Cyprus: To the Sea (North) and to the Mountains (South)


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Middle East » Cyprus
March 4th 2017
Published: March 19th 2017
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Kalidonia Waterfall near Platres
2017 Spring Break, Cyprus

Last November Belavia was having a fare sale and we searched through the list of destinations and looked up Larnaka. In Cyprus… why not? South of Turkey it must be warm (one of our main considerations). Four months later we arrived in Larnaka and were met by warm air and glorious sunshine! We rented a car and drove directly to the archeological site of Salamis (later Constantia). First established in the 12th century BC by Greek settlers, it continuously changed with modifications and additions by Greeks and Romans over the ensuing centuries. It was destroyed by earthquakes and rebuilt by Byzantine Emperor Constantine II in the 4th century AD. It slipped into obscurity after its harbor silted in, more earthquakes and Arab raids on Cyprus in the 7th and 8th centuries. A quick lunch overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and then a leisurely walk through the ruins of the huge gymnasium (think hammam, sauna, spa, exercise, swimming, and gossiping complex) and the classical Roman theater.

We drove on to the Karpas Peninsula, covering the northeastern end of the island. We found tiny Oasis at Ayflion near Dipkarpaz. This rural hotel with 9 rooms and a fantastic fish restaurant was our home for three days. The spectacular sunsets, beach walking, and fish were the highlights of this quiet place. We enjoyed grouper, shi drum (milokopi), and calamari. The shi drum, delectable flavor, moist but firm, was our favorite. And always for George it was washed down with the super cold and refreshing Efes pilzen beer from Turkey. Kevin tried the wines which were palatable. We enjoyed three incredible sunsets here. In addition to this cliff hugging restaurant, our room was a short walk passing by the ruin of Agios Filon, a Byzantine church on top of the cliff overlooking the Mediterranean Sea with the mountains of Turkey looming in the misty distance. We walked to the nearby beach and waded in the cool water and walked in the soft sand. A sad note about the beach: the winter storms have littered the beach with plastic flotsam from Europe – broken beach chairs, flip flops, and many, many bottles. Much had broken into micro-trash, the lapping waves creating colorful necklace-like patterns in the sand.

We drove the tip of the remote Karpas peninsula on our first day. We tried our hand at finding wild asparagus as we had observed several older people traipsing through the fields occasionally bending and coming up with a spear. No luck for us and we (regretfully) passed up the opportunity to buy some from boys selling bunches along the side of the road.

We took a day trip (2 hour drive) to the port city of Kyrenia and the mountaintop fortress castle ruins of St. Hilarion. The hike and view from the top were exhilarating. Lunch at the Kyrenia harbor included stuffed artichoke, pepper and onion. New highways make travel easy, but there is now a lot of development along the coast and many finished and unfinished villas litter the landscape.

A note about Cyprus – it has an interesting history as it was a major crossroads in the old world. In more modern history it was a British outpost with Turkish sovereignty until World War I when Britain took control. It became independent in 1960, but violence between the Greek and Turkish (minority) populations ended with division of the island in 1974 when Turkey invaded and occupied the northern part. In 2014 an agreement reopened the border and allowed us to travel across. We learned that our car insurance didn’t cover our trip to North Cyprus (read the fine print on the contract). So when we crossed into North Cyprus we first purchased insurance before passing passport control.

We left North Cyprus at the capital, Nicosia. We arrived, parked and wandered the old town. We had made previous arrangements for a hammam experience. We located the hammam and then went off in search of lunch. We found authentic Mattheos restaurant along the wall of the Arablar Mosque run by a cute older couple serving hearty Cypriot food. I had lamb casserole (which means a slow roasted leg with vegetables) and Kevin had marinated veal. Dessert of fresh cream whipped with fruit. Kevin had a frappe and I enjoy Cypriot coffee – much like Turkish but milder and fewer grounds.

We again wandered the old town losing ourselves in the winding narrow streets. Confused by the two different time zones in this tiny country we made our way to the hammam. We were an hour early but they said no problem. We changed and made our way into the hammam bathing area. Lying on the huge heated marble stone under the largest dome we relaxed. There were four smaller rooms under smaller domes radiating from the large dome. Rotating frequently to get heated through, pausing occasionally to douse ourselves using copper bowls dipped into the cool water of stone tubs in the smaller rooms. After about 20 minutes of this it was time to shower and then a 60 minute massage – at times a bit aggressive, but overall very relaxing. Apres ginger tea and water, change and off to our southern destination, Treis Elies in the Troodos Mountains.

