A glistening fishing village on Cyprus’ southern coast, Ayia Napa shimmers with white powder-soft sand, turquoise water and a mix of cosmopolitan travellers from both east and west.
Once a hot spot for British and Russian party animals, it has settled down and reinvented itself as a well-conceived mix of sophisticated restaurants and bars that cater to the more refined tourist. Too many of the best Mediterranean holiday spots have atrocious food and overpriced British-style restaurants, so Ayia Napa is a relief for those who want to taste the best that the fertile soil and sea have to offer.
Give us this Day our Daily Catch
Ayia means ‘holy’ in Greek, so take the same reverential approach to your adventure and check out the ancient monastery. This Venetian 16th century wonder has rambling vines, stone courtyard and famous fountain. As the twilight begins to arch over the harbour in a long golden curve, this is the best time of day to scout around the harbour. You can see men hauling in their daily catch as you walk around.
Walking around the harbour, you will work up an appetite. This is when a traditional Ayia Napa speciality really hits the spot – pop into the ‘Acuna’ snack bar for their famous bacon and haloumi sandwiches. Haloumi is a Cypriot cheese made from sheep’s milk that grills wonderfully, with a flaky, fishy texture and smoky flavour. It perfectly complements the bacon and is livened up with slices of cucumber. This balance of salty, smoky, creamy and fresh flavours makes this lunchtime treat the perfect combination of comfort food and local speciality.
Hook into a Seafood Shanty
A spectacular (and affordable) fish supper is never hard to find in Ayia Napa, as the fish comes fresh off the harbour’s boats every day. Locals’ favourite seafood restaurants include: Isaac Taverna, Markos Taverna, Esperia Restaurant, Ocean Basket, Vassos Fish Taverna and Limanaki Taverna.
Get Ready for a Katakylsmos
Every summer, Ayia Napa plays host to the Katakylsmos Festival of the Flood. Held during Pentecost (late May to early June), it is a jubilant and exhilarating celebration of life featuring popular local and international artists in performance, dancing, fireworks and street processions. Traditional culture is prominent at the festival – don’t miss the popular competition that sees locals face off with rhyming songs in the Cypriot dialect.
Katakylsmos also showcases mouth-watering and tasty local produce at stalls and shops throughout the village. Grab lunch in the sun-kissed streets as local seafood and organic vegetables are grilled at a stall, right before your eyes.
Cypriot Wine Is Wonderfully Surprising
While Cypriot wine isn’t often uttered in the same breath as Italian, French or Californian wine, the island boasts a robust local and export industry. Wine lovers will find a wealth of great reds and whites, including fantastic vintages, that have been grown and harvested in the same traditional way since before the birth of Christ.
Ayia Napa has worked hard to shake its legendary reputation as ‘party central’, maturing into a food and wine lovers’ paradise. It’s a magical place that’s much better savoured at a slow and sensual pace.
Author’s Bio: Gemma Stone is a traveller from South Africa who recently returned from a year-long back-packing trip. She is now based in London and writes about finding great budget holidays.