Times have changed, and so have our expectations of what we want to see, feel and discover in the world.
Text: Elli Karnezi.
Photos: Panagiotis Mina, Silvio Rusmigo, Nicholas Mastoras.
Predetermined itineraries seldom live up to their hype. Today’s traveller demands authentic and unrestricted access to locations where tradition, gastronomy, culture and people are not diluted versions of the real thing. There is nothing ungenuine about the beauty of Cyprus and the Mediterranean. However, there is more to the island that is not as obvious but is just as striking. For this reason, the Deputy Ministry of Tourism has created Heartland of Legends, offering truly unique experiences to the island’s adventurous guests.
Legends, Myths and Fairytale Villages
Beginning from one of the island’s most remote locales, you have several nature trails with thematic routes to choose to follow. Traversing steep mountains, thick forests and rugged capes, each path has stories and legends to tell. Explore the remnants of Templar strongholds and, with a glass of Commandaria in hand, learn something of their history on the island. Hear the tale of love-sick Regina, a spectral Queen said to haunt the ruins still. Discover legends about notorious gangs of thieves, unbelievable acts of bravery amongst resistance fighters, and myths about kallikantzaroi (goblins) who rise from the Earth during the 12 days of Christmas to indulge themselves in trickeries amongs locals. Not all tales are true, except those concerning the famed hospitality of the people who open their hearts to all travellers passing by.
A breath away from the city centre, in places sheltered from the noise and intense rhythms of urban life, time seems to stop at various points on the way. There are villages renowned for their spectacular views, others for their architecture, and always the hospitality of their inhabitants. You will see villagers engaging in timeless acts of harvesting fruit, tilling the soil, pressing wine grapes and kneading fresh pie dough. Everything is practical and uncomplicated. There is no right or wrong time to visit these places to discover their history and culture. Every season on the island accommodates walks in nature, explorations of historical sites and monuments, and moments of pure relaxation.
Lost in Nature and Gastronomy
Do not book a table just yet! For a time, satisfy your hunger with slices of sourdough bread and Halloumi, Anari or Halitzi cheese. Wherever you go, the scent of wood-fired ovens will follow. In the tavernas, traditional women will welcome you to freshly-spread tables. Too busy to breathe, their happiness reflects in their warm smiles. In no time, you will be served a feast fit for kings with fresh eggs, trachanas (tiny pebble-shaped grains prepared from semolina, cracked wheat or wheat flour, or bulgur), sausages, soutzoukos (a traditional chewy sweet made from grape juice), jams and fresh fruits, and katimeria (traditional pancakes) with sugar and cinnamon. In addition, you will learn what constitutes a healthy Mediterranean meal incorporating local products like olive oil, legumes, lean meats, and fresh herbs and vegetables. The ritual of Cypriot cuisine is an important part of its culture and is inextricably linked to all social events from family gatherings to religious celebrations. Each occasion has special delicacies and recipes. Take part in any one of your choosing and you are guaranteed your fill of dancing and delicious food. You will also find nature in abundance. In any village from any part of the heartland, Cyprus is endlessly fascinating. Breathe in the scent of blooming flowers and allow your gaze to wander through olive groves and vineyards. Explore the local harvests and get your fill of fruits and veggies. The land is full of working farms, beautiful paths, traditional hostels, interesting wineries and cooperatives where agricultural occupations and activities have great value and charm. Most are open to visitors.
A Touch of Art
Cyprus loves its native art and local artists. The history of Cypriot art is not linear, nor is it accidental. That is why the island’s artistic traditions of eras ago are still relevant today. You can experience this in any number of art workshops keeping with traditional craftsmanship in the heartland. You will see icons and mosaics made of Venetian enamel, sheets of gold leaf, paints and wood. Vases are sculpted from clay and carved in various designs. There are baskets and bags woven of reeds, intricate embroideries on lace, silversmiths’ jewellery, and skillfully carved reliefs of wooden birds, plants and animals on pine and walnut. The craftspeople are happy to teach all those who show genuine interest. In parting, they will leave you with these words of wisdom; “mathe tehni ki astine ki ama pinasis piastine (even if you don’t need to, learn a craft, and when you get hungry, practice it)”.