I remember back in 1998 when I was living in Los Angeles and first told my boss that I would be vacationing in the country of Cyprus, he responded, “Where the heck is Cyprus?”
This was my first thought as well when my husband (then boyfriend) offered to whisk me away to this paradise. For this world traveler, Cyprus was a place I knew nothing about.
Now, years later I live here, and I’ve seen this tiny island nation – located in the Eastern Mediterranean, just east of Greece and south of Turkey —grow into a popular hotspot for big name Hollywood A-listers.
Silver screen stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones are just some of the big names that have all vacationed here, along with crooners Elton John, Diana Ross and Rod Stewart. Actor John Malkovich was recently seen preparing for a performance of the play “The Infernal Comedy: Confessions of a Serial Killer” on Sept. 17.
Cyprus Tourism spokeswoman Antigoni Louca says stars come for the "year-round sun, our hospitality and our history."
The island’s capital- Nicosia – was originally surrounded by walls built by the Venetians some centuries ago and which are still preserved to this day, and the Old Town is a living museum.
You can still stroll through the meandering streets and visit houses built in the last century until you come to a barrier called the Green line that divides Greek Cypriots living in the south and Turkish Cypriots living in the north, the last divided capital in the world.
So where do the star studded celebs go when they are here?
A popular destination is the town of Paphos, an ancient kingdom and mythical birthplace of the goddess Aphrodite.
Most stars stay at the Anassa Hotel, a five-star luxury hideaway. Designed by San Francisco-based architect Sandy Babcock, it’s a haven of relaxation and privacy. The hotel itself can only be seen in its full glory from the sea and has the cleanest waters on the island due in part to its proximity to the Akamas peninsula, a national preserve that still remains largely untouched by modern development.
Sir Paul McCartney recently stayed at the hotel along with girlfriend Nancy Shevell and daughter Beatrice. Emma Thompson, Mr. and Mrs. Simon LeBon and Prince Albert of Monaco are some of the other big names that have chosen to stay at this luxury resort. Rod Stewart was also seen celebrating the bi-centennial birthday of British billionaire Phillip Green.
Natasha Michaelides, spokeswoman for the Anassa, says celebrities like the property's privacy.
"The hotel is set in one of the most beautiful, if not secluded, parts of the island, it has its own private beach, and its very own signature restaurant with a gourmet menu that serves only 20 people”
One wonders if star chef Gordon Ramsey, who also stayed there, had anything to say about the menu.
As exclusive as it sounds, the hotel is open to everyone. But expect to pay more than average, prices start at about $680 for a room per night and can run up to $6,800 for the “Alexandros Residence” which is a stand alone villa, breakfast buffet included of course.
Another celebrity hotspot is the beachside town of Limassol, where stars such as Sex and the City’s Kim Catrall and singer Mariah Carey flock to the Columbia Beach Resort, located just outside the city in secluded Pissouri Bay.
Britain's Prince Harry was also spotted in one of the resort’s restaurants while on military dive training on the island. The prince, an expert diver, has spent some time enjoying the view of shipwrecks and ancient artifacts still embedded on the sea floor.
Prices start at about $260 and can go up to $2,000 for a suite (no standard rooms here)
The Londa Hotel, in the center of town, is another hotspot where celebrities and well- known politicians stay. This trendy boutique hotel has the best spa on the island and serves up the most delicious breakfast buffet you can imagine. The hotel is also a favorite among Greek celebrities.
Rooms are all suites and can range from a very affordable $150 to more than $80 per night.
Although Limassol is well-known for its luxurious beachfront hotels, international restaurants, such as the Caprice Restaurant at the Londa Hotel and the Mavromatis Greek Gourmet Restaurant at the Four Seasons, you will find a good number of tavernas that serve a wonderful array of Cypriot delicacies. Locals always suggest the “meze” which is a sampling of 20-30 dishes all in one sitting.
The town also lays claim to the largest marina in Cyprus where most yachts are berthed. Think Monaco on a much friendlier but smaller scale.
Home Away from Home
Some celebrities prefer a more private setting and choose to literally make Cyprus their home-away-from-home. George Michael and Shakira reportedly own their own villas on the Island close to the town of Paphos.
In the last several years there has been an increase in property developments throughout the Island and many people from abroad continue to purchase villas or holiday homes as an investment. But many of these people, Europeans mostly, have decided to call Cyprus home.
Beachside homes can go from anywhere between $200,000 for an apartment to as much as $6,000,000 for a villa overlooking the sea.
Not a Celebrity?
During the summer months, the island’s beaches are full, but even in the later months of September and October, many of the locals usually head down to the beachside towns of Ayia Napa (once known as the capital of Europe’s club scene) and Protaras.
Along with the influx of tourists, (Cyprus is visited by 2.5 million tourists each year, three-times the size of its population) these towns become the best places just to have fun, like Greece’s Mykonos but on a smaller scale.
While Cyprus is best known for its sandy beaches, crystal clear Mediterranean waters and parties that can go on till the break of dawn, one of the best experiences I had was visiting the mountain villages where you can still see churches many centuries old in pristine condition.
Not only can you immerse yourself in the local culture but you can also meet many of the local residents who I have found to be quite charming and most welcoming. These villages hail from a bygone era, a living history that is no longer found in other parts of the world.
For this big city, L.A. girl, it was love at first sight. I knew I wanted to live here the minute I landed.
Shemaine Bushnell is a freelance journalist based inNicosia, Cyprus.