When we set out sails for Cyprus in mid-June, after clearing the Suez Canal, we had expected that we would only stay for a few days to re-group and do a little provisioning before continuing onto Greece. But Cyprus turned out to be a charming gem, and we ended up staying for 2 ½ weeks. Cyprus is not a great cruising destination as there are few natural harbours or bays suitable for anchoring, so Paseafique was moored in Paphos, on the south-west, for most of that time. Like many parts of the Mediterranean, Cyprus has been controlled by various rulers and empires including the Greek, Roman, British, Venetian and Ottoman empires (Ottoman empire included 43 present day countries in southeastern Europe, western Asia and northern Africa). More recently of course, the Turks invaded Cyprus and still retain control of the north. Each of these cultures left their mark on the country which makes it a fascinating place for history buffs. The Greek Cypriots though are very proud of their Greek heritage. The Cypriot government, sometimes in partnership with other countries and NGOs, have put considerable resources into curating and presenting their history. Together with the pleasant climate, good quality food, and friendly people (including the check-in authorities), this made for a very enjoyable time.
We didn’t have to go far to find ruins, since ancient Paphos is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Right near the harbour, there are the ruins of four Roman houses, the first of which was discovered by a farmer in the early 1960s. The houses belonged to noblemen and had sensational mosaic floors, much of which are very well preserved. The floors, which are really works of art, depict scenes of ancient Greek mythology.
The harbour is also the site of a medieval fort, built during the Byzantine era but dismantled by the Venetians and then later re-built by the Ottomans. The fort is the back-drop for concerts which are held regularly throughout the summer. We were lucky enough to be in Cyprus during the festival of Kataklysmos which means flood and celebrates the destruction of almost all living creatures to give birth to a new and moral generation. The celebrations include various games, swimming competitions, boat races, folk dancing, and live music performances. Consequently, we were able to attend a couple of performances at the fort. One of these featured a dance troupe that gave a fantastic performance over a couple of hours. We couldn’t believe our luck, sitting outdoors on a balmy Mediterranean summer evening enjoying a first rate (and free!) lively and colourful traditional dance concert. Unfortunately, we just missed an excellent youth choir who performed the night after we left, but we were again lucky enough to hear their rehearsal – such beautiful singing and in such a wonderful location.
We had been pouring over the Cyprus map, trying to work out how we could use the local buses to venture into the countryside and visit one of the many monasteries and also get a taste of life in a small village. We had more or less settled on an itinerary until we got chatting to an older local man on the bus one day and he highly recommended a visit to Kykkos Monastery, which was a long way north up in the Troodos forest, beyond the reach of the local bus service. We had noticed a tour company based in the Paphos bus station that were advertising a number of day trips, one of which included the Kykkos Monastery, and one of the traditional villages that we were keen on also. The tour was only available on Mondays and Thursdays and so we made an overnight decision to do the tour the next day. Their website advised that seats must be booked 24 hours in advance, but we decided to take our chance and just turn up at the bus depot. Once again, we were very lucky and got the last two seats on the bus for that days’ tour! It was an excellent tour. The guide spoke very good English and gave great commentary so we learned a lot. We visited not only the Kykkos Monastery, which was indeed a substantial complex, but also the very charming (and less touristy) Monastery of Saint Neophytos. We really enjoyed the drive through the forest, and the last stop, the village of Omodos, was a highlight. A wine-producing village of only 100 residents, it was utterly gorgeous with narrow winding cobblestone streets – even if it was also full of gift shops.
Troodos Mountains, enormous statue of first President of Cyprus, elaborate religious icon at President’s monument
Ormodos resident taking afternoon nap, typical Ormodos house
We took a second tour on another occasion to Limassol, the second largest city on Cyprus. While Limassol held some interest for us, our main reason for taking this tour was to visit the Kourion Archaeological Site. Here we visited a magnificent Greco-Roman amphitheatre which was built high in the hills overlooking the coast in the 2nd century BC. It has been restored and is still used for performances. At this site, we also saw the ruins of the House of Eustolios, originally a private villa which at one time was turned into a public recreation centre, consisting of a series of hot and cold baths, complete with dressing and socialising rooms. It was great having a guide who described how the villa and its baths were used. Like the amphitheatre, the villa had spectacular views over the coastline.
Kolossi Castle, dating to the 13th century and named after the area’s first feudal lord, Colos
We had a couple of free hours in Limassol for lunch and “shopping”. While the other guests ambled through the shops buying various traditional craft and food, where do you think we ended up? Yep, at the marina and of course we found the chandlery and bought a few things that we needed. On the way back to Paphos, we stopped at Aphrodite’s rock, where according to legend Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, rose from the water. The worship of Aphrodite flourished in Cyprus, and there are many references to her in their history and culture. There was time allocated for a swim, and with legends about swimming in these waters conferring youth and beauty, Lesley had her delightful first swim in the Mediterranean, along with her first experience of a beach of pebbles rather than sand!
Taking a dip near Aphrodite’s rock
On our walks to the Paphos shopping mall, we had passed the site of a complex of catacombs several times and as our time there was coming to an end we decided we should check them out rather than passing them by. Most of the what would have been an extensive complex had collapsed, but in the course of exploring them we also found another site of an early Christian church which was built over the ruins of the largest early Byzantine Basilicia on the island. Here we discovered St Paul’s Pillar, where according to legend St Paul (one of Christ’s main apostles) was flogged before he managed to convert the Roman governor at the time to Christianity. There is no actual proof of the flogging but there is no doubt that St Paul did visit Cyprus as part of his first mission, and spread the Christian faith there. Even for a lapsed Catholic, it was quite a moment to realise that we were standing on the same ground where St Paul walked.
The early Christian Basilica, and St Paul’s pillar
We also visited the Tombs of the Kings, monumental underground tombs dating back to the 3rd Century, which were the burial grounds for high ranking officials – not kings.
Very extensive area of the Valley of the Kings- underground was just a maze of alcoves, shelves, and rooms all carved out of the stone and where the bodies would have been laid to rest
Cyprus was such a contrast to Egypt and a fabulous introduction to Mediterranean Europe. We were sorry to leave, but we wanted to time our arrival into Greece for July 1, to maximise our value from the Greek cruising tax, which is paid by the month, with no reduction for stays of less than one month.