Once the neglected coast of Cyprus, Paphos has mushroomed in recent years into a major tourist resort. But behind the tourist developments are ancient archaeological sights that have been well excavated and faithfully restored.
The remains of the ancient city of Nea Paphos, founded in the 4th century BC, is sited to the west of the harbour and offers a whole day of delightful exploration with well-marked paths through the ruins and wooden walkways across some remarkably well-preserved floor mosaics.
Other attractions in the Pafos area include the Akamas wilderness, a must for experienced walkers and trekkers. This part of Paphos is completely undeveloped and ideal for getting away from the tourist crowds in the south.
The north coast too, offers notable attractions with the Baths of Aphrodite on almost every Paphos tour itinerary.
Nea Paphos ruins
The ancient city of Nea Paphos, founded in the 4th century BC, sat on the bluff to the west of modern Paphos Town overlooking the sea. Various archaeological sites are dotted around the cliffs and the around modern city itself. All are well signposted and well marked.
Nea Paphos was a strategic outpost for seven centuries until it was ravaged by earthquakes and its significance declined. The main archaeological sites are the Paphos Mosaics and Tombs of the Kings (both described below). But also of note are the Agora, Asklipieon and Odeion near the lighthouse on the headland. The semi-circular Odeion theater was restored in 1970.
Also near the mosaics' site are the remains of the medieval Saranta Kolones Fortress, now reduced to a few unimpressive archways. There is a fairly boring tomb complex at the Christian Catacombs where the ghostly frescoes are just visible and some underground burial chambers at Agios Lambrianos, notable for their size more than anything else.
A fairly extensive site is still being excavated at the 4th century Hyropolitissa Basilica where St Paul's Pillar can be found, so-called as he is reputed to have been tied to it before being whip-lashed by the local Roman governor for his religious teaching.
Ano Paphos mosaics
One of the most popular attractions is the impressive collection of well preserved and colourful mosaics found in Kato Pafos. The mosaics were unearthed in 1962, completely by accident, as the large site was being leveled.
Extensive mosaics — mostly Roman — decorated the homes of wealthy inhabitants, particularly in the House of Dionysus (named after the god not the occupant). There are 34 rooms in total with a striking variety of mosaics in many of them.
Unfortunately they don't look so good in the dry, dusty atmosphere so the colours in the guides are brighter than you are likely to see. But a set of wooden gantries over the mosaics allows good overhead views.
There are more mosaics in the rebuilt villa of Theseus and in the House of Aion. If you want to view all the mosaics properly allow yourself at least two hours.
Tombs of the Kings
Only they weren't kings, just local notables — but it doesn't stop making this one of the most popular attractions in Pafos. The sprawling World Heritage Site is located on a rocky ledge overlooking the sea on the edge of Paphos town.
The impressive underground tombs were used from 300BC to 300AD and, though scattered over a wide area, they are all are accessible to the public. The most impressive is No 3, recently restored, with an underground atrium enclosed by Doric columns. Niches in the walls are where the bodies were placed.
Most of the treasures have been snaffled by grave robbers — and the 19th century American consul of Larnaka who looted the best of them.
It's a good idea to get there early to avoid the heat and the crowds and to allow at least two hours for a good look around.
The horn-shaped piece of land north of Lara Bay is one of Cyprus's last remaining wilderness areas. This is largely thanks, if that's quite the right word, to British commandos who used the Akamas Peninsula as a firing range for many years.
Its relative remoteness and the lack of roads have also kept the crowds away. It is now a favourite target for hikers and there are four major hiking trails that run through the northern part of the region.
If you like walking see Foxy's guide to Akamas Hiking for the Aphrodite, Smigies and Adonis Trails. The area is also a major attraction for botanists with more than 600 plant species, 35 of them found only here.
Two roads (B7 and E709) run from Pafos City on the south coast over the hills to Polis on the north. Both routes skirt the Akamas peninsula and pass through or around a series of attractive hill villages, known for their cooler climates and wine growing.
Kathikas on the E709 north of Coral Bay is known for its fine vineyards and good restaurants. Further north, just off the B7 are Pano Akourdalia and Kato Akourdalia, both picturesque villages with accommodation and restaurants.
Staying north on the E709 brings you to the popular villages of Inia and Dhroussia with wonderful views and small tavernas.
Baths of Aphrodite
On the north coast of the Paphos region is the island's much advertised Baths of Aphrodite which sound rather grand but turn out to be less appealing on closer inspection.
This is reputed to be the spot where the famous beauty Aphrodite arose naked from the sea (á la Botticelli) to found an Cyprus island cult that is still, somewhat surprisingly, in existence today.
The baths turns out be a rock pool fed by a small waterfall and not much else. Dense greenery surrounds the pool that has become an essential on day trip itineraries.
Apart from the refreshing sight of cool pool shade on a hot summer's say there is little to recommend. Even more disappointing is to find that public bathing is forbidden anyway.
A well-marked trail leads to it from the large car and coach park on the main road.