Our navigator led us over narrow remote, but paved roads through beautiful mountain valleys and saddles. Our host had warned us about the unreliability of navigators here but we persevered and finally made it. We used her directions to find her home, To Spitikou, in the tiny hillside village of Treis Elies (three olives). We were greeted by Androula who proudly showed us our amazing hillside hugging stone apartment connected to the side of her house. She brought us a huge pomelo, bitter orange juice, lightly sweetened and very refreshing, and a fresh batch of marmalade. For dinner she prepared handmade ravioli stuffed with haloumi cheese prepared for us and served with bread and a bottle of wine. This was followed by dessert. We met two “locals” (2 years here). They are organic farmers and one has chickens and she promised a dozen fresh eggs the next day. We stopped at the teeny tiny grocery for some supplies – hard sheep cheese, bread, butter (from Ireland! – they are in the EU after all), and milk.

Morning sunshine streaming through the balcony windows. The village just waking. White almond blossoms outside the window, birds chirping, roosters crowing, and flies and bees buzzing – refreshing sights and sounds after the cold quiet winter in Minsk.

We walked to two waterfalls near Platres. Large lizards sunning themselves and I got up close to one on a rock wall along the path when suddenly a large snake fell from the wall at my feet. I yelled and jumped. By the time I got my camera ready it had slithered between the rocks and disappeared. Androulla thought it was probably poisonous. The trails followed small snow-fed streams crossing via bridges occasionally. The sun and warmth were a delight. We noticed quite a lot of plastic bottles in the stream so we picked up a bag full on the return hike. We enjoyed a picnic lunch of potato chips, nuts, cheese and the local beer Keo (not nearly as good as Efes in the north). We returned to Androulas for a nap and then a short walk to two Venetian bridges near Treis Elies. These bridge were built by the Venetians (who reportedly treated the locals like slaves) to transport copper ingots from the mines in the Troodos Mountains to the port of Lemoso.

Back to Androula’s for our cooking lesson. She had marinated pork cubes in red wine for about 3 hours. Then we sautéed the pork in some olive oil until the moisture was almost evaporated. We added the wine marinade, salt, and fresh bay leaves to the meat, then simmered for 1 hour. This was served with the quick cooking pourgori (cracked wheat) and wine. We were joined by fellow guest William from Northern Ireland, but retired to Cyprus. Fun conversation.

Wine touring the following day. We spent most of the time between the two wineries lost driving narrow winding twisting roads in the beautiful Troodos foothills dotted with vineyards. Most grapes are grown bush style without trellis support and are thus pruned low and look like hands with gnarled fingers turned up to the sky. We finally found the small family run winery gem, Zambartas in Agios Amrosios. The short tour and tasting were intimate. There were two workers outside the winery trimming vine cutting for starting a new vineyard. They needed 4,000 and had only done 900 the previous day. They just stick the cutting in the soil right in the vineyard, water, and hope they root. They had very delicious wines, refreshing and fruity, with a focus on quality and increasing use of local varieties like Maratheftko and Lefkada. We had a meze lunch at Stou Kir Yianni – so many delicious small dishes added up to a very satisfying meal. Their wine shop just across the lane was waiting for us after lunch for a brief tasting. Friendly hosts shared their white and rose wines that where slightly fizzy from the addition of small amounts of CO2. Later, a light dinner of beans and vegetables with Androula and William.

On our final day we drove into the snow (past a working ski lift) and then back down to visit the Troodos Botanical Garden and Geopark. They are both located in an abandoned asbestos open pit mine. The Geopark museum with a tour by the host environmental geologist was a fascinating overview of the unique geology and the copper and asbestos mining in the Troodos Mountains over the centuries.

Our final dinner was the long awaited Kleftico, lamb and potatoes slow cooked in a clay pot for 4 hours. The tender meat and flavor infused potatoes were delicious!



It was only a two hour drive to the airport the next morning and back to Minsk.


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Dipkarpaz, Karpas PeninsulaDipkarpaz, Karpas Peninsula
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