Cyprus in Spring 2019: Paphos, Polis and Mountains

This is the first of two blog posts on our visit to Cyprus in May-June 2019. The second post is here.

Go here for a picture gallery.

When our planned trip to Sri Lanka in May 2019 was postponed after the FCO travel ban following the Easter Sunday attacks, we decided at the last minute to spend 9 days in Cyprus. Why Cyprus? It had been on my long list of places to visit for some time, it’s relatively close and it might be like Greece.

Paphos area

We arrived in Paphos on the west coast very late at night on Jet2 from Leeds/Bradford and managed to find our hotel in our rental car without too much difficulty. We had picked a fairly large hotel not too far from the airport as we knew would be arriving after midnight when reception is likely to be closed in smaller place. The Amphora Hotel turned out to be close to the sea but fairly stark and soulless. For some strange reason the restaurant was not by the sea but overlooking the car park. Breakfast was good but one night there was enough.

On our first full day we drove to the harbour area, where it was easy to park.

Paphos harbour

There we first visited the castle. Its location right by the harbour was probably the best part of it.

View towards Paphos Castle

We had lunch in one of the many restaurants on the harbour and then tackled the archaeological site next door. This involved quite a bit of walking in the heat but was well worth it because of the large number of well-preserved mosaics from the Roman period. Many were outdoors in the remains of houses but the best ones in the House of Dionysus were under cover.

Covered mosaics, Paphos Archaeological Site

Many like that of Pyramus and Thisbe tell stories from mythology.

Pyramus and Thisbe Mosaic, Paphos Archaeological Site

I really liked the animals.

Mosaic, Paphos Archaeological Site

The depictions of human faces were good too.

Mosaic, Paphos Archaeological Site

We spent our second night in the Paphos area in the Anna Apartments to the north of the main town in Kissonerga. The British owner was very helpful and recommended a favourite restaurant of theirs supposedly 15 minutes drive away. Finding it was interesting as our new satnav was not as knowledgable about Cyprus as its maps claimed to be.

When we finally arrived we were presented with a huge amount of food which all looked great but which was far too much for two people. This was the first of many huge meals which we were served. I hope the owner was not too much offended when we left a lot of it. I noticed that other diners were taking the rest of their food home in boxes, something I have only seen in the US and Canada before.

Our last stop in Paphos, apart from Lidls to get some picnic food, was the area known as the Tombs of the Kings where there are the remains of underground tombs used by residents of the area in the Hellenistic and Roman times. You can go down steps into most of them.

At the Tombs of the Kings

One was carved out all around like the rock churches we saw in Lalibela in Ethiopia.

At the Tombs of the Kings

We drove north to Agios Georgios and ate our picnic tiropites (cheese pies) by the harbour before attempting to take a look at the Avgas Gorge, one of the main sights in the area. Martin walked down some of the way while I tried to get out of the sun.

The only goat either of us saw – in Avgas Gorge

There’s a nice cafe at a viewpoint at the end of the driveable track to the Gorge and we got there just in time for some tea before it closed.

It was a short drive to our next stop at Polis on the north coast.

Polis and Akamas

We spent two nights in the Bay View Apartments in Polis close to the sea and just outside the main town and had dinner (choice of fish or calamari) on our first night there. Our room was more like a maisonette with a living/kitchen area downstairs and a bedroom and bathroom upstairs. The gardens at Bay View were lovely with masses of flowers everywhere.

As we found when we were looking for an ATM and some food, the town of Polis is pleasant and has not been taken over entirely by tourists. The main town centre is not on the sea.

The Akamas Peninsula at the northwest tip of Cyprus is a national park with no development, but plenty of trails and picnic places. We found an excellent one to eat our tiropites, and then set off walking. I soon gave up as it was so hot once we got out of the shade of the forest, but Martin carried on for an hour’s circuit. A few tourists were coming along the track in a variety of quad bikes and all terrain vehicles. It would be possible to drive further in a four-wheel drive but we didn’t want to try it in a small car.

We had a quick look in a little church on the way out of the park and then decided to miss the Baths of Aphrodite, a local beauty spot, preferring some tea in another nice restaurant overlooking the sea.

Tea stop view towards Polis

Back at the apartment Martin decided to try the pool there but was soon out – we have got too used to our heated pool in Florida. We had an excellent dinner at Moustakallis which seems to be the main restaurant and something of an institution in Polis. It’s on the edge of the old town and you can park just opposite it.

Troodos Mountains

The Troodos range are the highest mountains in Cyprus with the appropriately named Mount Olympus the tallest at 1952m. The drive there took us first past banana plantations then up through the national park forest.

