Cyprus: Head for the hills!
Roger St Pierre reveals a greener side of Cyprus
Sun, sea and sand, plus wintersports around lofty Mount Olympus, are the building blocks on which the Mediterranean island of Cyprus has built its burgeoning travel industry.
Now, in a bid to extend the shoulder months of the holiday season, concentrated efforts are being made to develop adventure holidays and, for the less energetic, agro-tourism throughout the many delightful rural areas – a world away from the established tourist destinations.
Now 104 traditional houses in 47 villages offer 829 beds to supplement the local hotels and inns.
Located in the foothills of the unspoilt Troodos Mountains, Kalavasos is one such rural retreat and the delightful little Library Hotel, set in the village’s centre, makes a perfect base. It’s a great place to relax, eat healthy and appetising Greek food, sample the locals wines, take country walks, savour an enervating treatment in the hotel’s mud steam bath, read a book or two – and even find the inspiration and time to write one.
You might be tempted to spend your time simply relaxing in the pleasant inner courtyard but there’s plenty to drag you out to explore.
Wine production has been a staple of the Cypriot economy for several thousand years but at Tsiakkas Winery (25991080, swaypage.com/tsiakkas), just outside Pelentri, they mix modern passion and technique with tradition to produce vintages that can compete for international markets.
The local Vamvakada grape produces a classy medium bodied red while Xynisteri – another local varietal – is blended with Sauvignon Blanc to produce a delicate, fresh and fruity white with a balanced structure, hints of lemon and a crisp finish. There’s no formal visitor centre but this family business does welcome visitors with a smile, a tasting and enervated discussion of why Cypriot wines in general, and especially the unique and unctuous Commandaria, deserve wider recognition.
The verdant mountains are criss-crossed with waymarked walking paths – some of them a gentle ramble, others challenging but truly spectacular.
Running alongside and occasionally crossing a burbling mountain stream, the Kaleidonia Nature Trail proved stiff enough for me, with an occasional bout of rock scrambling and slippery stepping stones to cope with. But the first sight of the renowned steeply tumbling waterfall made the effort worthwhile.
The 93 sq km Troodos National Forest Park has around 800 plant species, of which 72 are endemic to Cyprus, including 12 that are only to be found in this location.
There are abundant man-made as well as natural attractions to discover. High on a bluff above the sea, the headland of Courrian has a Roman amphitheatre and even older Athenian ruins studded with evocative mosaics to hint of its one-time strategic importance. Stand on the stage and your voice can be heard clearly right around the auditorium, even at a whisper – so crystal clear are the acoustics.
No wonder it is such a popular and truly atmospheric venue for recitals and for plays like Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’ and ‘The Tempest’.
Close by, the vast keep of Kolossi Castle evokes Crusader times and gives sweeping views across seascape, peaceful fields and sleepy villages.
Cyprus is a strong lure for artists. Many of these seem to find to their way to picturesque, flower-bedecked Laneia – and then settle for good, as Geordie-born globetrotter Michael Owen and his delightful New Zealander wife Jacqueline have done.
Michael’s evocative landscapes sit well in the wonderfully higgledy piggledy old house the couple have made their home but they fly off the walls, sold to delighted tourists and locals alike.
Mostly in the Tochni and Kalavasos areas, in close reach of popular Governor’s Beach, traditional houses are on offer from Cyprus Villages (+357 24 332 998, cyprusvillages.com), an agro-tourism initiative.
Studios, and two bedroom apartments and villas are available, many of them with exclusive or shared pools.
Mastermind of the project, Sofronis Potamitis explained how popular the area has become with visiting cyclists, of both the on and off-road ilk: “Lots of the pro teams now hold their pre-season training camps here,” he told me, adding, “Last year we hosted the Milram professional Tour de France squad.”
Other activities, like horse riding, jogging and hiking are all well catered for: “We also host holistic groups, yoga groups, and painting, photography and writing course,” continued Sofronis as we tucked into a marvellous meze spread at the traditional Tochni Tavern, dish after dish finding its sway to the groaning table, with fish, seafood and lamb starring in turn.
Other outstanding traditional Cypriot eateries I sampled during my all too brief visit to this glorious holiday island included the Makrinari Tavern, in the picturesque village of Omodos, and the Lofou Tavern, in Lofou.
As a guest of the Cyprus Tourist Office, Roger St. Pierre flew to the island from London Heathrow on a scheduled flight with Cyprus Airways, landing at Pafos international Airport and returning from Larnaca.
A pleasant Mediterranean climate year-round, unspoilt countryside and a good selection of flights for easy accessibility.