Cyprus is a beautiful, not-so-small island in the Mediterranean Sea, very close to Greece in terms of culture, but geographically located in the Middle East area.
As a destination, it is very popular among Europeans, coming especially from the UK and northern Europe in general. For me it was initially just a logical detour from Syria as I didn’t feel like venturing myself to this country at this time, therefore Cyprus looked like the perfect place at the perfect time!
Because of its countless beaches, most of the people who visit Cyprus in the summer will go to a beach resort and spend their week or two in the same area. But I promise there is so much more to see and do on the island of Venus. I wanted to see it all – well, as much as possible – so I decided to have a road trip instead.
One week and a million things to tell you about!
I reached Cyprus from Turkey via Athens on an Olympic Air flight, and landed in Larnaca. It was early in the afternoon so I still had some time to have a look around before heading to the agritourism where I was going to spend my first two nights.
I picked up my car and headed to the center of Larnaca, where I visited the Ayios Lazaros Church (late 9th Century AD) and then had a nice stroll on the sea promenade.
Let me tell you something: there are tons of amazing churches in Cyprus, most of which are UNESCO heritage. I am not much into churches (or mosques, monasteries or anything like that) but it’s worth to visit a couple of them just to have an idea of how they look like, and to see the amazing paintings and mosaics they have inside. Usually the outside of the churches in Cyprus is very simple but when you enter… it’s another world.
As I was very tired I went back to the car and got lost… Let me tell you something else: when you are in Larnaca, don’t think “I will take this road as a shortcut” if you are not familiar with that area. You will probably end up somewhere else, which is fun if you are exploring, but pretty frustrating if you’re tired as I was!
Last but not least, I headed to Skarinou, where my accommodation was booked, but of course I got the wrong way so it took me ages to arrive. This is because I didn’t want to take the highway so I got lost a million times. The good thing is that I came across a beautiful sunset over the Larnaca Salt Lake, and I could stop to take photos, which I couldn’t have done if I were on the highway! Everything has pros and cons.
Skarinou Village is such a lovely place. If I go back to Cyprus at some point I will definitely stay there again. I woke up to an amazing breakfast provided by Neo, a guy that works for the Cyprus Tourism Board.
As it was my first full day on the island I decided to take it easy. I drove east, all the way to Protaras, a very famous beach resort on the eastern coast of Cyprus.
The beach looked amazing but the sea was too rough for my taste so I didn’t swim but I asked the beach guard and he said the sea is usually very flat, except a couple of days a year…
I headed to Cape Greko, a beautiful nature reserve with wild cliffs and crystal blue water. The loose surface roads are ok with a normal car, but a 4×4 / dune buggy will definitely make the difference.
Here you can’t swim, but you can see the sea at its wildest state. Big waves break into the cliffs and the splashes are high in the air in no time.
Sometimes I had to run from the waves, and I had the feeling I was running from Neptune in person because of the simultaneous beauty, power and scariness of those waves.
Finally I reached Ayia Napa and the worldwide famous Nissi Beach. I had a refreshing swim and then took a nap under the warm 5pm sun, to wake up about 1 hour later and go back to Skarinou, this time with the highway which was very quick!
I left early in the morning to Nicosia (Lefkosia), the capital of Cyprus.
All I knew about this city was that it’s divided in two parts, as the northern area of Nicosia is occupied by the Turkish. Well, even if you don’t know about this, you will definitely understand it by your own when you arrive. Look at the mountains overlooking Nicosia!
Apart from the occupation fact, one thing I found out is that the old part of the city has the shape of a star with 11 points. Cool!
The highlights of the city are the archbishopric, St John’s Cathedral (1662 AD) and the most important Byzantine museum of the country, where icons and mosaics from the occupied territories found their asylum after being sold by the Turkish and rescued by smart collectors.
The main street of old Nicosia is Ledra, where on top of the Shacolas Building there’s an observatory that will allow you not only to have a look of the city from above, but also to nose around the occupied part if you don’t plan to visit it. If you do, you can cross in different points including Ledra Street.
After a delicious Greek lunch, I got back on the road to reach my new destination for the night: Kakopetria, a small village in the Troodos mountains. There, a very special accommodation was waiting for me: The Mill Hotel, once a mill, now a guesthouse with a good restaurant open from midday to 11pm. This, together with free wifi all over the place, the unique architecture of the hotel, and the great privacy offered by its structure, were the things I enjoyed most of my stay.
After a very nice sleep with blanket (Kakopetria is at 667 meters of altitude), I woke up ready for a long day ahead and my first Cypriot hikes!
After a little drive through Troodos, where the roads are nicely surrounded by beautiful cedars, I reached the Pano Platres Tourism Information Center and asked about directions to visit the nearby waterfalls: Kaledonia and Myllomeri.
I started with the Kaledonia ones, as the hike is longer (about 1 hour to reach the main waterfall) and I wanted to be sure not to miss it.
It is not a hard hike but bear in mind you’ll have to cross the river a couple of times, so to make it simple just wear sandals and cross the river without having to hop on and off slippery stones. At least that’s what I did!
After this beautiful view, I paid a visit to the Myllomeri waterfall, very easy to reach but also really beautiful and impressive. It looked like a fairy tale setting…
Last but not least, the following stop of the day (I told you it was going to be a long one!) was the traditional village of Omodos, with its little alleys and typical handicrafts such as laces and of course wine!
It felt like being transported into the past…
This was probably the longest and most demanding day of my stay, but I am glad I saw so many things!
First of all, I checked out from my hotel in Kakopetria and started heading west towards my destination of the day: Polis, on the west coast of Cyprus and just above the Akamas Peninsula – back to the sea!
