With its family-friendly resorts, 59 Blue Flag beaches and plentiful natural and historical wonders, Cyprus is big on selling power. Karl Cushing and a group of agents learn more on a Monarch fam trip to the island.
"Ooh it’s just like Baileys," coos one agent, proving her tried and tested sales techniques haven’t slipped as she makes the free slurp of donkey milk liquor sound appealing.
Suitably convinced I’m soon swigging it down, chased by free nibbles of donkey milk chocolate. Meanwhile, agents channel their inner Cleopatras as they empty the gift shop of asses’ milk cosmetics.
Such is the retail frenzy it almost eclipses the morning’s “Brian McFadden watch” – agents swap torrid tales of chance sightings of the former Westlife member, who it transpires is staying in our hotel, as they bustle excitedly onto the coach.
Donkeys and boybands aside, the main objective of our four-night fam with Monarch is to showcase the operator’s Cyprus programme, backed by year-round flights from Birmingham to Larnaca, a seasonal Luton-Larnaca service and seasonal Paphos services from Birmingham and Gatwick.
Check in at Birmingham is smooth as silk as we road test Monarch’s fast-track passes for passport control. While onboard space proves limited for us larger ones, the trip flies by and all comment on the friendly crew and comfy leather-style seats.
Touching down in Larnaca the group, comprising nine agents, yours truly and our hosts Kirsty Bachelor, Jade Cummings and Claire Towers from Monarch, is soon hotfooting it to south-westerly Paphos for three nights at the four-star Athena Beach Hotel.
Part of Constantinou Bros’ hotel portfolio, it stays open over winter (unlike its siblings), appealing to value-hunting snow fans and groups focused on activities such as bridge and bowls.
Other selling points of Athena Beach include its all-inclusive “Premium” package, affordable weddings and free upgrades on Monarch bookings. Some investment is also forthcoming, with work already under way at neighbouring, adult-only Athena Royal Beach, which reopens this month with a new top floor containing 41 rooms.
Plus, agents can bag a free week’s B&B stay at its five-star, adult-only sister property Asimina Suites by booking three sales at Constantinou hotels.
As the southernmost island in the eastern Med, Cyprus enjoys a long summer season and its resorts can deliver five to six hours of sunshine a day even in winter, despite our first few being graced with unseasonally chilly rainstorms.
On a more positive note Paphos is the European Capital of Culture for 2017 and has active options aplenty, from the handy coastal path to local golf courses, year-round diving and hiking in the nearby Troodos Mountains and Akamas Peninsula.
Our first full day kicks off with trips to Paphos Archaeological Park and the Tombs of the Kings. Another day sees us swing south to Petra tou Romiou, legendary birthplace of Aphrodite, en route to Kourion with its famous amphitheatre.
Absorbing so much history works up a thirst so we arrive well primed for our wine tasting at Zampartas Winery and subsequent slap-up taverna lunch in the old wine-producing village of Omodos.
Food proves a highlight throughout the trip, with no shortage of multi-dish feasts. The prize for most interactive though must go to the dance-filled Greek night at Thanasis Place in Kouklia Village. Our wily hosts drag us up at will for some frenetic audience participation.
Swinging north we visit the Baths of Aphrodite near Latchi, briefly taking in nearby Polis en route to capital Nicosia for an interesting city tour. Other resorts we touch upon include Protaras, Fig Tree Bay being one of Cyprus’ best beaches; Ayia Napa, eerily quiet out of season; and Pissouri.
For our final night we upgrade to the Amathus Beach Hotel in Limassol where we tour the reinvigorated old town, castle area and marina before an indulgent group dinner at the hotel whose clean, fresh look defies its advanced age. Then, if bed was calling, cocktails and dancing at Gin Fish in the Marina call louder.
When asked if they will recommend Cyprus and Monarch, agents’ answers vary from “yes” and “most definitely” to “absolutely”, with one answering “coming home” to the queston of what she disliked most about the trip. Which just leaves the conundrum of how to avoid excess baggage with all our donkey milk products.
Book it: Monarch has seven nights’ B&B at the four-star Constantinou Bros Athena Beach Hotel, including flights from Gatwick to Larnaca departing June 25, 2017, for £653pp, based on two sharing. monarchagents.co.uk