Bicycle vacation Cyprus
Bicycling in the mountains and along archeological sites
Cyprus has many different types of landscapes. Wooded mountains, deep valleys and narrow canyons. At lower level, there are vineyards, often on terraces. For cultural cravings there are monasteries, churches and archeological sites. A perfect island to tour by bike or car. But there are hardly any pretty towns or nice fishers villages. And the coast has been mostly ruined by developments.
Travelogue & photos: Piet de Geus
When the plane begins its descent to Pafos Airport, I see Akamas through the window. This peninsula with rough mountains and relatively quiet bays is our first destination on Cyprus. On a busy road with many trucks we bicycle via Geroskopi, a messy potters' village, to Pafos, which also makes a dusty impression.
We climb from Pafos to Lemba and then descend along Kisonerga and a nice canyon back to the sea. The coastal road winds and rolls through an area with banana plantations. Everywhere tourist complexes are being developed, especially around Coral Bay. The spots with the best views are taken by humongous villas with swimming pools and security cameras.
Agios Georgios sits on a cape between citrus and banana plantations. You can hardly call the scattered hotels and rooms-to-let a village. Except for an old and a new church, there are ruins of a Byzantine basilica, but they're not even worth finding a hole in the fence to take a closer look at them.
But Agios Georgios is a good starting point to explore the southern part of Akamas. The large village tavern has a beautiful view of the mountains, the coast and the fisher port way down below, especially at sunset. The charcoal-grilled fish and meat dishes are tasty and the wine list has a terrific dry white Ayios Andronikos from the Panagia Chrysorrogiatissa monastery.
Crossing the creek jumping from stone to stone
Next morning we ride our bikes to the Avgas Canyon, which is a few bays farther west. We pass by White River Beach, where - according to a sign - on the 'sunday beach' both 'sunbets' and 'ubmprella's' and other misspellings can be rented. Between the citrus trees and banana palms more and more uncultivated ground appears with carob trees, cactuses and palms. It's early May and spring is already over. Many flowers have already left off.
Tavern Viklari is strategically located on a mountain peak near the entrance to the Avgas Canyon. The windy terrace has a great view of the coast, the mountains of Akamas and the entrance to the canyon. After a short distance, the canyon is only 6 feet wide. Jumping from stone to stone we have to cross the Avgas creek time and again. We walk underneath a huge rock which is stuck between the steep walls of the canyon. On the walls grow ferns.
To reach the end of the canyon, we can either wade through the creek or take a good shower, probably tonight's rainwater that is finding its way down. Nah, I don't think so.
Rising high above the shore
The unrestrained development of tourism around Coral Bay spills over inland to Pegeia, which seems glued to a steep hill. It doesn't matter where you build: there's always a good view. Especially rich expats seems to appreciate this.
According to a sign we climb a 9 percent incline for 2 kilometers. Quickly we rise high above Pegeia and the shore. When the road winds into a pine forest, we see the same sign: a 9 percent incline for the next two kilimeters. At the end of the forest we have a great view. On the other side are the peaks of the Troödos mountains. We climb on, over a ridge with vineyards. On goat paths along the hills beneath us is a nature trail. Akamas is excellent for hiking.
After another climb we arrive in Kathikas at 600 meters altitude. It is the first authentic looking Cypriotic village, with narrow streets and houses built with rough rocks. Some of these houses are rented out for what is called agrotourism. We find a room in Loxandra's house, behind a gate on a courtyard. The ceiling of heavy beams with bamboo in the spacious living room is supported by an arch.
According to the Rough Guide the Taverna Araouzos is "the main highlight" of Kathikas. That is right, but the guide does not say that there is also entertainment tonight: the cook curses and swears at her husband. It goes on and on, until it gets embarrassing. Maybe it has something to do with him being plastered and remaining completely stoic under her screaming?
Without asking anything, they bring us one small plate after another: olives, tahina, tzadziki, fish balls, stifado, squash with egg, Greek salad, string beans with carrots, broad beans, chicken with potato, couscous with vermicelli, potato salad - in short: the famous meze. Everything is delicious and by the time the drunk waiter brings the fruit we are stuffed (American English).
Bars next to restaurants, next to tourist shops
We bicycle through a beautiful landscape with views of nearby mountain peaks via Arodes and Ineia to Drouseia. By a strategically located hotel the long descent begins. After some curves we arrive in Kritou Tera, which lies in a pretty green valley.
On narrow roads and paths with countless turns, we descend along steep declines with fields of wheat. On the other side of the valley the Troödos mountains are obscured by clouds. Way down we see Polis and surroundings.
Polis' little old towncenter is flooded with bars, restaurants and tourist shops. It is an enigma why Polis is so popular with tourists, because there isn't anything special about it. The nearby "fishers village" of Latchi has over the last couple of years been cluttered with souvenir shops and accomodations as well. Could it really just be because of the beach?