But not quite yet.
On the way, I stopped at Kalopanayiotis, a small, traditional and picturesque village with its famous St John Lampadistis monastery.
In Pedoulas, a very quiet and serene little town, I paid a quick visit to the folklore museum and the Archangel Michael church (1474 AD). So simple and small. This is the kind of church I like!
The last (but not least!) ‘religious landmark’ of the day was the famous Kikkos Monastery (1100 AD), with its beautiful mosaics, gentle monks and an entire section of the church for relics.
Then off to some hiking! Before leaving the mountainous area of Troodos, I had a hike in the Cedar Valley, so called and well known for the cedar forests that cover its mountains and valleys. It was just me and the trail, and I didn’t meet anyone else during my 2 hours hike… scary? No, awesome!
A quick stop at Stavros Tis Psokkas to spot some mufflons (the typical animals of the area) and then back on the car and down to Polis! What a beautiful trip. The road to Polis is incredibly scenic.
I checked in at the Natura Beach Resort in Polis, had a quick dip into the sea, wondering if I’d get to see the hatching of the many turtle eggs on the resort’s beach, and relaxed after a long day.
After a great breakfast at Natura Beach Resort, prepared with vegetables and dairy products from the hotel’s farm itself, I was ready to move to Pafos and stop on the way for a couple of beautiful sights.
The first stop was the so called Bath of Aphrodite. Even if this place is very touristy now, I think she put a spell on it, so that its beauty doesn’t show on photos, and people has to go and see it themselves. The colors and atmosphere of this little grotto make it something more than unique, and I can easily picture a goddess choosing it as her private bath…
Luckily it’s not allowed to swim in here, but don’t worry, the nearby sea is spectacular.
The rest of the Akamas area has loose surface roads. Next time I’ll have a 4×4. This time I just had to skip it…
Reaching Pafos from Polis is easy and as the road winds it way among beautiful hills with a view on the sea from above, you will shortly find yourself at your destination… and if you’re lucky as I was, you will get a bit lost and find yourself on the edge of beautiful cliffs and sea caves underneath.
Just before arriving to Pafos there’s Lara, a beautiful and wild peninsula (I advice you to go with a 4×4) with endless beaches where turtles lay their eggs.
On the southern side of the peninsula, don’t miss the best hike ever: the Avakas Gorge! I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to do that, as it was very hot… but then again I didn’t want to miss this opportunity. It turned out the shades in the gorge made the hike very pleasant instead.
And so I walked and walked, wondering what was waiting for me as I approached the heart of the gorge… and it kept getting more and more beautiful the more I entered. At some point, the gorge becomes very narrow until they touch, or until they “embrace”, as they say in Cyprus.
It was a long, hot day and I was exhausted but I am glad I finally decided to visit the Avakas Gorge. If you go to Cyprus, make sure you don’t miss it together with Lara.
No wonder as soon as I checked in at the Alexander The Great Hotel in Paphos, I went straight to the beach for a refreshing swim!
Neoptolemos, my guide for the day, met me in the hotel lobby and shortly after we were off to Pafos for my guided tour!
Even if I am Italian, I never saw one of those famous Roman houses with mosaics. Well in Cyprus I closed the gap! I was so impressed with the Pafos mosaics, so well preserved after more than 2000 years.
The Tombs of the Kings were carved into the rock and underground, which reminded me a bit of the Egyptian temples, or maybe even Petra, but in a different shape and measure.
Saint Paul’s pillar is where the saint was lashed 39 times before converting the Roman governor Sergius Paulus to Christianity.
Finally, is there a “sweetest” way to finish the day than visiting a loukoumi (Cyprus delights) factory? In the small town of Yeroskipou, close to Pafos, they prepare the traditional and real loukoumi since generations.
At night, I had a great sushi dinner together with Mr Stavrou, the General Manager of the Alexander the Great Hotel and his wife, Giulia. She has Italian origins and we decided to spend the following day together…
This was the last day for me on the island, and my birthday too (read all about that day here!). At night I was going to take a flight to Amman, Jordan, but before that me and my new friend Giulia had a lot of fun on the way from Pafos to Lemesos.
Something amazing about Cyprus is the variety of landscapes it features.
If you have to drive from Pafos to the east, please don’t take the highway. This piece of Earth is incredibly beautiful, with alternating incredibly high cliffs and beaches.
Petra Tou Romiou, aka Aphrodite’s Rock, is the legendary birthplace of Aphrodite, and I can totally picture her coming out of the waves…
Then up to Apollo’s Temple and the Kourion, an old Roman city overlooking the sea, with a beautiful and famous theatre just on the edge of the hill. Breathtaking!
Kourion beach with its fresh and wavy water and a rich fish mezze-based lunch was the final treat before leaving the area, leaving Giulia in Lemesos and heading to the airport. My flight was at 10.30 pm so I had the time to enjoy the sunset over the Larnaka Salt Lake and the beautiful Hala Sultan Tekke, a very important Mosque overlooking the lake.
I dropped my car in the parking and thanked her for the great times we had together! And then I just had to sadly say goodbye to Cyprus. I knew I was going to miss it!
Who’s been to Cyprus, and which one is your favorite part of the island? Tough call, huh? :)
If you want to see all of the above things, I recommend you to allow yourself at least 2 weeks (I had a very “intense” itinerary!). Anyway if you need any information about Cyprus, please feel free to ask.
Thanks to Carrentals.co.uk for providing me with the exact kind of car I requested. Without a car, it would have been impossible to have this incredible journey!