Spotlight on cultural Cyprus

Posted on: 12 July 2010 by Mark O'haire

Far removed from the blistering heat of the beach resorts, Jill Fordham reveals how a journey through the cooler central region of this sacred island offers a sublime refuge for those seeking a more diversely rewarding break.

http://owl-group-staging.s3.amazonaws.com/upload_datas/1027/landscape_large.jpg?1288788812Standing at 1,950 metres, Mount Olympus commands the highest peak of the Troodos range of mountains, a region resplendent with wild flowers and fruits and still immersed in an ancient way of life. Narrow mountain roads provide access to traditional villages, as they wind their way through pine clad forests, the heady scent of which pervades the cool mountain air.

Positioned along the pass between Mount Olympus in the east and Agios Ilias in the west is the village of Prodromos, the highest settlement on the island. Here the seasonal climate is favourable to the many fruit orchards that beautify the area with their colourful blooms. Standing at the southern gateway to the Troodos ranges is the popular village of Platres, which provides a good choice of accommodation and thus an ideal base for exploration.

Located on the fringe of the village is the family owned Forest Park Hotel, now in its fourth generation of the Skyrianides family and founded in 1936. Despite the luxury of modern amenities, there is an air of antiquated charm about this captivating place, which lulls you into the mystique of an erstwhile world. Thus it is no surprise for me to hear from Hercules Skyrianides, of the numerous eminent persons who have stayed here either for inspiration or for relaxation in years gone by. Included within the treasured contents of the guestbook he shares with me, are compliments from royalty in the form of King Farouk of Egypt, King Constantine of Greece and Princess Royal Mary of England, from the legendary Indira Gandhi, and from writer Daphne du Maurier who resided here for a month whilst writing her novel ‘Rebecca’. It is not difficult to imagine why this handsome haven has appealed to the great minds of so many.

Activities that can be enjoyed within the Troodos terrain are plentiful, owing to a climate conducive to outdoor pursuits throughout the year. The numerous forest trails are perfect for those wishing to participate in walking and hiking and mountain biking and cycling, with opportunities also for bird watching and fishing, and a scenic landscape that endears itself to the arts of painting and photography. The mountain slopes are home to more than half of the island’s endemic flowers, and for those interested in geology, the area is considered to be the best preserved and most systematically studied ophiolite complex in the world.

Churches from the Byzantine era appear on the landscape as unassuming little stone buildings that belie the magnificent artistry that is housed within. Many are to be found near to the pretty village of Kakopetria, a popular retreat for the city dwellers of Nicosia. One of the oldest to be dedicated to St Nicholas, and a former monastery chapel, is the Agios Nikolaos tis Stegis church, which features still richly coloured frescoes from the 11th to the 15th centuries. So precious are these painted treasures, that many have in recent years been afforded the protected status of UNESCO World Heritage.

Agios-Nikolaos-tis-Stegis-cMonasteries are more remote, but the monks no less inviting to their otherwise reclusive world. Founded in 1100, and dedicated to the Virgin Mary, Kykkos Monastery is the island’s most famous. It possesses one of three surviving icons ascribed to Saint Luke - concealed in silver gilt and enclosed in a shrine of tortoiseshell and mother-of-pearl, it stands in front of the icon stand. One of the great centres of the Christian Orthodox Faith, the monastery and the adjoining museum which houses a priceless collection of icons, consecrated vessels, manuscripts and Cypriot antiquities, continue to attract pilgrims from all over the world.

Villages provide welcome pit stops from the steep mountain roads, where here you will find locals still plying traditional crafts that originate from centuries before.  Stalls selling delicate lace fabrics line the narrow streets of the southern village of Omodos. Whilst further north in Kakopetria, at the head of the fertile valley of Solea, the village track that leads up from the old watermill, hosts a colourful array of fresh and preserved fruit stalls. Now the Mylos Hotel and Restaurant, the old watermill is to be recommended for its succulent rainbow trout, and for the views which from the terrace restaurant are stunning.

Lace-Making,-OmodosTravelling north west from Troodos towards the coast, Elias Lambides has created the Steni Museum of Village Life. This is a truly remarkable labour of love that is dedicated to the hardship suffered by the people of the village since it’s creation to the end of the Second World War. Here he has recreated scenes of traditional village life, comprised of collections that he has sought personally over a period of 30 years. His belief is that: “If you are poor you use your brain, but if you have everything you do nothing”. The survival of the museum is dependent on donations and the dedication of its founder. “I love these people and have dedicated this museum to them because they did so much for us”, he declares with great passion.

Wine production has been evidenced from recent archaeological excavations, to date back over 5,000 years. Within the wine making regions old traditions have survived, where cultivation of the vineyards and wine production are still the main occupation of most of the inhabitants. More than 100 varieties of grape are cultivated on the island, including the indigenous black Mavro, which is responsible for the creation of Commandaria, a sweet robust dessert wine, and reputed to be the world’s oldest. There are six recognized wine routes, which wend their way south from The Troodos Mountains through diversely scenic landscapes to the lustrous Mediterranean Sea.