Polis and Latchi are good starting points for exploring the north of Akamas. A few kilometers to the west are Aphrodites' baths, where also some of the nature trails begin. This part of Akamas is reletively unspoiled. Paradoxically, this is because there's a shooting range of the British artillery here.
An old khan
Between the Akamas and Troödos mountains
We wanted to bicycle through Pafos Forest into the Troödos mountains, but it turns out to be hard to book a room in the forestry lodge Stavros tsi Psokas and there is no alternative even remotely nearby. So we bicycle to Pafos to enter the Troödos mountains from the south.
Soon we see the minaret of Chrysochou. The main road is not as busy as we expected and also leads us through pretty surroundings: a series of valleys between the Akamas and Troödos mountains.
Every now and then there are steep climbs, until we reach Tsada at 600 meters, where the long descent begins. Throug Mesogi and industrial areas we race down to crowded and uninteresting Pafos. On the B 6 we bicycle along Geroskopi and the airport.
Along the Asprokremmos dam we climb inland to Nikokleia, which lies between rough hills and citrus plantations. Outside the village is Vasilias Nikoklis Inn, a former khan along the camel route which was used by the Venetians to bring copper from the Troödos mountains to Pafos.
When owner Tassos started this restaurent in the delapidated building which was used as a shed by his parents, the whole village thought he was insane. By now, the stables have been transformed into rooms and the secluded inn has become an idyllic spot which is popular with hikers and bird watchers.
On an old camel trail into the Troödos mountains
At first the road through the beautiful Dhiarizos valley winds along citrus plantations, but farther upstream they make place for vineyards and wild areas with goat herds.
Just before Kidassi the road passes between two impressive rocks and a little later we bicycle over a bridge to the other bank, into the Commandaria region.
In a bend in the road is a kafeneion in the shade of huge oak trees. From Nikokleia we have climbed 300 meters in 20 kilometers and now we're at the foot of the mountains and bycicling is going to get much harder.
The road along beautiful Omodos has just got a new topcoat of gravel, so we take the smooth asphalt road along the north side of the over 1000 meters high mountains.
In Agios Nikolaos, 8 km farther, we have climbed 500 meters already. A small road descends to two old Venetian bridges. We leave the caravan route and bicycle to Mandria. The road winds almost without incline along deep ravines.
In the most unlikely places we see little patches of vineyards. On the other side the wooded, round peaks of the Troödos mountains are obscured by clouds.
Neat Mandria we cross from the foothills into the Troödos mountains proper. No more vineyards; it's woods and orchards now. In a bend, we see fleece clouds beneath us. From Kato Platres we climb another 300 meters in only a few kilometers before we arrive in Pano Platres at 1100 meters.
On the way to the waterfall people wring out their socks
Pano Platres is a mountain resort where both the British occupiers and wealthy inhabitants of Nicosia visit during the hot summer because it is a little cooler here.
Many buildings are dilapidated, but new villas are being built between the hotels and restaurants in the few streets on the wooded incline.
Mainly by Russians, who drive expensive Mercedeses and Jaguars. Besides tourism, money laundring is an important source of income here.
Around Platres are marked hiking trails. The short walk to the Caledonian waterfalls is very popular. The entrance to the narrow green valley is already cluttered with tourist buses early in the season.
To reach the waterfalls one has to jump from stone to stone to cross a rustling river. Everywhere along the sides people sit down to wring out their wet socks.
All over the place people are picking cherries, standing on ladders
Surrounded by pines we climb on a narrow road over the flanks of the Olympos mountain (1951 m). Ahead of us, clouds creep up the steep incline. To our left is a great view of Foini deep down; behind it the wild hills over which we bicycled via Mandria to Platres.
Bicycling along walls of pine forest we pass by a monastery and picnic spots before we reach Promodos at 1400 meters. After a roundabout we descend quickly into the Marathassa valley. Four kilometers of hairpin turns take us 350 meters lower to Pedoulas, which we soon discern in the depths.
Pedoulas has seen better times. Many hotels and restaurants are deserted and seriously delapidated. It's not a pretty village, with all its corrugated iron roofs.
But Pedoulas is located beautifully like an amphitheatre between the green walls of the mountains. Over the mountain peaks clouds continuously float into the valley. Thousands of birds fly in the sky.
When we walk down into the valley, it soon becomes clear why every street sign and traffic sign has a bunch of cherries on it: everywhere people are picking cherries, standing on ladders. Where the inclines are very steep, the full cherry crates are brought up with a little cable lift.
