A September 2005 trip
to Cyprus by MichaelJM
Quote: To the northeast of Pafos there are some superb little villages. Here you can find true Cyprus away from the bustle of the tourist centre of Pafos.
From Simou, we spotted a sign for the Scarfos Medieval Bridge. Now, I’d certainly recommend that you visit this place. It is totally un-commercialised. We were the only people there, and quite frankly, it’s not hard to imagine tail-backs of heavily ladened carts as they converge on the narrow bridge en route to Polis from Pafos. You can still walk over the high-arched bridge, and it was a really gentle and tranquil experience as we paused in the valley bottom surveying the countryside and listening to the chattering birds. Our big mistake was not to retrace our journey back to Simou. That "dirt track" had been difficult, but we headed in the direction of Lasa, and here the dirt track was no longer – it was boulder country. We couldn’t turn back, and it was hard in our car to progress forward. We managed it with great relief and saw our first giant cactus at the edge of the village of Lasa.
We had some superb views of the island from the hills, with the heat mist shrouding parts of the landmass, and passed through a variety of landscapes, from the extremely barren wastelands through to lush vegetation. The hues of some of the rock formations were terrific and occasionally reminded me of the "artist’s palate" in Death Valley. But then, as if Tracey Emin had spotted an "installation opportunity," the countryside would be marred by the dumping of household goods in "the middle of nowhere."
We passed banana plantations and minute habitations with impressive churches, and at one point had to stop for several minutes, as a herd of goat decided to "head for the hills." The greatest experience would be the perfect blue skies, the absence of any hassle, and the laid-back attitude to life. This was relaxation at its best!
Get off the beaten track and look at the smaller monasteries and the delightful churches that are at the very heart of Cyprus’ culture. Eat at small tavernas and remember that "posh" looking does not always mean great food. There are loads of set meals to choose from and prices are really competitive. In Cyprus, it pays to eat the local dishes, as they will usually represent best value and quality.
Avoid the timeshare touts – they’re mainly in the harbour area or busy tourist areas. You’ll see them well in advance as they limber up ready to pounce on the unsuspecting punter.
A car hire is dead easy, and there are loads of companies to choose from – make sure the insurance comes complete with CDW (not all companies offer it within the quoted price) and that the company deals with newer cars. You can get cheap deals, but….
We made the mistake of not hiring a 4x4 and had some pretty hairy journeys on the lesser roads. If I was to return, I’d make sure that I took a jeep rather than a saloon car.
Like most places catering to tourists, you can be taken everywhere on organised trips, but you won’t be taken to the smaller villages and you’ll only be able to pause as long as your driver thinks fit. Go independent if you can.
We settled ourselves down at a table, and a voice from behind the trees said, "You’ve made a wise choice." A couple of ex-pats who’d been on the island for over 25 years had recently stumbled on this taverna and had decided to celebrate England’s winning of the Ashes (I had to introduce that somewhere into the journal!) by taking lunch at one of their favourite village tavernas. The garden was crammed with plant life and the vines hung decorously above our head, providing a haven for local insect life and a lush protection from the ferocity of the Cypriot sun. Nothing posh – just comfortable, relaxed, and rustic, a perfect setting to chill out.
We wanted a lunchtime snack and opted for a "village salad" for two and a couple of Keo’s. Very efficiently, a large bowlful of fresh salad was brought to the table with an accompaniment of olives, freshly made bread, and a large bottle of mineral water. The salad was tossed in an absolutely gorgeous dressing and the olives were some of the best I’ve ever tasted. There was a load, and we delighted in the large chunks of smooth, soft feta, integral to a great Greek salad. The beer and the glasses were cold, and we spent a very pleasant lunch hour pondering the essentials of life and planning the rest of our hassle free day. At the end, when I asked for the bill, I was asked for the princely sum of £3.
Whilst expressing my surprise at the cost, the ex-pats retorted, "We did tell you!" They were still struggling to complete their Meze meal for two, an elaborate and mouth-watering mixture of Mediterranean dishes served in vast quantities. Up in this small Greek village, a full, tasty Meze was costing this couple £5 a head, whereas in Pafos, a Meze of much smaller portions would cost around £8. Certainly their food looked superb, and I would strongly recommend that you try this place out for its idyllic setting and incredible value.
Here is Fyti you’ll rub shoulders with locals, and they will treat you as if you are one of their residents. No false tourist sentiments here, just genuine home cooking in a no-nonsense garden taverna. Indeed, whilst we were eating, the local clergy popped across for his lunch and was seen "chewing the cud" with a table full of locals. No one was in a hurry, and it’s amazing how quickly this come-day, go-day attitude rubs off. We left feeling fully replete and totally relaxed. Que Sera.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on September 26, 2005
Fiti Pefkos Taverna
The church was built in the early 1800s and has a typical Greek exterior and a delightful interior. The altar screen is dated 1854 and probably as bright and colourful as the day it was first painted. Typically the saints depicted on the screen are flat characterizations, but they do have character and a mystical depth to them. The ornate cross above the screen is impressive, with two green dragons smiling outwards from its foot, but in places it seems to be overshadowed by an amazing crystal chandelier that has pride of place in the centre of the church. To get a really great view, climb the stairs at the back of the church and look down from the balcony.
