Mediterranean terrain, toasty autumn sun, the slow rural rhythm: I have to admit, it was hard not to confuse Kalavasos with Calabasas, the once placid place where I grew up in Southern California. But, no relation: the former is a tiny village (population: 721) in Cyprus, conveniently located a 30-minute drive from both the frenetic capital, Nicosia, and sparkling Larnaca International Airport. And, while firmly within the boundaries of the Republic of Cyprus (the two-thirds of this prosperous European Union-member nation not occupied by Turkey), Kalavasos boasts an ages-old minaret decked out in crescent moons and Stars of David – as good an introduction as any to the surprises that await travelers to Cyprus.
Another is The Library Hotel (www.libraryhotelcyprus.com) a very new and affordably posh literary hotel and spa that gives reason to linger in sun-kissed Kalavasos. It’s situated in a refurbished 19th-century stone mansion behind the village square and across from a pretty Greek Orthodox church. The literary dimension is a reflection of the eclectic tastes of affable owner Savvas Varnavides, who is as passionate about world literature and philosophy as he is about his island homeland, and extends from the inviting lobby – which doubles as a library – to the 11 guestrooms, each of which is named for a different poet or author with stylistic touches to match. These could be as simple as the placement of a book of Constantine Kavafis’ succulent poetry in his eponymous room, or, as with the Oscar Wilde Suite, a whole look. It’s all done tastefully, with high wood-beamed ceilings, parquet and mosaic floors, and immaculate marble bathrooms with fragrant French Damana amenities throughout.
Opposite the library-lobby there’s the Mitos Mediterranean Restaurant, which will give you the opportunity to sample (among many other things) halloumi, the traditional cheese of Cyprus that’s made from sheep’s milk and spiked with mint. Served grilled in a salad or on its own, drizzled with local olive oil, it’s delicious to the point of addictive. On any given night, you’ll find a mix of hotel guests and Cypriot hipsters from Nicosia and Larnaca chowing down here, capping off their meals with a glass of sweet Commmandaria, the island’s signature wine. Mitos’ kitchen also prepares hot breakfast, which like lunch and dinner can be enjoyed inside or on the hotel’s spacious inner sun veranda.
Then there’s the spa: called the Potamonde Wellness Baths and based on ancient Greek bathing techniques, this sanctuary features both an herbal steam bath and mud steam bath, in which first shots of herb-infused hot vapor fill the steam room with spring aromas, followed by a gentle application of natural mud earths on the skin (say goodbye to your jetlag with that one). There’s also a range of body and facial treatments, using a great product line called Neoderma that’s made in Cyprus.
Aside from the hotel, there isn’t much going on in sleepy Kalavasos, but that makes it a nice place to come back to after exploring ancient sites in the vicinity. The astounding Neolithic ruins of Chirokitia, which date back some 10,000 years, are very close by, while a slightly longer drive (about half an hour) takes you to the evocative archaeological site of ancient Amathus, with its temple to Aphrodite high on a hill. Beyond that is Kourion, with its ancient mosaics and Greco-Roman amphitheater overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Room rates starting at just 90 euros per night, including a full Cypriot breakfast, make The Library Hotel an exceptional place to base and pamper yourself while working in visits to the island’s major sights.