If you’re looking for a destination that offers dazzling heritage, irresistible cuisine and breathtaking ancient architecture, there can be no better place than Cyprus. Andrea Bailey pays a visit.
Someone once said ‘four wheels move the body. Two wheels move the soul’. If this is true then my soul has been on the move since we arrived in Cyprus.
Our swanky motorbike glints in the sun as we stand on a cliffside admiring Aphrodite’s Rock immersed in a sparkling sea. Giddy with happiness, the wind is in my hair, a pigeon is fluttering somewhere on the rocks below and the blue skies go on forever – this vivid memory will be filed away for dreary days. White foam rises, then crashes onto the windswept shores of Petra tou Romiou. Legend has it that this is Aphrodite’s birthplace. It is one of the most stunning vistas in all of Cyprus and merges Greek mythology and Cypriot folklore in a single breathtaking destination.
It’s a warm summer morning in Limassol as my husband and I wait by the beach for the motorbike rental shop to open. Baking in the warm sun, our shoulders turn two shades darker and I wonder if the hired bike is really worth the wait.
But we are in holiday mode and all is forgiven when the owner decides to open his shutters an hour later. Riding around Cyprus on a motorbike in the middle of summer can be described in one word – exhilarating.
Cyprus is a treasure chest bursting with ancient castles and ruins
of antiquity. A sun-kissed island in the Mediterranean Sea but one with a chequered past, it is also the only country in the world that still has a divided capital. Nicosia or Lefkosia are both names of the capital city, depending on which side of the enforced border you are standing.
Travel light to Limassol
We make our way past the gardens of Limassol where each year the flower festival and carnival gets residents and visitors together for some fun. People saunter, jog or laze on the beach in this bastion of Cypriot culture, while others tour the Medieval Museum in the old square. The labyrinth of restaurants, boutiques and souvenir shops delight their many visitors.
The buzz of dynamic Limassol is evident in its museums, restaurants and streetside cafés. For a scrumptious Cypriot meal of mezze, try any one of the many restaurants located around the castle area. To be savoured at a leisurely pace, mezze is a starter that can also double up as a main course. A platter consisting of deceptively small bowls of olives, salads and dips followed by bite sized hot kebabs and breads, fills you up surprisingly fast.
Hopping onto our motorbike, map in hand, we make a scheduled stop at Kourion, a rich historic site perched on a rocky cliffside with one of the most spectacular amphitheatres on the island. Situated approximately 19 kilometres west of Limassol, Kourion’s Greco-Roman theatre was built in the second century BC and it is still used today for performances. Sitting under large protective tents, community baths and well preserved mosaics, our time in Cyprus convinced us that there is nothing more rewarding to the eye and mind than to look out over the sea.
If you follow the coastal route to the east of Limassol you will most likely stumble upon the ruins of Amathus, one of the ancient city kingdoms. It’s worth more than worth a short stop.
On to ancient Paphos
If more ruined rocks and ancient amphitheatres are what you seek, look no further than the coastal city of Paphos. With more pillars, tombs and mosaics than you can shake a stick at, this southwestern city makes for an interesting day trip. A castle sits at one end of Paphos harbour,
a few metres away from a bounty of well-preserved mosaics. Paphos is divided into old and new. While new Paphos is more trendy with a street full of nightclubs, old Paphos is where you should be if you consider yourself a history hound.
Take the main road through Paphos and you cannot miss the signs for ‘Tombs of the Kings’, a complex of burial caves. Carved out from hill’s rocks and decorated with Doric columns that date back to the fourth century BC, the site is a magnet for visitors who can stroll around the tombs during daylight hours. After spending a day around what used to be Cyprus’ capital for nearly 600 years, it is quite plain to see why the city is a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Paphos has enjoyed another tryst with history, a more romantic one – its lasting love affair with the beautiful mythological Aphrodite. Nowhere is this more obvious than at Petra tou Romiou, the birthplace of Aphrodite. Legend has it that she was born out of the foam of the sea here, 25 kilometres from Paphos, and that makes Petra tou Romiou a must-see on any visitor’s itinerary. We realise we have been holding our breath for a few seconds as we take in the incredible view.
No trip to Paphos is complete without a stopover at the baths of this famed character. Located in a small hillside in Polis, 48 kilometres north of Paphos, in the untouched Akamas Peninsula, this tiny, shaded grotto is where Aphrodite indulged in languorous beauty baths. The port of Latchi nearby is a great place to relax and practise scuba diving within the safe confines of a lagoon. For the more adventurous, the wreck of Dhimitrios will provide exciting diving opportunities. Having a motorbike at our disposal gives us the freedom to stop and admire gorgeous coastlines at leisure. We found it a much better option than being herded into a tour bus and having to stick to a time-bound schedule.
Trodding the Troodos Mountains
Lying within the heart of Cyprus is a serene area – the Troodos Mountains. Although these rocky slopes are carpeted with thick juniper, pine and cedar trees,
sunlight still filters through the tall branches and leaves. Nature trails weave paths through thick forests and offer spectacular views of villages win sun-drenched valleys and Greek architectural landmarks perched on mountain peaks.
A cool sanctuary during the island’s summer heat, Cypriots seek relief by camping in the forests of the Troodos. Leaving our two-wheel transport behind we take off on the Caledonian Trail, one of four major trails within the Troodos.
Four kilometres long, this ‘Trail of Nightingales’ as it is also known, runs alongside a canyon with gurgling streams, swishing tall trees and singing birds and ends at the majestic Caledonian Falls.
Atalante, (named after the mythological forest nymph) Artemis, and Persephone, (named after the harbinger of spring) are other delightful trails to follow.
The village of Omodos at the foothills of the Troodos is picture-postcard perfect. We ride past the village square where we spot an elderly lady sitting at the door of her shop surrounded by intricate lace bits and bobs. As we stroll up, down and through the village, the crisscrossing serpentine lanes seem to reflect the fine lacework adorning the shop walls. This village is blessed with plenty of sunshine, charming tavernas and beautiful mountainsides.
While a visit to any village around Cyprus is filled with the promise of good things, Kakopetria is quite touristy, but in a positive way. Spread over the Troodos valley like frosting on a cake, Kakopetria boasts an old quarter that is both picturesque and charming. We stop to look at a former watermill-turned-hotel on the banks of the river that runs through
Through the eyes of Nicosia
If ever there was a city that still carries battle scars of a turbulent past, it is Nicosia. Invaded in 1974, a section of the city has since then been cordoned off as a United Nations Buffer Zone. Bullet holes pockmark the walls of bleak buildings as grim-looking guards stand on duty at the barbed-wire outpost. Parking the bike just outside the 16th-century Venetian walls, we follow the cobblestone paths in an effort to learn more about this fascinating city. The capital of Cyprus since the 11th century, old Nicosia is made up of timeless medieval churches and museums. Just outside the old city lies modern Nicosia, one almost entirely concretised into a business hub with a bustling city centre. Being history buffs, we cannot seem to get enough of old Nicosia and are sad to leave it behind.
As all good things must come to an end, for us, all roads now lead back to Limassol and to the owner of our beloved bike.
Andrea Bailey is a Dubai based travel writer. She is also a travel consultant with Travel Counsellors and specializes in cruises, family holidays and honey moons. When she’s not out and about discovering destinations and different cuisines of the world, you would probably find her busy with her 3 daughters and her other passions involving art and music.
As a mosaic artist, she has travelled to Italy and studied ancient Roman techniques of the art form and as a jazz flautist she has had the opportunity of performing across various Dubai venues.