Category Archives: Cyprus

A Troodos mountain adventure

I had hoped to go trekking in the Troodos mountains but my hopes were soon shattered: no tours were available on my dates (no one wants to go trekking when it’s so hot, I was told).
And now?!
I decided to look online to find adventure tours that explored the area, then contacted one of them, was redirected to another one who was running a jeep tour on one of the dates I was interested in, and ended up joining a tour run by EcoTour Adventures.

Andreas (the guide and driver, and owner of the business) picked me up very early in the morning. Four more people were part of the same tour. And the jeep adventure began!

The day was spent exploring the Troodos mountain area, checking out semi-abandoned villages, waterfalls, streams, monasteries, wineries, driving off-road as often as we could, enjoying the ever changing landscape, noticing how Cyprus not only has beautiful beaches and semi-desert vegetation but also thick pine forests  that you wouldn’t expect in such climate.

Our first stop was the Asprokremmos reservoir and dam, the second largest in Cyprus. We paid attention to the surrounding barren landscape, before heading to the deep forest of the Troodos.

Cyprus Asprokremmos reservoir
Asprokremmos Reservoir

We then stopped in the village of Salamiou, where we had Greek coffee before heading to the gorgeousTzelefos Venetian bridge, which is located deep in the forest. This is only one of the medieval bridges in the area, but is meant to be the most beautiful. The whole area is quite scenic and we enjoyed going for a brief walk in the forest.

We couldn’t miss a visit to the Agios Ioannis Lambadistis monastery, located near the Kalopanayiotis village and now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This monastery is considered one of the most interesting byzantine sites in Cyprus and displays some amazing paintings dating back to different historic periods (11th to 19th century).

Cyprus Troodos "Agios Ioannis Lampadistis monastery"
Outside the Agios Ioannis Lampadistis monastery

Driving higher up the mountains we then reached Prodromos, the highest village in Cyprus at 1,380 metres above sea level. Here we stopped at a local family-run restaurant for lunch and I had souvla, one of the traditional dishes in Cyprus. Souvla is basically large pieces of meat cooked on a long skewer over a charcoal barbecue (not to be confused with the Greek souvlaki, apparently). Delicious!

How about the Chantara waterfall? Said to be the most beautiful of Cyprus, it’s located in a stunning and peaceful forest area. I cannot really comment much on the waterfall itself as water was a bit lacking at the end of September. Rain would only start later in the season.

Our last stop consisted of a visit to the Nelion winery for a quick tour of the wine-making facilities and a wine tasting session. The view from the main house was beautiful, rolling hills and vineyards everywhere around us.

The day flew by. If/when I go back to Cyprus, I will definitely plan for some trekking in the Troodos (picking the right season this time…). The area is definitely worth spending more time in it!

The archaeological treasures of Pafos

In ancient times, Pafos was the capital of Cyprus and thanks to its exceptional architectural and historic value it is now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There are several areas of archaeological interest, mainly in the Kato Pafos area, all of them worth a visit during your time there.

Pafos Archaeological Site
Located just behind the harbour, this is the area where most of the remains from the Hellenistic and Roman periods are located. You can easily spend a couple of hours walking around and appreciating the ruins of ancient villas, palaces, tombs. But the highlights of this area are the beautiful mosaics in the Houses of Dionysos, Theseus, Aion and Orpheus, some of the finest of the Roman times. Excavations are still ongoing and you will find evidence of that!
(Entry fee €4.50).

Solomon’s Catacombs and Agios Lambrianos rock cut tombs
These two sites are almost next to each other along the main road that leaves Pafos harbour heading towards the new Kings Avenue Mall. Walk down the steep steps to visit the catacombs then enjoy the enormous underground caverns of the rock cut tombs, they are definitely interesting sites.

Panagia Chrysopolitissa Church and St. Pauls’ Pillar
The foundations,  some of the marble columns and remains of the original floor mosaics are what’s left of the original 4th century basilica. On the same site is the so-called St. Paul’s Pillar, where according to tradition St. Paul was flogged.

Tombs of the Kings
A couple of Km north of Kato Pafos, this is a large site of underground tombs dating back to the 4th century BC located on barren landscape facing the sea. Despite the name, it was not a royal burial site. The well preserved underground tombs are unique in Cyprus as influenced by ancient Egyptian tradition.
(Entry fee €2.50).