Just up from the church was a small but incredibly interesting folk museum. The woman working the loom was proud to show us some early photographs of her as a young child alongside the family’s donkey. The "curator" gave us a really informative tour around the exhibits, including an insight into the changes of fortune of this small village. In years gone by, they had two main assets: the wool of the local sheep that was particularly fine and used to provide clothing for the inhabitants and also the raw material for the production of rugs and symbolic garments for religious ceremonies and fields of local cotton from which the local women produced fine lacework. Now he ruefully informed us the sheep no longer thrive around Fyti and the crops of cotton ceased many years ago. However, he is now beginning to nurture cotton and has three productive plants in the courtyard - not that they produce enough to give vast quantities of lace, but at least the tradition is being upheld. He was also proud to show us the village’s silk worm production – again, not in vast quantities, but a new colony is being established and Fyti silk may be in production in future years!
There’s a lot of old farm equipment on display, including a fascinating threshing "machine" that was basically a heavy piece of timber with sharpened rock embedded into the surface. This would have been dragged over cereal crops by teams of donkeys – the whole process must have taken an age. Alongside the farming equipment were examples of village dress, ranging from "Sunday best" to work clothing and some traditional clothing resembling modern pyjamas.
Entrance is free, and there was nowhere that I saw encouraging you to make a donation. Not sure how this one survives!
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on September 26, 2005
A fairly forlorn unmanned "gift shop" was near the entrance and if you fancy a snack or a drink there was a covered café set amidst lush vegetation with views of the nearby mountains. Entrance to the monastery was clearly marked and like most religious buildings you are asked to respect their dress code by covering shoulders and legs. Don’t worry if you’re "improperly" dressed because there’s a supply of fabric at the entrance to enable you to comply with the request. I felt I looked particularly fetching in my subtly checked blue wrap-a-round skirt!
The story goes that the monastery was founded in the 12th Century following the amazing discovery by Ignatius, a local hermit, of a gleaming image of the Virgin Mary alongside voices requesting that the image be housed on this very site. The monks were unable to help with what happened to the original monastery because this one is mid-1700s. On entry you enter a pretty cloistered area and we were guided around the monastery’s museum by one of the monks, unfortunately the church was not open at the time of our visit, but the first floor museum was interesting enough with a small but notable collection of revered icons.
I guess the dominant display was a brightly painted ornate wooden altar with a couple of grotesque angels taking pride of place at its apex. There were fabulously ornate incense burners with ostrich eggs supported above the burner, a finely woven gilded cover from 1778, a superb early Murano chandelier, and numerous 17th paintings on "thick-timber". There was a display of early monk’s habits and meticulously embroidered abbot’s robes. An early gospel dating back to 1681 was open on a page showing the fine artistry of a religious dedicatee – only pen and ink but the detail was amazing. Whilst we were there a tape was played of unusual church music – I would have been interested in having a copy but although there was a church shop CDs weren’t on sale.
After the museum we took a short stroll through the cloistered area next to the monk’s quarters. This was incredibly serene and we noted three monks sat in the shade deep in discussion, we presumed, about the scriptures. They seemed not to have a care in the world and I guess, in reality they did not. No hassle or hectic pace of life here, but evidence of a strong commitment to their religion and spiritual well-being.
This was well worth a visit not only for the monastery "experience" but also the amazing vista that is available from the establishment’s entrance. We’ve since found out that the church is closed between 12 and 2 so if you’re popping in, avoid those hours.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on October 1, 2005
Attraction | "A tour of Makarios' birthplace"
The more interesting visit is a short walk away at the house where Makarios was born and bred. We got there to find a note on the door: "for access ask for the key at the cultural centre". We hoof it back there and the museum curator is chatting to her colleague at the centre. No problem – off we went for our personally guided "tour" of the small, but typical village house that was home for the Makarios family. The gate to the small courtyard was unlocked and we took a few short strides to the entrance of the house, passing, as we went, a small covered outside area that I suspect was originally used as a washhouse.
On initial impressions the house was a reasonable size but it was soon pointed out that the bigger back room accommodated the animals. Michael lived, alongside his three siblings in this basic peasant home and spent some time as a shepherd in the nearby hills before becoming a novice monk in the monastery of Kykko. There is a minimal entrance fee (70 cents) and I don’t think anyone will find that too onerous!
The human quarters were crammed with period pieces and although I’m sure that none are from the original Makarios home we were assured that they were consistent with his time. Despite the external temperature the room was cool and pleasant although lacking in natural light. In its day it would have had strange combinations of aromas – the smell of the livestock (there were no doors or windows in this back stable so animals would have been led through the living area), fresh bread, hanging meats and herbs, fresh rosemary drifting through from the courtyard. Somehow as I imagined it I could virtually "taste" the combination and just hoped that the fresh bread over-rode the natural smells of the neighbouring livestock!
It would certainly have made for compact living offering no personal space for any of the family. I guess thinking time was afforded to them all as they pursued their occupations in the surrounding field of Panyia. This offers a fascinating incite into peasant living in early 20th Century Cyprus as well as a glimpse into the life of Arch-Bishop Makarios.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 1, 2005
Makarios' Birthplace Tour