When people think of Cyprus, they usually picture vast expanses of dazzling, aquamarine waters bordering white-sand beaches, crispy squid rings and lashings of creamy tzatziki, and scantily-clad teenagers swimming in alcohol and quad-biking around residential streets. I hark back to watching Channel 4 documentaries about Brits Abroad who would descend on Ayia Napa in throngs, a haze of coordinated t-shirts and questionable henna tattoos, all lost in a daze of inebriation and the kind of reckless abandon that only being displaced from home and civic responsibilities allows you.
So you can imagine that when my parents, who are now well into their sixties, announced that they were looking to sell our quaint family home in the Welsh countryside and relocate to Cyprus for retirement, I was left slack-jawed. You see, my parents aren’t the ‘fish-and-chips-munching, oil-covered-sun-worshipping, three-lions-tattoo’ type of parents*. They’re quiet and unassuming, impeccably behaved and they actually blend in to wherever they go.
So this begged the question… “why Cyprus?” Well, initially I wasn’t sure. I had let the media’s horror stories sully my preconception. But after spending a week among refreshingly friendly locals and enjoying the most simplistic yet decadent cuisine, the question soon spun to: “why on earth not?”
For one, the island is incredibly beautiful, low on violent crime, racially-tolerant, fantastic for cuisine and shopping, culturally-rich, and blessed with year-round sunshine. Ok, that was more than just one, I know. But it is a gem, and an underrated one at that.
When mum and dad announced their plans to holiday there at the end of last summer, I jumped at the chance to go with them and help them explore potential living areas.
Where we stayed
We rented a beautiful holiday home nestled precariously into the craggy cliffside of Pomos, in Northwestern Cyprus. Pomos is alive with banana, almond, avocado, walnut and citrus fruit trees and sits at around 60km north-east of Paphos, one of Cyprus’ most (in)famous cities.
In Cyprus they drive on the left-hand side of the road which makes for a seamless transition, especially for somewhat nervy drivers like myself. We rented a small 4×4 (one that came in handy when navigating the hairpin bends of the Troodos mountains) which was perfectly adequate for just the three of us. And, as always, dad was nominated driver, and remained at a firm 10mph under the speed limit at all times. Parking in Cyprus is a relaxed affair, with the common attitude being something along the lines of ‘if your car fits, your car sits’ but it’s still hard to shake that socially-engrained worry of being ticketed at any and every opportunity.
Where to eat
We developed a very deep and equally quick love affair with Kanalli Fish Tavern – a modern yet authentic seafood restaurant overlooking Pomos Harbour, home to spectacular sea views and an extensive menu of freshly-caught fish and shellfish. We visited this restaurant on numerous occasions because of the friendly, helpful dining staff and the quality of their food. There is something very whimsical about listening to the light crashing of waves and seagull cries below you as you tuck in to a lengthy mezze platter of king prawns, lightly-fried calamari, giant mussels, crisp salad, crusty bread and taramosalata.
Santa Barbara Resto & Beach Bar, merely pebbles away from the water’s edge in neighbouring Argaka, was also a frequent haunt of ours. We would sit at little, wooden tables arranged on the astroturf and watch the sun slowly set behind the mountains. One thing I would go above and beyond to recommend you try is the simple Greek salad – a mixture of crisp greens, olives, fresh tomatoes, sliced onion, feta cheese and dried oregano. It’s a far cry from the pre-prepared Sainsbury’s packet variety and is a pleasant accompaniment to any meal.
Where to visit
About 24 hours or so before we departed, I developed a pretty hideous skin infection on the left side of my face, which resulted in agonising swelling, pustule build-up and general misery – picture Quasimodo’s ugly step-sister in a bad mood and you’re just about on the money. Not only did this mean that I shied away from virtually every photo opportunity that arose and, as a consequence, have very little evidence to show that I was actually there, but, I also had to be very careful to shield my face from the sun and was unable to swim in the sea or public baths. Womp.