In Moutoulas we visit the Panayia to Moutoullas (1280). It's the oldest one of the Byzantine churches with big tiled roofs and frescoes which are typical for the Troödos mountains and the valleys north of it. The pointed roofs protect the high-lying churches in case of heavy snow.
A few bends in the road farther down is Kalopanayiotis, with on the other side of the river the Ayios Ioannis Lampadistis monastery. It's not rich and famous, like the Kykkos monastery, so there are no bus loads of tourists. It is one of the few monasteries which are still more or less in their original state and have not been irrecognizably renovated. In one the rooms we even see an old olive press.
When the monks fled for the Turks in the 16th century, they hid the icons beneath stacks of junk.
Only a few years ago a priest had the place cleaned out and the valuable icons were found. The ones who were face down on the ground are seriously damaged, but most have withstood time remarkably well.
In the museum, housed in the former elementary school, the restored icons are exhibited, together with icons from churches in the same area. This large exhibition offers examples of Byzantine art from the 12th through 19th centuries.
In the monastery's chapel is more Byzantine art. Actually the chapel consists of three different churches: St. Heraclidios (11th century), the 12th century Lampadistas and the 15th century Latin chapel. The walls and ceilings are completely covered with colorful frescoes (13th-15th century).
Back in Pedoulas we also visit the Archangelos Michaïl church, whose roof extends to just above the ground. An old woman comes shuffling with the key. The walls and ceiling here are also covered with beautiful frescoes with a blue background.
Here we also find churches with tiled roofs
As fast as we descended into the Marathassa valley, so slow we crawl back out via the same hairpin curves. After a few kilometers and hundreds of meters of climbing the ordeal is over. On a wide asphalt road we descend via the wooded North Shoulder (1709 m) from the Troödos mountains.
For a long time we see Pedoulas and the other villages in the valley far below us, until we turn into the Solea Valley. Its hill sides are not so steep and the surrounding mountains are a little bare. In the distance we see Morfou on the bay with the same name, in Turkish occupied North Cyprus.
Faster and faster we descend. We pass the Agios Nikolaos monastery by - the place is packed with tourist buses. A little later we arrive in Kakopetria (671 m). Here it also is a coming and going of tour buses, even though the picturesque old town center on the edge of a deep canyon consist only of a few cobbled streets and some houses with overhanging balconies.
Neighboring Galata has only one street with a few interesting houses, but even that is already a lot for Cypriotic standards. The island is attractive for its nature, more than for its culture. There are countless tiled-roof churches in the Solea Valley, but by now we've seen enough of those.
Back to the coast
After the canyon a patchwork of vineyards
This isn't fun: stifling hot, not a breeze and the road gets steeper and steeper. Today we descend to the coast, but first we have to cross the Karvouni Pass. In 7 kilometers we climb over 500 meters. Yes, it's nice and green here. Pfff. Of course I see the white spheres of the radar station on Mt. Olympus. But did you notice how these trucks with Keo beer taunt us by passing us by so slowly!
From the pass at 1190 meters we descend through different types of pretty landscapes. First we race through the green valley of the Mesa Potamos. Parts are cultivated, others not. Those are called "game reserve area," which means that it's good hunting there. Used bullets are scattered on the ground.
After we cross the main road through the Troödos mountains once again, we have to make a short climb, an 8 percent incline over the next 4 km. On our right we have a view of Mt. Olympus and left of the Commandaria region, which we enter at Pera Pedi. The Kyrgos river, which is the source of the Caledonian waterfalls 5 km upstream from here, has worn the rocks into a rough canyon.
After the narrow canyon there is a patchwork of vineyards. The road here ascends from the valley to a mountain ridge. When we reach Founi we're at the peak. There is a shelter here owned by the Friends of the Cyprus Donkey. Donkeys are used in ads for Cyprus, but on the island itself they're hard to find.
From the ridge, the road descends to Agios Amvrosios, with views of two valleys with vineyards. A few more nasty little climbs and a stretch with terraces and then there is an almost straight descent to the sea. It's a boring part, but we go fast: one moment Limassol is far below us in the depths, the next we race into the town of Episkopi already.
Episkopi and Kourion
Nothing remains of the ancient city
Episkopi is isn't pretty either, it lacks a center. Cyprus is completely unlike Greece, where picturesque fishers villages abound. Because of raids by Arab armies in the 7th century, most villages were relocated to more strategically located spots inland.
After the Turkish invasion in 1974 large numbers of refugees from the north had to be housed. Many cities in the city grew quickly. Add to this the development of tourism and the construction of second homes (apparently according to the principle "where land can be bought, construction is allowed" and you have an explanation of the disjointed and untidy look of the island.
Still we find an idyllic place to stay, in an old house with a large patio where birds sing all day long. With our dinner we drink a delicious dry Ayioklima of Constantinou from Pera Pedi. This afternoon we passed by those vineyards on our bicycles.