A rare kind of sheep called moufflon live there. The chances of seeing them in the wild are almost non-existent, but the park authority has made a large enclosure for some near a forest station and we saw about 30 of them including some lambs. They have large curved horns but generally look thinner than the dales sheep near our house in Nidderdale.

Moufflon sheep

We took a detour through Cedar Valley where there are plenty of examples of the Cyprus cedar tree. We ate our picnic at the bottom of the valley and saw people coming down from a hike up Mt Tripylos. The information board said it was about an hour or 2km to the top and so we decided to tackle it. The walk was on a wide track but up all the time.

From the trail up Mount Tripylos

I was struggling after about 40 minutes and, after sitting on a very hard rock for about 15 minutes, set off back. Martin did get to the top and caught up with me when I was only about half way down.

Because of our hike we arrived rather late at the Kykkos Monastery which is the richest one in Cyprus. We had time to look at the wall paintings but the museum was closed. I doubt if we missed much because these museums tend to contain only a lot of icons all very similar to each other.

In Kykkos Monastery

The road past Kykkos leads to the Throni Shrine to the Virgin Mary. This monument is an elegant octagon – all its four doors were closed.

Throni Shrine of the Virgin Mary, near Kykkos Monastery

You walk past almost life-size representations of various religious figures in niches on the way up. The tomb of Archbishop Makarios, whose name will be very familiar to those of us old enough to remember the turbulent period of history on the island of Cyprus in the 1950s and 1960s, is located in a dingy cave nearby. There is also a bronze statue of him 10m high and immediately recognisable to those of us who do remember him.

Archbishop Makarios

We drove on fairly quickly from Kykkos to the Two Flowers Hotel, our overnight stop in the Troodos in the village of Pedoulas. We passed almost no habitation on the way there until we came to the village of Prodroomos 4km from our destination. Pedoulas is built on a hill side and the Two Flowers is on the main street. Fortunately we were placed in the much quieter annex down the road away from the noise. This was a much more local kind of place. We ate dinner in the hotel where the only other diner appeared to be a Russian lady who told us that she lived in Larnaca.

The next morning we walked down to the older part of the village to see the UNESCO-listed church of the Archangelos Michail.

Church of Archangelos Michail, Pedoulas

This tiny building, unprepossessing from the outside and dating from 1474, contains a series of amazing post-Byzantine frescoes which are highly regarded.

Interior, Archangelos Michail, Pedoulas

We were well armed with information so as not to confuse it with the much larger modern white church which stands out all over the village. This church was firmly closed.

Then it was off to the Mt Olympus area. We stopped at a tourist shop on the edge of Prodromos to buy a not very nice tiropita and were served by some Russians, the first (after the lady in the hotel) of many we were to see later. With some difficulty we found the tourist office down a path from the tourist area Troodos Square. The office has a good video which they put on in English for us and we got some helpful advice on hiking.

I had read about the Artemis Trail which goes all the way round Mt Olympus about 100m from the top and was determined to tackle all 7 km of it. You can drive up to the start of this trail. Much of it was very pleasant in the forest but the area between km 3 and km 5 was mostly on ledges built on landslips on bare hillsides.

Scary part of the Artemis Trail

I was very pleased with myself for finishing the trail, the longest walk since my hip operations. The temperature was just right and the views were stupendous. When we got back to the hotel my Fitbit had clocked over 20,000 steps for the day, by far the largest number since I bought it in November 2018.

There were more people about back at the hotel, presumably because it was a Saturday evening. The next day we saw very many more as we drove round Olympus again to Platres where all the world seemed to have escaped the hot weather near the coast to have Sunday lunch. We finally found an empty table in one restaurant, waited over 20 minutes to order some dips and meze only to be told by a brusque server “main dish only”. There was no indication of this on the menu. Thankfully we did get our meze further up the road in another very crowded place.

Towards Nicosia

It was an easy drive down the mountains and along the motorway to Nicosia. On the edge of the mountains we stopped at Kakopetria a traditional village which has been renovated. There is a lovely long street where many houses have overhanging balconies on the upper floor rooms.

Street in Kakopetria

According to the guide book a couple of churches on the way were worth a stop. The Panagia Podythou was nicely set back from the road but the door was firmly locked.

Agios Nikolaos tis Stegis is another UNESCO-listed church and there we found a party of summer camp children viewing the church, or rather mostly playing around outside it. They weren’t speaking Greek or English and we suspected that they were Russian. At least this meant that the church was open to visitors, but no photos were allowed inside.

Agios Nikolaos tis Stegis, near Kakopetria

My second blog post on this trip covers Nicosia, a day trip to North Cyprus as well as the south coast.

Picture gallery: Cyprus in Spring 2019: Paphos, Polis and Mountains

Click to enlarge

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