We head to the Greek side of the island of Cyprus and find a glorious and simple paradise
As I hand over a fistful of coins to the toothless, black-clad widow, complete with requisite wispy beard and kind eyes, I have to smack myself with the hand-made lace fan I’m buying to check that this is for real.
I’m in Omodos, a small village in the foothills of Troodos Mountain, and whether it’s the refreshingly throng-free nature of visiting Cyprus in November or the clean country air making me come over all fanciful, I can’t help but feel I’ve been thrown into the set of a Grecian Disney movie. The crone’s chums croak ‘Yassas!’ and tend to their weaving as I drift away, wondering if the scene was set up by the Cypriot Tourist Board.
The journey here had been no less postcard-friendly: undulating corn fields, expansive glittering sea, ancient olive trees and dusty white villas had all vied for first place in the eye candy stakes. Mirka, my guide, had explained, ‘The idea here is not to build new hotels, but to renovate and enjoy the traditional buildings.’ It’s difficult to swallow this line whole though, having travelled from the bar-packed suburbs of Pafos (which play host to such delights as Irish theme-bar O’Neill’s and the King’s Road Pub among others). The tranquil side to island life exists in stark juxtaposition with the more hedonistic (and often seedy) areas that feed the tourism industry here.
That’s not to say I don’t take a certain uncool delight in being a tourist myself. Pafos Bird and Animal Park is one attraction the eight-year-old in me can’t wait to visit – it’s impossible not to get excited by the hands-on opportunities on offer. I think I’m being pretty gutsy letting a parrot sit on my shoulder, until I see other people making a beeline for the snake-wielding park keeper. I’m sure the evil glint in the python’s eyes is just a trick of the light, but having a two-metre-long reptile wrapped around my waist really isn’t my idea of a good time.
Hastily side-stepping that particular attraction, I happen upon something much more up my tame little street: hand-feeding the giraffes. As a pair of crane-like siblings loom up, all gangly legs and doe eyes, even the macho men can’t help but coo and pop a couple of carob pods onto their curling black tongues – although the ‘Awwws’ abruptly turn into horrified yelps when we notice the gargantuan drool trails oscillating towards us.
Alas, a distinctly less exciting tourist site is the Bath of Aphrodite. Legend has it that Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty, was bathing here one day when the handsome Adonis spotted her and was instantly enchanted by the stunning woman. The amorous old dog seduced her and the rest is very ancient history. Having been spun the well-known yarn on our approach to the site, I am hugely underwhelmed when, instead of shimmering crystal water, I’m faced with a dank pool that boasts neither drama nor beauty. The snake lurking beneath the placid surface adds far more atmosphere than Mirka, who cheerily reminds me, ‘Of course, the legend is completely made up.’
Needless to say, we don’t stick around long, and we decide to head for the hills – literally. The heady altitude easing me into a trance-like state, I gaze out of the window, drinking in the burned orange autumnal hues and fiery leaves blazing against the dramatic cliffs.
Of course, Cyprus isn’t all sunshine and whimsical fancy: since 1974, the Turkish army has illegally occupied over a third of the island. ‘It is very sad,’ says Mirka. ‘I have never been to the north. I refuse to show my passport to get into another part of my own country.’ One person who feels this sadness more keenly than most is Sevas, our driver. He was forced to flee his childhood home 34 years ago and has never returned.
A few contemplative hours later, Sevas is back in his usual buoyant mood as he proudly leads me through the door of his local, the heaving Hoadjiomorfos Tavern in Mesogi village. We barge our way through to the last empty table and vast platters of sizzling fish, smoky halloumi and unidentifiable meaty lumps (which taste far better than they should) are promptly thrust before us by swaggering locals. We barely get a chance to lick our lips before we’re hauled to our feet to join in the Greek dancing, which we gamely throw ourselves into, arms flung around strangers’ shoulders, legs flailing from side to side , before falling back to the table and gulping down more Cypriot wine.
Dessert, thankfully, is the fruit I’ve been eyeing all over the island, which is riddled with banana trees, citrus groves and pomegranate trees weighed down by fruits. (‘Stop off and pick your fruits or we pick them for you!’ one sign screamed ominously).
On the final morning of my whistle-stop tour, we visit Kourion Archaeological Site. To get to it, we drive through eucalyptus plantations, which were introduced to eradicate malaria back in the days when this area was a mosquitoes’ paradise of swampland. (Eucalyptus trees can grow in water and naturally absorb the moisture, thus killing off the disease-spreading beasties.) Five minutes away lie the ruins themselves. Dating back to 2AD, there are perfectly preserved bath house mosaics and an amphitheatre, but again, the truly captivating element is the view. There’s nothing to see but ploughed fields and ocean, and the simplicity takes my breath away. With the nightlife of Pafos a distant, hazy memory, I decide that the best thing about this bewitching, complex island is its coastline philosophy, which is simple: leave it the hell alone. Cyprus Airways (www.cyprusairways.com) has return flights from Dubai to Larnaca starting from Dhs2,100.
Need to know
Get there Cyprus Airways (www.cyprusairways.com) has return flights from Dubai to Larnaca starting from Dhs2,100.
Where to stay Forest Park Hotel, Troodos Mountains: Like a Cypriot episode of Fawlty Towers; the 1970s on a platter. There’s an overwhelming smell of granny cooking, a sitting room with – randomly – a suit of armour and a glass case full of ancient pottery, a gym housing an exercise bike that’s older than Time Out and, most weirdly of all, an indoor pool area packed with artificial plants, despite being smack bang in the middle of a forest. +357 2542 1751; www.forestparkhotel.com.cy
Elysium Beach Hotel, Pafos: This five-star hotel is comfortable, clean and new, incorporating a few token nods to traditional Greek design. Request a room at the back and you’ll have sublime coastal views and a large terrace from which to admire them. +357 2684 4444; www.elysium.com.cy
Athena Beach Hotel, Pafos: A little slice of an English seaside town, the four-star Athena Beach is resolutely old-school, with abundant chintz and free-flowing breakfast-time cava which the pensioners (and there are many here) positively lap up. +357 2688 4300; www.athena-cbh.com
Anassa Hotel, Polis: Simply wonderful. The standard rooms alone are lovely, but the honeymoon suite is a cut above anything we’ve ever seen; all breezy whites and rustic furniture with a hot tub on the balcony overlooking the beach and sea far beyond. +357 2688 8000; www.thanoshotels.com
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Rowena Alderson May 26, 2009 07:37 am
I think we must have visited a different Cyprus recently. We spent 6 days in Cyprus where, the advent of the euro has meant a dramatic increase in cost. No more can you sit in a taverna on the beach, Shirley Valentine style, sipping Cypriot wine and eating Cypriot local dishes for less than 100 dirhams for two. These days, the prices are akin to the prices in Dubai but with less ambiance and in far less salubrious surroundings.
Not only were we disappointed to find roaring inflation, we were disappointed with the service and quality levels of everything. 5star in Dubai means exactly that; 5 Star. In Cyprus 5 star means a shabby run down hotel with cigarette burns in the carpet and similar on the bedding.
We were very pleased to get back to Dubai where the standards are exceptional. Perhaps we've been well and truly 'Dubai'd' and are now spoilt with the fantastic construction achievements of the last 5 years but going to Cyprus where everything looks tired and run down and you are paying through the nose for everything, we were very glad to return to Dubai at the end of 6 days.