This meant that every activity we partook in involved nothing but good old dry land. One morning as we very daringly (read:foolishly) ventured into the Troodos Mountains without so much as a map, we got incredibly lost, and as we gained altitude, incredibly perturbed. Hours went by as we meandered hopelessly in our little locomotive, wincing from the 35 degree heat and ruing the day we ever decided to just be carefree and not plan everything to the last letter. After about 3 hours when we eventually advanced onto semi-flat, less treacherous land, we rejoiced as we began to see other vehicles – a welcome upgrade from lone mountain goats and the underbelly of the clouds. We soon came upon a collection of parked cars, and tourists on foot, and, in the distance…a gift shop.
We had stumbled across Kykkos Monastery. Hallelujah.
Kykkos Monastery is among the wealthiest and best-known monasteries in Cyprus. It is also a welcome point of refuge for lost, bewildered and dangerously thirsty tourists. We parked the car and immediately hurried over to the restaurant to quench our thirst and feast on their temperamental wifi connection.
We decided to take advantage of our situation and explore the monastery, given that we were right outside (albeit accidentally) and recoiled at the thought of returning to the toaster oven that our rental car had become. I also have a penchant for religious buildings and was delighted at the thought of looking around. I picked up a lilac robe from the hallway to cover my bare shoulders and we proceeded through the entryway, intricately decorated with detailed mosaic and metallic tilework. A welcome breeze blew through the cloisters as we examined the details of the architecture.
The original monastery was burned down completely on several occasions and so no original ruins remain.
After a good couple of hours spent drinking in the culture and religious history of the monastery, we began our descent back into Pomos, this time avoiding the white-knuckle bends of the “scenic route” and setting off in sight of motorways, road signs and evidence of human civilisation.
Paphos, home to the second-largest airport in Cyprus and 2017 Capital of Culture, is one of the best-known cities on the entire island for foreigners. It is divided into two distinct sectors – Kato Paphos, which is the main strip of restaurants and tourist shops (and the odd British pub scattered about for luck) and Ktima, a mass of labyrinthine streets and colonial houses located further inland.
We wandered along the Kato Paphos waterfront which is lined with small ice cream shops, souvenir stalls and funnily enough, opticians. Handy for when the blazing sun has scorched your retinas right off. Tourists inundate the area during the summertime, occupying every inch of free sunbathing space and saturating the laid-back restaurants near the sea. As we went there in late September, we were fortunate to have missed the stampede and could take in the sights without being run over by a rowdy octogenarian on a Segway.
Sea caves, found in Peyia Village, is a must-see if you’re down in Paphos for the day. This isn’t to be confused with sea caves on the other side of the island in Ayia Napa, mind. I can now say with 20:20 hindsight that they are definitely not the same thing.
In case the name isn’t a big enough clue, these are a row of caves that the sea has eroded out of a cliff face over the course of several thousands of years. Priceless really. It is evidence enough of the sheer power of the sea and if you’re somebody like me, who is amazed by and petrified of the sea in pretty much equal measures, then this is definitely going to peak your interest. The Edro III Shipwreck is tacked on to the edge like a charm on a bracelet, heavily rusty and magnificent.
Throughout our trip, we drove through tiny villages and towns, rocky and dusty under our tyres. Usually when lost was when we discovered the most beautiful sights. Ramshackle religious alters and white, pebbly walls of churches, luscious flower beds like colourful jigsaw pieces on humble little front lawns. We saw donkeys carrying freshly-cut crop across harvested land, grapevines growing across open doorways and the pleasant commotion of everyday life buzzing inside houses with netted windows. People never tired of giving these puzzled tourists directions. They happily translated Greek-language road signs for us and didn’t so much as smirk when they saw us pass them 3 times in 3 different directions.
Western Cyprus is a truly spectacular example of largely unspoilt, coastal living. It has a naiveté and charming authenticity to it that is perfect for someone who enjoys the beauty of nature away from flashing lights and hubbub. While it may occasionally reside in the shadows of bigger, better-known cities such as Limassol, Larnaca and Nicosia (to name but a few), Western Cyprus will draw you in with mermaid song and never let you escape.
As for deciding where to live, one week was simply not enough time to make that choice, so I’m afraid we’ll have to make multiple return trips to ensure a fully-informed decision. Oh well…!
————————————————————————————————————————————-Have you ever visited the lesser-known parts of Cyprus? Let me know in the comments!