The Krasochoria Lemesou route encompasses 11 wineries, with a large quantity of indigenous grapes being grown here.  Meandering through 20 villages, you can always be assured of a warm welcome, with none more so than at the winery of Marios Antoniades in the northern village of Mandria. Trading under the brand name of ‘Castellani’, the business has remained in the family for generations, evidenced by a vat displayed alongside other ancient winemaking implements, with an inscription dating back to 1780. Here Marios uses the unusual ‘free flow’ system of processing, whereby when stemmed, the weight of the grapes in the vat is sufficient to ensure that the juice runs freely. As a result, he says: “Our wine is pure, and of a better quality, with a smoother taste. When you drink this wine, you will feel good the next day, with no headache or stomach ache”. Passionate about his produce, he entertains us within his large tasting room, from which there is a palatial balcony boasting far-reaching views across the landscape.

Marios AntoniadesCypriot cuisine offers no more tantalizing a treat for the taste buds than the massive medley of sample dishes that is known as a meze, and one of the most delectable meals on the menu. Consisting of a feast of as many as 30 small dishes ranging from savoury dips and vegetables to fish and meat recipes, it is in itself a social event, and highlights the diversity of Cypriot culture. 

Steeped in history and tradition, many of the villages in the Troodos area offer the visitor a more practical gastronomic experience, whereby guests can learn how to make and serve their own Cypriot fare. Favourite dishes include Moussaka, Koupepia, Keftedes, Loukanika and lessons in making the most tasty and chewily textured local cheese, Halloumi. Lamb Kleftiko however, is perhaps best left for the locals to prepare. One of the most flavoursome meat dishes on the menu, the succulence was traditionally acquired by many hours of cooking in a custom made hole in the ground, although it is more likely to be tenderized today within the confines of a clay oven.

Easily accessed from the Troodos area, and lying to the north of the resort town of Paphos, are the more tranquil fishing villages of Polis and Latsi. No better a location is there to spend a lazy afternoon sampling Cypriot seafood delights than in a traditional waterside tavern. On the harbour front at Latsi stands the Latchi Hotel and Fish Tavern, family run for generations, and internationally renowned for its fine cuisine. Here you can sample a massive medley of red mullet, sea bass, calamari, king prawns and octopus,  often featured as the seafood favourite Ochtapodi Krasato, when marinated and simmered in red wine and spiced with cumin and coriander.

Akamas PeninsulaBeside the calm water’s edge of this charming little harbour, the notion of time stands still. But should you be inspired to take to the sea, there are boat trips along the ruggedly scenic Akamas Peninsula, where you can take a swim in the waters of the secluded Blue Lagoon. On the cliff top above the bay, concealed amongst fig trees and flowering oleander are the mesmerizing waters of the mythical Baths of Aphrodite. Reputed to possess rejuvenating powers and the promise of eternal youth, there are sadly no sanctions to sample the magic of this captivating little cave, although there are wondrous rewards to be experienced in following the journey I’ve just made.

Accommodation

Cyprus-Village,-TochniCyprus Villages in the picturesque village of Tochni, is well positioned for easy access to much of the island. Here you can experience the unique opportunity of staying in self catering studios, apartments or villas that are rustically styled within traditional village homes. All are equipped with kitchenettes, heating and air-conditioning, satellite TV, a balcony, veranda or patio and shared use of a pool, available from €50 per couple per night. The spectacular valley views from the terrace of the Tochni Taverna provide a perfect complement to the sumptuous cuisine. (357 24 332998) 

The-Forest-Park-Hotel,-KakoThe Forest Park Hotel, located within the Troodos Forest village of Platres, combines contemporary luxury with the elegant charm of a bygone world. Good recreational facilities complement the natural beauty of the location, where from the balconied rooms there are panoramic views across the mountainous landscape. There are 7 chalet suites that were originally built for visiting Arab Sheiks, together with 137 rooms, available from €50 per night on a bed and breakfast basis. (357 25 421875) 

Ayii-Anargyri--Natural-HealThe Ayii Anargyri Natural Healing Spa Resort stands on the site of a former monastery and is well positioned for a luxurious pampering experience at the end of this cultural expedition. Here the heady scent of lavender lines the pathways that lead to this luxury hotel complex, comprising bungalows, suites and classically renovated rooms. The ambience is purely of pleasure and relaxation, and as evening falls the poolside Amaroula restaurant provides the perfect location for some soulful reflection. Rooms are available from €137 per night on a bed and breakfast basis. (357 26 814000) 

The Mill Hotel, Kakopetria, (357 22 922536)   

The Latchi Hotel, Latsi, (357 26 321411)

Further Reading

By Jill Fordham 

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