sociable

Because Cyprus is one of the tiny small number of places around the whole world that you’re allowed to visit without locking yourself in your home for two weeks afterwards in penance, it’s full of breezy Brits absolutely thrilled to be there. Everyone is almost absurdly friendly and smiley. You’d expect that from the staff, even though they’re rushed off their feet compared with a normal year, but you wouldn’t expect it of the fellow guests. But here we are, all grinning at each other in sheer joy. I haven’t even seen anyone bagging anyone else’s poolside sunbed. 

10. You get to look like a new you

I’m not talking about the tan – though there are some extremely impressive mahogany offerings on show among the long-stay guests. I’m talking about the summer wardrobe which no one expected a chance to have another wear out of this year. I’d put away all my floaty summer dresses and pool wraps. My feet – which had retreated into trainers and boots – are timidly embracing flip-flops and Birkenstocks. Just at the moment, I’m wearing slippers with pom-poms on. I even brought a load of silly colourful beach-bought jewellery I would never wear in a normal year, even on holiday. What the hell. I’m grasping every change of scene as a chance to crack open a new flamboyant print. If this grim year has taught us anything, it’s that we need to get our pleasures where we can. 

Annabelle
Annabelle

Rates at Annabelle start from €186 (£168) per night based on two sharing an Inland View Room on a B&B basis. See www.annabelle.com.cy.

Scott Dunn offers a seven-night stay at Almyra, Cyprus, from £7,600 for a family of two adults and two children staying in a Junior Suite during October half term. This includes accommodation on a B&B basis, EasyJet flights from London Gatwick and private transfers. For more information visit www.scottdunn.com or call 020 8682 5040.