Fancy a holiday with a difference? Opt for your own country-wide tri like Rachael Woolston did on her five day break to the island of Cyprus.
As I held on to the side of the swimming pool, our instructor leaned over the side with a slight smile. “You know, Olympic swimmers swim over 250km a week as part of their training.”
Breathing heavily, I was pretty sure I was not the only one in our group who felt rather unfit having only managed six lengths. Then again, few hotels in Europe offer an Olympic standard 50 metre outdoor swimming pool like the Coral Beach Hotel and Resort in Cyprus. Built for the GB Olympic team in 2004, the hotel was the team’s base while training and competing at the Athens Olympics, and continues to attract both professional and recreational athletes from around the world.
I was visiting as part of a short holiday break with six other fitness journalists to see what the island has to offer those who prefer an active holiday as opposed to a beach flop break. And so far it was shaping up brilliantly.
Perhaps it was being in close proximity to the German Paralympic team who were training in the lane next to us, but within an hour of swim training I felt smoother and sleeker in the water. This was no doubt helped by the extra 30 metres compared to my local pool, which gives you time to get into your stroke and breathing, not to mention the fact that there is no one snapping at your heels to get past or kicking bubbles in your face in front. The pool is also heated to 25-28 degrees Celsius and is two meters deep along its length to prevent drag, ensuring optimum training conditions.
We were being put through our swimming strokes by the hotel’s sports supervisor, Jason Smith, who also offers personal training services at £40 per hour to hotel guests. But the big draw for the seriously sporty is the pool where you can make use of the underground viewing windows and cameras to perfect your technique.
However, the 10 lane pool is only open to swimming clubs in the winter (lanes cost 50Euros for two hours) but does open to the rest of the hotel guests in the summer. Not that you miss out because there is another spectacular resort pool, not to mention four tennis courts, a squash court, gym and spa.
In fact, the mix of facilities means the hotel attracts a varied clientèle. When we were there, we rubbed shoulders with couples and families enjoying a spring break, alongside sporty athletes who roamed the corridor in trainers and tracksuit. Offering an all inclusive option with delicious buffet, it would be easy to spend a week here, combined with day trips to explore nearby Paphos or the spectacular Akamas Nature Reserve where you can finish a walk with a delicious fish meze overlooking the sea at the marvellous restaurant, Ayios Georgio’s in Piyas. But that would mean missing out on the activities the rest of the country has to offer, not to mention the opportunity to learn from the ex-professional athletes who have made Cyprus their home.
This includes Swiss cyclist and ex-Tour de France professional, Thomas Wegmüller, who provides everything from half day to seven-day tours of Cyprus for novice and serious cyclists alike. He has a base at the seriously spectacular five star Columbia Beachotel in Pissouri Bay. Or, he can meet you with hire bikes as he did our group in a car park in the Troödos Mountains in the north west of the island, where he kitted us out with mountain bikes, helmets and waterproof jackets (note to self, it is much cooler in the mountains).
Having done downhill biking in the Alps, I was the most experienced cyclist in my group, and a few of us had not been on a bike in a while. But Thomas took it all in his cycle stride, leading us off road to show us an entirely different side of the country.
After a day in the pool, it felt like I was on my own country-wide ‘wild’ triathlon as we climbed through mountain trails. Compared to the more tourist-heavy coastline, it was a different country here with pretty mountain villages which tumbled down the hillsides, dotted with wild flowers and the gnarled vines of local vineyards.
Stopping for a break we enjoyed local Cypriot coffee, as thick and black as treacle, with homemade Cypriot Delight, studded with slices of almond. Much the same as you are never far from a professional sports person in Cyprus (even the boxer David Haye has a training base here) you are also never more than a bread roll throw away from delicious food.
After burning off our caffeine buzz with another couple of hours in the saddle, splashing through streams across the trails we ended our half day bike tour at the quaint village of Omodos, the centre of wine making in the Limassol region. Picturesque with narrow alleyways, it has dozens of little village shops selling everything from mountain honey to dried fruit.
