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In the footsteps of Aphrodite
Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, chose to step from the sea foam onto the shores of Cyprus and now the island of her birth is reshaping and reforming itself in her image. Echoing her loveliness, plans are afoot to preserve the traditional architecture of Greek Cypriot villages and conserve the archaeology of this unique land.
The English pubs and nitespots may linger on, but now there are plenty of places to discover and sample the true delights of this sun-kissed isle.
The Troodos Mountains has long been a place of retreat for travellers and locals seeking an escape from the summer heat. The region is the oldest part of Cyprus and was once rich in minerals such as copper, gold and silver, but these were exploited extensively from the Bronze Age onwards and now such resources are spent, leaving behind dramatic outcrops of limestone and volcanic rock.
According to Mr Costas Tsiakkas there is an old Cypriot saying that “the crazy go to the mountains”, but he chose to give up a successful career in banking to do just that. Following in his grandfather’s footsteps, Costas gave up a secure job in finance to explore his passion – a desire to produce an authentic Cypriot variety of wine, so he set up the Tsiakkas winery in Pelendri village, up in the High Pitsilia region.
Evidence has it that wine was an export from the island in the Byzantine age but for tourists the retsina of more modern times has soured the opinion of Greek vintages. Not any more.
Costas produces whites, reds and rose wines, as well as a new variation of Cyprus’ famous Commandaria dessert wine, which he ages in oak barrels for four years. He labels the ubiquitous retsina as “cheap plonk” and adds: “These kinds of things are not the way to go. Why would anyone bother buying from us?”
As for Chilean wine, he is even more condemning. “It’s ‘Coca Cola’ wine. I hate recipes, for me there should be the variety and a difference of wines year on year.”
What drives Costas is a desire to make one unique wine but for now he is using blends made from small independent farmers in the same way his grandfather worked, buying in from village vineyards where the yield is hand-picked. Costas has been growing his own grapes as well, but fire devastated his crop and the ensuing rains eroded much of his high altitude terraces. Still, this is a man on a mission and he is certainly making headway by experimenting with single native grape varieties such as Yiannoudi and Xinisteri.
It is hard work but Costas is determined. “Once I close my eyes I can say I did the things I wanted,” he concludes, and who can argue with that?
The Troodos Mountains offer plenty of scope for natural adventures. Head first to the Troodos Centre to get your bearings and then take one of the a series of nature trails that run within this untrammelled region.
Taking the Kaledonian Trail is not for the faint-hearted. This trail leads down through leafy paths and rocky outcrops towards an impressive torrent known as the Psilo Dentro falls. This particular walk is not for the casual sightseer. To follow to the end of its course means hopping or scrambling across boulders mid-stream at several points along the way. The first section is manageable and allows visitors to view the water at its most impressive point, so it is possible to catch a glimpse and then simply turn in a loop and head back the way you came. However, for the hiker or rambler, the longer path affords many delights as you will see wildlife including birds, butterflies and wild flowers while enjoying a really good stretch of the legs. Once you have reached the path at the bottom, you can stop for a bite to eat and take a walk around the trout farm, before making your way back from the mountains.
According to Cypriot legend, each should live according to his nature. Aphrodite’s belief was that you should take care of the mind as well as the body. As a deity, she only accepted gifts of olive oil, there was no bloodshed allowed in her worship. Latter day Cypriots still live by this credo enjoying the island’s sporting pursuits and gathering together to discuss and enjoy cultural events.
A stay at the Library Hotel and Wellness Resort in Kalavasos will certainly take care of your headspace. Here you can feed the mind with knowledge while relaxing or enjoying the benefits of walks and cycle trails through the mountains. Good food, pleasant surroundings and learning are inextricably linked - you can browse among the numerous books in several languages within the hotel, before sitting down to some delicious local cuisine.
The hotel was formerly two houses, one was owned by the mine manager and the other belonged to the schoolmaster - together they combine to offer spacious accommodation around a courtyard. Guests can enjoy a rasul - using mud to cleanse the skin - and then relax in the sauna or have a massage before plunging into the dipping pool outside.
Each of the 11 rooms is named after a famous literary figure or thinker and you will find a selection of their works in the room for quiet contemplation. For example, I resided in the Edgar Allen Poe room, where I could indulge myself by reciting A Dream Within A Dream, while drifting off to sleep in my soft and sumptuous bed.
The owner, Savvas Varnavides is a poet in his own right. He has produced a compilation of his poetry On Angels, which is also available for guests to enjoy. One evening during our visit, piano music was filtering through the building and residents were encouraged to sit and simply listen to the artistry of the moment. Savvas has plans to host a programme of cultural events throughout the year at the hotel.
Alternative accommodation is available in traditional holiday apartments in Tochni village, which has an agrotourism programme. Activities include cycling, cheese making, fruit picking, painting and horse riding.
Other places of interest to discover while in the area are Omodos Village with its pretty cobbled square, ancient wine press, walled monastery and traditional lace makers. Stop off at the Lofou Tavern where you’ll be given a warm welcome and a feast of meze dishes, plus live Bouzouki entertainment. Nearby Lania, a highly picturesque village, has attracted a number of artists studios. British painter Michael Owen and his wife Jacqueline are among the residents who have helped to preserve the traditional aspects of the village. Michael is holding an exhibition of his bold abstracts and landscapes, titled 40th Anniversary Exhibition daily from Saturday, June 18 until July 3, from 10am-9pm.
Other active cultural groups promote the village through the production of local handicrafts such as pottery, wine, sweets and herbs.
The village’s mayor, Andreas has worked to restore a number of heritage buildings like the wine press, an old school site to use for concerts, stone pathways, gardens and public squares, and most notably an outdoor art installation of old photographs, which have been printed on canvas and mounted on village homes and empty walls.
The Cyprus Tourism Organisation, www.visitcyprus.com Cyprus Airways, www.cyprusair.com Direct flights from London Heathrow to Larnaca and Paphos airports in Cyprus and from Manchester to Larnaca, and onto destinations in the Middle East and the Gulf.
The Library Hotel Wellness Retreat, Kalavassos, www.libraryhotelcyprus.com T: + 357 248 17071. E: firstname.lastname@example.org Cyprus Villages, www.cyprusvillages.com.cy Tsiakkas Winery, www.swaypage.com/tsiakkas The Kaledonia Nature Trail, www.moa.gov.cy/forest