Enough of history and archaeology? Wait for the next post then ;-).

Nicosia: the last divided capital

I decided to take the 2-hr bus journey from Pafos to Nicosia (cost: Euro 7) mainly because I wanted to cross the Green Line, the border between the Greek part (South Nicosia, Lefkosia) and the Turkish part (North Nicosia, Lefkosa) of the capital city of Cyprus. The idea of a capital city still split between two countries – so many years after the end of a similar situation in Berlin – sounded very interesting.

As most tourist, I reached the border via Lidras (or Ledras) Street, a pedestrianised area in South Nicosia full of the usual high street stores and cafes. Passport checks were quick and relaxed, and within a couple of minutes I was on the other side.

"Green line" Nicosia Cyprus
The sign at the border between Greek and Turkish Nicosia

It was a very surreal experience, though: the vibe in North Nicosia is very different from the South, it is very Arabic/Turkish and it reminded me of Marrakech. Apart from the border crossing area I didn’t see many tourists and the streets and narrow alleys of the Old City were largely empty.

I wandered around for a few hours, checking out the main sites of Lefkosa but also losing myself in the alleys of the old town, soaking up in the atmosphere.
Here is what I saw:

Büyük Han – considered one of the finest buildings in Cyprus, it was built in the 16th century. Originally a caravansarai, it was restored in the 1990s and is now a thriving arts centre, with galleries, workshops, cafes and souvenir shops.

Selimiye Camii (Mosque) – also known as the Cathedral of Saint Sophia, this is now an unusual mix of Western cathedral and mosque, with landmark minaret towers that can be seen from most of Nicosia. The building is a beautiful example of a Roman Catholic cathedral, built mostly in the 13th century. Taken over by the Ottomans in 1570 it was then converted into a mosque and the minarets were added to the building.

The Bedesten – another example of a church that was converted to a mosque during the Ottoman period, and is now a cultural centre.

Belediye Pazari (also known as the Bandabulya) – for a lover of traditional markets like me, this was quite a disappointment. Apart from a few grocery stalls, where most locals gathered, the market was largely empty and only a handful of souvenir shops were open. I was quickly out of it, not before having bought a silver ankle bracelet, though!

The Venetian walls – initially built in the Middle Ages then rebuilt in the 16th century, they surround Nicosia and are very well preserved. They also contain eleven bastions and three gates.

"North Nicosia" Cyprus "Kyrenia Gate"
Kyrenia Gate in North Nicosia

I stopped for lunch in one of the local kebab houses, where I joined lots of locals enjoying their meals sitting outside and I tasted a traditional Cypriot dish: sheftalia kebab.

Walking along the Green Line from the Armenian Church back to the Lokmaci gate, the atmosphere was a bit eerie, a lot of buildings here have been destroyed and hardly anyone walks around, while frequent signs remind you that this is still military zone and photography is not allowed. I didn’t see police around but thought it was better not to take chances and didn’t take any photos…

I really loved North Nicosia and when I crossed the border back into the Greek part, the tourist crowds and the shops of Lidras Street made this part of the capital city quite disappointing. I ended up catching the bus back to Pafos without exploring any further, also partly due to the odd bus hours and the long journey back.

Top tip if you visit Nicosia:
the Turkish part of Nicosia doesn’t belong to the cheap European roaming/mobile data plans that apply to its Greek counterpart. As soon as you cross the border, you will incur hefty charges on your smartphone, unless you switch roaming and data off. I forgot to do that and saw my £15 balance disappear in about an hour just by having internet switched on!

Polis, Latchi and the Blue Lagoon

Waking up at 7am when on holiday is not everyone’s idea of relax-time, but I had decided to catch the 10:30am boat from Latchi to the Blue Lagoon and that required an early start.

First a 45-min bus ride from Pafos to Polis via winding roads in the Akamas Heights region (bus 645 at 8am, €1.50). Then from Polis it was a matter of a 40-min walk along the beach path taking to Latchi harbour, the starting point of all boat cruises to the Blue Lagoon.

But which boat?! There are so many that offer more or less the same itinerary at the same price…I headed straight to the one I had noted down from Trip Advisor (Alkion, a glass bottom boat), bought the €10 ticket (half price, low season offer), and shortly afterwards the boat headed out of the harbour.