It is very hard to resist the delicious food on offer in Cyprus, and extremely easy to peak too early, gorging on homemade dips of tahini, taramasalata and tzatziki, along with plump black olives and delicious bread. I was already full when this was followed with sesame and honey covered halloumi, calamari, mousakka and plates piled with lamb kebabs, grilled chicken and more. Still, I could not resist finishing off with a piece of Kalo Brama, a traditional honey cake made with almonds, polenta and rose water which tends to be served after every meal and reflects the country’s close proximity to the Middle East.
After lunch we said goodbye to Thomas, and headed back to our second hotel stop, Aphrodite Hills to enjoy a Thermae Spa Experience at their spa, the perfect way to recover from sport with its mix of saunas, ice-cool rooms and steam rooms. Whether you are after an active break or simply a break from home, the Aphrodite Hills offers something for all, with a golf course, Annabel Croft Tennis Academy, and a number of stunning swimming pools, not to mention the spa. This had left me in the perfect condition for the third leg of my own DIY holiday triathlon – the run.
Running is my sport, the more off road and scenic the better and Cyprus certainly offers this. The country is criss-crossed with 97 hiking paths covering over 1000km, all sign posted so you don’t even need a map or guide. Eager to run off my meze belly before breakfast the next morning, I headed out of the hotel gates to the Petra Tou Romiou nature trail. Translated, the name means ‘The Rock of the Greek,’ and relates to a rock off the coast where the goddess Aphrodite is believed to have risen from the waves.
As I set off along the chalk path, the sun was just beginning to rise throwing dappled sunlight over the rocky headland covered in gorse and wild flowers that bobbed their sunshine yellow heads in the light April breeze. With the country’s many five star hotel resorts, it is easy to feel that the coast is only inhabited by tourists, but this early in the morning the hills were alive with local hunters, their smiling faces wrinkled and brown from the sun as their dogs excitedly bounded through the gorse in search of hares.
As the sun warmed my face, the trail wound up and down bypassing clumps of wild artichoke and thyme and I felt like I could run forever. There is a saying here that if you swim around the rock of Aphrodite three times it will bestow eternal youth. Who knows whether the mythology is true, but what I do know is that after my five day wild triathlon, complemented with amazing places to stay and eat, I felt a decade younger. Now, I just need to return and work off my tummy meze top.
Rachael Woolston is a lifestyle journalist and the director of FitBitch Boot Camps and Running Club. www.fitbitchbootcamp.com
How to build your own triathlon holiday
Getting there and around:
Cyprus Airways fly direct from London Heathrow to Larnaca from £235 per person. Hire a car from £62.22 per day from
At the Coral Beach Hotel & Resort from £39 per person including bed and breakfast, which includes gym activities but not the Olympic pool.
Stay at the Columbia Beachotel from 298 Euros per room per night including B&B, and take the EasyBikeTour (230 Euros) including three guided tours and bike hire for seven days www.columbia-hotels.com.
Or stay elsewhere and arrange a meeting for a day’s tour (55 Euros) plus transport costs.
Run & Recover
Stay at Hotel Aphrodite from £205 per room per night including B&B, with a Spa Thermae Experience (45 Euros)
TIPS FROM THE PROFESSIONALS
“If you windmill your arms as you swim it fatigues the small muscles in your shoulders. Instead, your hand should enter the water like a blade and as you bring it out of the water, imagine that you are doing up a zip along your side.”
Jason Smith, sports supervisor Coral Beach Hotel & Resort
“To set up the correct seat height, balance against a wall and ensure the heel of both feet are touching the back of the pedal. If you can maintain contact with the pedals as you pedal backwards with legs straight, the height is correct.”
Thomas Wegmuller, ex pro-cyclist
“Try to land on the mid or fore foot rather than the heel. This allows you to spend less contact with the floor and creates a more efficient runner.”
Jason Smith, sports supervisor Coral Beach Hotel & Resort