From Asprokremmos Dam to Roudias Bridge in the valley of Xeros, nature, history, tradition, and adventure converge into one unforgettable experience.

Text: Vasiliki Anastasti

Photos: Silvio Augusto Rusmigo 

While the route from Limassol to Pafos is well-trodden, only a handful of travellers venture off the beaten path, one unveiling the treasures nestled within Pafos’ steep valleys. Among these is the Xeros River Valley, carved by the river that flows from the Troodos Mountains. It shines as one of the region’s most enchanting and authentic locales.

Picturesque Villages, Monasteries And A Donkey Farm

Exiting the highway near the villages of Kouklia and Anarita, you will encounter the Asprokremmos Dam, marking the initial point in our exploration of Xeros River. Asprokremmos, the second-largest dam in Cyprus, following Kouris Dam, captivates visitors with its striking blue waters within the otherwise arid surroundings. Amidst its beauty, Asprokremmos conceals a hidden gem on its western bank: the ancient village of Foinikas. Once the vibrant centre of the Knights Templar and later a bustling village, Foinikas, although abandoned, still echoes its rich past. History seamlessly intertwines with nature as the crumbling houses shelter birds like the majestic and easily recognizable European Roller (Coracias garrulus). This protected migratory species visits Cyprus each spring to nest and rear its young, painting a vivid picture of nature’s resilience amidst the ruins. Stopping near the dam’s refinery from the side of Anarita, you can head on foot to Foinikas.

The route continues, passing through picturesque villages such as Nata, Amargeti and Pentalia, towering over the Xeros River. As its name suggests (Xeros is Greek for “dry”), although it usually does not carry much water, the Xeros River undergoes stunning transformations after rainfall, offering breathtaking views from above.

In Pentalia village, a worthwhile detour leads to the Monastery of Panayia tou Sinti. It is one of the most authentic examples of monastic architecture on the island, with great historical and archaeological value, under the protection of UNESCO. Despite its abandonment nearly a century ago, a stroll through the monastery’s expansive inner courtyard unveils its distinctive aesthetic charm, which seamlessly melds with the picturesque landscape. The monastery is also accessible from the village of Kelokedara, where you will discover, among others, the Argonaftis donkey farm, which provides shelter and care for Cypriot donkeys. It also boasts a cafeteria doubling as a taverna every Saturday. Besides delightful donkey rides to the monastery, it is a great starting point for various excursions and trips.

The Griffon Vulture, the Wineries and a Unique Bridge

On the way to Galataria village, you will be greeted by the serene, vast landscape defining the Xeros River Valley, where goats and sheep graze freely on the hillsides. In Galataria, the charming stone-built chapel of Agios Nikolaos, decorated with frescoes and dating back to the early 16th century, is a delightful visit.

The route tracing the river to Pano Panayia is a segment of the Wine Road: Vouni Panayia-Ambelitis, renowned for its rich winemaking heritage. Many local wineries craft exquisite white wines from the Xynisteri grape variety and the beloved dry red Maratheftiko. The proprietors, known for their warm hospitality, welcome visitors. For example, the scenic Shoufas Winery in the village of Koilineia offers breathtaking views of the Xeros River.

A distinctive route begins in Koilineia and winds to the abandoned village of Vretsia. Amidst this vast and uninterrupted landscape, you might spot the awe-inspiring Griffon Vulture by simply looking upward. This unique bird species, the only vulture nesting in Cyprus, has become endangered, prompting substantial conservation efforts under the LIFE project, “Life with Vultures.”

At the beginning of Xeros River is Roudias Bridge, one of the Venetian bridges of Cyprus that stands out for its uniqueness. Its allure lies in its untamed wilderness, creating a captivating, rugged beauty. It transports the visitor to other times. It is one of the most inaccessible Venetian bridges, located in a remote area with dense vegetation. The preferred route is the dirt road leading north from Vretsia. Avoid the road that crosses the river, as it is dangerous.

Exploring the Xeros River Valley offers a glimpse into the past, revealing why this area has been inhabited since ancient times. It seamlessly combines the quintessential elements of the Cypriot countryside: freshwater streams, lush pastures, fragrant thyme bushlands, vineyards and almond orchards. A vibrant blend of cultural heritage and natural splendour, the valley is a protected Natura 2000 site, underscoring its significance in preserving local flora and fauna. With each step comes the sense of a profound connection to the past and the importance of safeguarding this exceptional Cypriot gem.

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