When mum told me she was emigrating to Cyprus I almost choked on my cappuccino.
“Why would you want to go to there?” I protested. “It’s full of Greek food, beaches and sunshine!”
On second thought, that didn’t sound too bad.
My mother and stepfather packed up their worldly belongings in 2006, said goodbye to the gun-grey skies of London, and went in search of retirement bliss. They found it amid the azure blue waters of the Mediterranean.
Viva le Med
Cyprus is the third-largest island in the Mediterranean, a former British colony that gained independence in 1960 and has suffered more than its fair share of troubles. The Turkish invaded in 1974 and liked it so much that they decided to stay.
The island is now split into halves – Greek and Turkish. As a tourist, getting from one side to the other is nigh impossible, but hostilities have ceased and there now abides only a harmonious animosity.
The Greek side is no stranger to Union-Jack-wielding, club-hungry tourists, but now there is a new breed of Brit in Cyprus: one who doesn’t go home at summer’s end. This new breed takes the form of retirees who, instead of taking up gardening and lawn bowling, have flocked to the Med to eat, drink and be merry. My parents chose the coastal city of Paphos.
There is something surreal about Paphos. The colours are so vibrant and the light so intense that it looks almost manufactured. During the late afternoon it seemed as though someone switched on a giant floodlight, making everything dazzle.
Kato Paphos, by the harbour, is the tourist hub, and unfortunately contains some dire architectural sins. It’s also a hotbed of tourist activity, and the area just behind the bay and hotel strip is known locally as “bar street” for obvious reasons. It’s not all bad, though. Birthplace of the mythical Aphrodite, Paphos is a UNESCO world heritage site, and there is an abundance of ancient history to dip into – between cocktails and sunbathing.
The great thing about Cyprus is its endless number of archaeological sites. These historic spots are like the Starbucks of the Mediterranean – there’s one on practically every corner.
The Mosaics, one of the most admired attractions on the island, were once part of the flooring of the Roman Governor’s palace and depict elaborate scenes from ancient Greek mythology. Situated close to Paphos Harbour, they date back to the third century and were discovered by accident in the 1960s.
It is mind-boggling to look down over these amazing works of art, formed from tiny chippings of marble, and imagine ancient toga-clad noblemen billowing across the grand courts. Many of the original colours have fared remarkably well against the ravages of time and remain quite beautiful.
The most famous mountain in the Troodos range is Mount Olympus, a popular destination for hiking and skiing, and so large that it’s visible from space. Our family of six piled into a 4×4 and set off early one morning to spend the entire day exploring.
The weather is noticeably cooler in the mountains and residents like to ascend in the summer months to escape the scorching temperatures below. Our first stop was the picturesque village of Omodos, where crumpled old ladies making white lace glared at us from cobbled streets, and a room in the Timiou Stavrou monastery honours the Cypriot independence fighters who died while throwing out the British in 1959 (they display a preserved uniform full of bullet holes).
Our next stop was Platres, which looked remarkably like a town in the Austrian Tyrol with its redbrick buildings and green paintwork. Surrounded by pine and cherry orchards, it is a popular summer retreat for wealthy Cypriots, and it is where Daphne de Maurier wrote her famous novel Rebecca in 1938. Platres is a good place to stay if you like the great outdoors, with plenty of skiing, mountain biking, hiking and horse-riding.
The views from the top of the Troodos are spectacular. Each winding turn on the mountain offers a new perspective of the landscape and gives those with vertigo a slight case of nausea. The fresh scent of pine, however, works wonders on the sickly.
The Akamas Peninsula
A national park on the most northwesterly point of Cyprus, the Akamas covers 230 square kilometres of wild terrain, hidden coves, craggy cliffs, and deep gorges. In recent years it has come under threat from property developers, and there is no telling how long it will remain untouched.
There is no better way to explore this expanse (while you still can) than from atop a throbbing quad bike. With so much rugged landscape to zip over, it’s the most fun you can have on four wheels. Some of the drops are hair-raising, and were you to go over the edge, you’d probably suffer a serious case of deadness. During the arid summer months, the Akamas is covered with large expanses of dried flora, sandwiched between honeycomb-coloured cliffs and the glittering Med. My brothers, Tim and Dom, and I followed the road (I say road very loosely) for about two hours to Latchi, a small, picturesque fishing village with a lovely harbour.
En route we stopped at Turtle Beach in Lara Bay, a beautiful stretch of coastline and a turtle sanctuary where attempts are being made to protect turtles and provide a safe environment for their eggs. You must descend a steep, unpaved pathway to get to it, but it is worth the effort – the beach is beautiful, and best of all it is tourist-free.
In Latchi we stopped for seafood and Keo (a refreshing local beer) before starting our long, hot drive back to Paphos. Tim and Dom kindly pulled ahead of me in a testosterone-induced race, leaving me to navigate the treacherous route alone.
If you’re feeling intrepid, you can hire the quad bikes for about 30 euros per day, or join a quad bike safari, where you definitely won’t be left to fend for yourself.
All Greek to Me
With the family safely together again after the great quad bike adventure, off we schlepped to the Paphos Odeon, a Greco-Roman Amphitheatre in ancient Kourion, to watch the staging of a Greek tragedy. My younger sister, Lucy, being a keen student of the classics, was particularly looking forward to the performance.
Unfortunately, I failed to realise that it would be performed entirely in Greek. Call me a Philistine, but the only tragedy I experienced was an extremely sore bottom from spending three hours on a limestone step, and the loss of will to live. Nonetheless, the setting was stunning and the Cypriots seemed to thoroughly enjoy the performance. If you have the chance to visit, I recommend you brush up on the lingo, and don’t forget to bring a cushion.
Quite possibly the best thing about Cyprus is the food, and in particular souvla, a traditional meal made for sharing. Plentiful servings of hummus, taramasalata, olives, salad and plates stacked with succulent chunks of barbecued chicken, pork and lamb, are piled onto the table. Nothing in Cyprus is rushed, and souvla is no exception. Cypriot families while away every Sunday afternoon over this favourite meal, which is usually accompanied by an abundant flow of very drinkable local wine. In this respect my family did a fine job of getting into the local swing of things.
Word of warning: It is customary for restaurant owners to ply their guests with liquor after a meal. Expect to be offered a choice of paint-stripping beverages to clear the palate.
Tip: When you visit Paphos, I recommend that you hire a 4×4 vehicle and go exploring. There are so many beautiful spots to discover: quaint villages where old ladies wear all black and make lace by hand; ancient churches, beautiful architecture, wineries; and of course, an endless sea of tavernas to keep the whistle wet.
The Troodos Mountains, for great views and a taste of Greek village life
The Mosaics, Kato Paphos, for archaeology
Kyparissos, Kathikas, for dinner
Imogen’s, Kathikas, for dinner
Yangos and Peter’s, Latchi, for seafood
Yiannis Restaurant, Omodhos, for lunch
The Last Castle, for stunning views of the Akamas and a hearty Greek lunch
Chris and Reou Rentals, Paphos, for car and quad-bike hire
Turtle Beach, Lara Bay, for scenery and swimming
Elyssium Hotel, Kato Paphos, for upscale accommodation
The Odeon Amphitheatre, Kato Paphos, for authentic Greco-Roman theatre
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