In style, we conclude with a commandaria, a sweet dessert wine which was already popular in the time of the crusades. The fortification after which the wine is named, is 5 km away from here, in Kolossi. It is a robust tower with battlements, meters thick walls and a draw bridge.
On a high cliff just outside Episkopi are the ruins of the ancient city of Kourion. At the bottom of the cliff is a good beach with a nice view of the coast.
At 8 AM we already enter the site; the ticket booth is still closed. Later in the day tour buses will arrive and the ruins will be obscured by crowds of tourists. At this early hour we have the whole site to ourselves.
Nothing remains of the ancient city itself. It was leveled by an earthquake in 365 B.C. The current ruins are Roman and early Byzantian. Except for the theater, which has nice mosaics and a few columns, there are mainly foundations. When we leave Kourion, the first tour bus arrives.
Along Petrou tou Romiou
Aphrodite rose here from the spume of the waves
West of Kourion are more archeological sites. On the way to Pafos we visit the Roman stadium. Only the contours of the lowest rows of seats are still recognizable. We pass the temple of Apollo Hylates by. There isn't much to see and we still have a long trip ahead of us; it also is stifling hot already.
Leaving Episkopi, the road takes us up and down one hill after another. Around the British garrison town Happy Valley the hill sides get even steeper. Neat rows of houses with trimmed lawns behind high fences. The streets are named after British cities. It's not allowed to take pictures of the pretty view of the sea here.
Na een groene vallei met landbouw volgt een stevige klim door een ruig gebied met rotsen en maquis. Een heerlijke afdaling langs een rivierdal brengt ons terug naar zee, waar de weg langs een prachtige rotskust golft.
We passeren Petrou tou Romiou, de Rots van de Griek. Een byzantijnse held zou de rotsen naar piraten hebben gegooid, precies op de plaats waar duizenden jaren eerder Aphrodite uit het schuim van de golven verrees.
Old (Paleo) Pafos sits on a hill top near Kouklia. In antiquity Aphrodite was worshipped here. Only foundations remain of the temple and the city. A few mosaics also. Interesting is the large black stone in the museum next door: Aphrodite was worshipped in this shape.
A mosaic portrays Dionysos' triumphal procession
To accomodate the enormous numbers of pilgrims who came to worship Aphrodite in antiquity - as well as for ship construction and to transport wood from the inland - in the Hellenistic era the port of Nea Pafos was built. Because of Arabian raids in the 7th century, the Byzantines were forced to retreat to the inland here as well. On the ridge of a plateau they built the current Pafos (aka Ktima).
Ktima is messy province town with a few museums. In the old Turkish quarter is an indoor market. It and the surrounding pedestrian streets are completely devoted to the sale of souvenirs. Nearby is the edge of the plateau, which has a gorgeous view of the coast.
From the fortress in the port of Nea Pafos one gets an impression of the tourist industry that developed here after the northern beaches became inaccessable in 1974. After the opening of Pafos Airport in 1983, the pace of development of hotels, apartment buildings, restaurants and souvenir shops increased.
Even so, Nea Pafos is worth a visit, because here are some of the finest archeological sites of Cyprus. Next to the port, among the remains of the city walls, is a huge site where some Roman villas have been discovered, with beautiful mosaics portraying scens from Greek mythology.
A large panel shows the triumphal procession of Dionysos, riding a leopard-drawn chariot. King Ikarios, who according to legend made the first wine, rides an ox-drawn chariot with the drink which is meant only for the gods, because men cannot restrain themselves, as the two drunk sheperds show.
According to estimations only half of the old city has been uncovered so far, so a visit will only become more interesting in the future. It is best to arrive early or late to avoid the bus loads of tourists. Between the Roman villas are also the agora, a (badly restored) odeon and a Byzantine castle.
The oldest site, where the tombs of the Kings are, are a few kilometers farther. On the way we pass by the Roman hotel, a tasteless monster that reminds one of a cardboard set from a B-movie. If there are any building regulations, they clearly do not apply to the estethics of new buildings.
The tombs of the Kings are on a rolling, rocky field above the sea. In this necropolis no more kings were buried after the 3rd century B.C., only rich citizens.
The crypts were cut out in the soft stone. The richest dead have rooms around an underground courtyard surrounded by Dorian columns, which also have been cut from the rocks. In the rooms are niches in which the dead were buried.
We even succeed in finding a decent restaurant in Nea Pafos. The waiters are Cypriotic, which is an exception. Most people who work in restaurants and in the tourist industry are from poor countries, mainly Eastern Europe, Sri Lanka, the Philipines and India. They are bossed around by their Cypriotic employers without much respect. We treat ourselves on this last evening to meze. No less than twenty little plates with delicacies are put on our table.