The 3-hr trip was not overly interesting and the information given about the coastline features encountered (mainly Baths of Aphrodite and Fontana Amoroza) was minimal.  But it’s the Blue Lagoon what draws people there and once the boat reached the blue and clear waters, the only thing that mattered was how quickly you could get into the sea! All cruises stop in the Blue Lagoon for about an hour: time for a swim and a snorkel in the amazing waters, but you’ll soon want more of it :-).

Back in Latchi I treated myself to a seafood lunch at one of the restaurants by the harbour, then walked back to Polis and explored the town a bit. Nice tavernas and old houses were my photography targets.
The 4pm bus took me back to Pafos.

Around the Akamas region

If you are into the outdoors and wilderness and are looking for something more rugged than the standard touristy beaches, the Akamas region is the place for you! This beautiful and still relatively wild part of south-west Cyprus is characterised by desertlike scrubland and stores some amazing secluded beaches, nature trails, and gorges.

Public transport in this area is limited, though, and you will need your own wheels or you must join one of the many adventure tours that depart from Pafos.

Here’s a handful of places not to miss in the Akamas:

Lara Beach:
Beautiful and semi deserted beach, famous for its crystal clear waters as well as the turtle hatcheries scattered on the shore. The wind was quite strong when I visited, yet the sea was relatively calm and a pleasure to swim in.

Avakas Gorge:
This is a popular and easy hiking excursion, with lush vegetation and towering rocks all along the way. Given the time of the year of my visit there was little water in the gorge but there appears to be a real stream there.

Sea Caves:
Created in the limestone rocks, these fascinating formations cover an extensive area mainly around Peyia. Although some of the caves can be reached by land, hopping on the rocks and then descending into the caves, the best way to visit them is by sea kayak. I took a half day sea kayaking trip and really enjoyed paddling in and out of the caves, experiencing the amazing environment in what I consider the best way. Truly recommended!

Do you want more amazing beaches and sea? Next post then ;-)

Discovering Pafos

Pafos (or Paphos) is a popular destination in southwest Cyprus, famous for its beaches as well as its archaeological sites. Thanks to the lovely Mediterranean climate, when I visited at the end of September the weather was still great, with warm temperatures and sunny days and without the excruciating heat (and huge tourist crowds, too) of the summer.

The first thing that I learnt when I arrived is that Pafos is made of two main parts: Ktima (Upper Pafos), up on the hill, and Kato Pafos (Lower Pafos), where the harbour is.

Ktima
This part of town currently looks like a building site because of lots of renovation work that is preparing the town for the events of next year, as Pafos has been selected as European Capital of Culture for 2017. Saying that at the moment it all looks like a big mess is probably an understatement! Yet just walking around you can get the feeling of what this area is like, with beautiful colonial buildings and a much more relaxed atmosphere compared to Kato Pafos.

Kato Pafos
This is the main tourist area, very popular (and crowded!) thanks to the restaurants, bars, shops located mainly around the harbour area. The promenade is a great place for walks and people watching at any time of the day (sunsets here are beautiful!) and the castle at one end of the harbour offers good views of the area from its upper level (Euro2.50 entrance fee). The beaches in this part of town aren’t that great, yet they can get quite crowded during the day.
Behind the harbour lie the Pafos Archaelogical Park and the lighthouse.

But one of my favourite parts of Pafos was the coastal walk that leads from the Pafos castle  to the Tombs of the Kings, the other main archaeological area in Pafos. I walked it at different times of the day – even after dark – and always loved it!

Do you want to know more about the archaeological sites in Pafos? That’s for the next post :-)

Cyprus: an unusual choice for me

Used to travelling to far flung destinations, partly because I am attracted to anything that feels “exotic” partly because I often travel during the European winter and go in search for the sun, choosing the destination for my September holiday was becoming a bit difficult.

Then Cyprus popped into my mind: sun, sea, good food, enough nature and culture to keep me busy, and the interesting split between Greek and Turkish parts to add a bit of spice to the mix.

The planning phase of the trip was “less planned” than usual, as the country didn’t feel a challenging destination that required much preparation: no jabs needed, no visa, no major cultural differences to get adjusted to. Basically I booked flight and accommodation (the whole period in the same town, how will I cope?!), checked out public transport timetables, and bought the Lonely Planet. And that was it.

I must say that Cyprus sounds like an interesting destination and I am now looking forward to discovering more about this country in the next week or so.

So: watch this space! :-)