Photography: Nikolas Mastoras
We land at the Larnaka International Airport, an ultramodern airport that every year welcomes more than five million passengers and instantly feel the warm and hospitable embrace, expressed in the wide smile of the island’s inhabitants, a feature that by itself explains why Cyprus is by far one of the most popular touristic destinations.
Our friend Evelyn Kazantzoglou, presenter, radio producer and blogger, is waiting for us at the airport and suggests we take the long route to Nicosia in a makeshift road trip, certain to fill our minds and hearts with unforgettable moments and sights. Without giving it a second thought we agree and board the brand new Volvo XC40 and Hyundai Kona. Our holiday on the island of Aphrodite is just starting with safety, comfort, speed and the pleasure of having it all – except for a tight schedule.
First stop, Alyki in Larnaca – a remarkable wetland consisting of four large saltwater lakes, of great international interest thanks to its great ecological value. As Evelyn tells us, every year near the end of October, sea water invades the basins around the time when the first pink feathered visitors land here: 6,000 elegant flamingoes turn Alyki into an astounding sight. Our eyes turn towards the western bank of the lake, where stands the holiest temple of Cypriot Muslims, “Hala Sultan Tekkesi”, which according to legend houses the tomb of Umm Haram, one of the first followers of the Prophet Muhammed. You’ll want to spend hours here. Rub your hands with the lake’s pure salt, let its pink color brighten up your mood and gain strength from its serenity.However, Evelyn is back in the car honking, as she wants us to have time and visit many other places. So we hop onboard and start driving to our next destination.
“Lefkara” says a sign outside the village that is to be our next stop. A village straight out of dreams and fairytales. Here, one gets lost in beauty and tradition. Walking in narrow alleysin the midst of traditional houses –typical examples of folk architecture– and look at grandmothers sitting on the patios and the steps of their homes knitting the world famous lefkaritiko embroidery, and buys small masterpieces made by the local silversmiths. Evelyn suggests a visit to the local Folk Art Museum of Embroidery and Silverware, as well as the Lefkara Ethnological Museum, and we feel blessed for being here! Just before we take off, the locals offer us loukoumia made in a small loukoumi manufacture and we solemnly swear to visit this village often!
“Now, we’re off to Tochni, one of the oldest villages on the island!”, exclaims Evelyn, and the moment we set foot in Tocnhi we realize how lucky we were to follow her on this mini road trip.
We come up by the river Tetios that divides the settlement in an eastern and a western part and we learn that the whole vilage is made of “tochni”, a locally mined stone. We visit the small Byzantine museum, a Latin church situated in the center of the village and the orthodox church of Ayios Konstantinos and Eleni, which is said to have been built by Ayia Eleni when she came back from visiting the Holy Lands and brought a piece of the Holy Cross with her. Once again, we swear that we’ll be back soon –on a bicycle–, as locals insist that “This is an ideal place for cycling!”.
Next stop, the coast of Ayios Georgios Alamanos. A breathtaking scenery made of white rocks that resemble to chalk, is the main reason for visitng this area. We sit on the sea-carved rocks that look like vast, white platforms floating on the surface of the water, and think that this is by far the best sunbathing and swimming spot on the island. Before leaving we snap not one, but dozens of pictures. As many as we can. Pictures that we keep staring at, again and again, since this landscape seems incredibly free and bright in this glorious contrast of deep blue and blinding white...
Countless photos are also snapped at our next stop, known as “Petra tou Romiou”. This is probably the best-known rock in the world, with a story linked to two different legends. One says that this is precisely the spot where Aphrodite of Cyprus –the goddess of love and beauty– surfaced, spreading in the sea of Pafos potions of love and beauty. Even today people believe that if a girl bathes in these waters, she will become pretty and love will guide her life! The other myth relates the story of Digenis Akritas, a legendary Byzantine hero who held back the Saracene Arabs with his superhuman strength when they were about to loot the cove (7th-10th century). According to this story, Digenis held onto the mountaing range of Keryneia with one hand, thus shaping the “Pentadactylos”, the five mountain peaks, while with his other hand he lifted a huge rock and dealt a devastating blow to the Saracenes who were trying to dock their ships.
“Now we’re headed to the hidden gem of Limassol, the village of Vouni”, says Evelyn and we’re back in the realm of reality. To our great surprise Vouni looks indeed like a diamond! We follow Evelyn’s advice and park the cars at the village entrance to continue on foot. Suddenly, it feels like we stepped back in time and we are walking in a period scenery: cobbled streets, traditional houses with wooden doors and large windows, narrow balconies and internal yards, endless arches, small churches, a large square and three fountains with fresh water make Vouni a village seemingly untouched by time. We visit the Folk Art Museum and the Wine Museum, have a sip of good wine, taste some mezedes (snacks) and book a room at the adorable Ipio Vouni Suites, since we decide to stick around a bit longer.
Next up is Pelendri, a beautiful village surrounded by steep hills and narrow, receding valleys. We admired its noteworthy houses with wooden lintels, bought fresh bread, sausages and ham –all made the traditional way– and visited the Holy Cross church, a monument inscribed in UNESCO’s global heritage monuments list along with 9 other Cypriot monuments.
Yet another church inscribed in UNESCO’s global heritage monuments list is waiting for us on our next stop, which is none other that the Monastery of Panayia of Araka, next to Lagoudera. This unique church has a steep-pitched roof, covered with a protective timber made of flat tiles that form a portico with latticed woodwork, and its entire interior is covered with frescoes of great artistic value.
Our journey then takes us to Xyliatou dam, inside the Elia river valley, which has been transformed by the Forestry Department in an integrated excursion area with picnic tables, shaded and open barbecue spots, fountains with crystal clear potable water, a children’s playground with swings, tobogan and monkey bars and European standards WC. The fir trees and wild vegetation of the mountains surrounding the dam are reflected on the water surface, creating thus a mesmerizing image, while an artificial waterfall offers visitors an enchanting view all year round. Yes, even in the summer!
Our final stop is Ayios Ioannis Malountas, situated only 18km outside Nicosia. We climb up Korakas hill, on the northeast of the village and take in the amazing view. Looking out to the west, we face the evergreen slopes of Troodos, to the north we see the occupied Pentadaktylos, the capital to the east and towards the south an enchanting landscape made of little creeks, deep canyons, weirdly-shaped cavities and tapered hills. Our gaze is full and our soul thankful for all the beauty that Cyprus offered us in just one day!