While staying with Androula at To Spitiko tou Archonta recently, Rosie, Androula and I made a little excursion one day to Platres. From Treis Elies it only takes about twenty minutes to reach Pano Platres, perched on the Troodos mountainside, with spectacular views around. This town became well established as a holiday resort at the time of British rule on the island from 1880; a favoured spot because of its temperate climate, low humidity and cooling breezes; very welcome at the height of the summer when temperatures in Lefkosia and lowlands could reach and sometimes exceed 40〫C . It gradually became a favoured watering hole of the well-heeled travellers from Egypt, Palestine, Sudan as well as Lefkosia and Limassol.
Although there is a history of a village here from as early as 1100AD to all intents and purposes today it exists purely as a holiday resort and nearly all the inhabitants are connected with tourism one way or another; the streets are lined with cafes, bars, hotels and tourist shops, offering nothing of any distinction. In its heyday it attracted the rich and famous but these days the clientele is of a more modest variety and it has the feeling of being stuck somewhat in a time warp.
Before leaving the town Androula wanted to pay a visit to a hotel that is an icon of the glory that was Platres in its heyday; The Forest Park Hotel. This hotel was one of the first built on Platres that offered the visitor an hotel of international standards; built in 1935 by George Skyrianides, a pioneer in Cypriot tourism and designed by the Israeli architect Samuel Barkai. The curved side elevation, projecting like the prow of a ship over the hillside, has the hallmark of thirties design and must have been quite strikingly modern in its setting when first built. It still remains in the hands of the Skyrianides family today.
The hotel commands an impressive spot at the top (or so it seems) of the mountain. You pass under an archway and climb up the long tree-lined drive to the hotel entrance.The day we arrived there was quite a bustle as two or three coach loads of P & O cruisers docked at Limassol had arrived to take tea. Androula was keen to renew acquaintance with the management as she had an interest in talking to Mr Heraklis, one of the brothers Skyrianides, who are the present owners of the hotel. As well as the manager, Mr Anthony Skyrianides was present with one of his sons; a particularly beautiful young man with that gentle, dreamy, dark look some young Cypriot men with pale eyes have. We were invited to take tea on the terrace from where the young man, after some conversation escorted us around the hotel.
The hotel has recently re-opened after a winter closure. It was refurbished as recently as 2004, over the years there have been quite a few additions, from its original 70 bedrooms the hotel now has more than double that capacity. I really liked the atmosphere and feel of the place, it has a very sedate, comfortable, retro feel of the 50’s with some nice original touches. I can visualise how people would have come here to take the air and relax. There is plenty of room to spread out and enjoy the magnificent surroundings, the terrace has a fantastic view. The part I particularly liked was the bar as in here there was a focus on some of the quality craftsmanship to be found in Cyprus with beautiful examples of old Fythkiotika on the walls and attractively carved panels, even the chairs seemed to have an authentic feel.
As Mr Heraklis was not available on this visit we arranged to return one evening a few days later, as part of her research for a project, Androula wanted to hear the stories of the past, of which she knew Mr Heraklis had many. A charming and urbane man, he was generous with his time giving us a potted history of the beginnings of tourism and particularly hoteliers in Cyprus. His family was a forerunner in hotel management, particularly his father Mr. George Skyrianides who had the vision of how tourism could play a major role in the economy of Cyprus and made strenuous efforts to establish an official regulatory body, the Cyprus Hotel Association, which laid the foundations for the Cyprus Tourist Organisation of today.
Mr Heraklis talked of the glory days of the past involving many difficult periods such as: when the hotel was requisitioned by the British in World War II for use as a military hospital or when the Suez crisis erupted and again the British used Forest Park as its headquarters. This highlights how useful Cyprus has always been, strategically placed as it is in the Mediterranean, and why the British are loath to give up their Sovereign bases even though they no longer pay rent for the privilege.
I felt Mr. Heraklis’ sadness and puzzlement when viewing the present predicament of Forest Park as he related the various ideas recently tried, to attract visitors. The tourist trade has changed greatly over the years and the management at Forest Park have adapted to meet its needs. In the early days guests were looking for relaxation and tranquility in the green and cool of the mountains, then when sand and sunshine took over as priorities, Forest Park could offer a two centre holiday, a large conference centre has been added to its facilities as well as other amenities to attract a wide range of visitors. Times are tough and to survive the exceptional circumstances of the present, bold innovative ideas are called for such as the kind Mr George Skyrianides pioneered back in the day.
The present economic climate certainly makes for extremely challenging times, I was saddened to think that this unique hotel might possibly not survive unless a radical new way forward was found. I believe it certainly has a lot to offer; the history and ‘vintage’ feel that is very popular today could be enhanced by some contemporary touches commissioned from the best of today’s Cypriot craftsmen and women, celebrating its Cypriot uniqueness, echoing the values of its founder. Add to this an old style service with a top-notch international chef and you have something apart from the average. We were shown the latest additions of rooms in the new wing and once inside the room it could be any hotel room in the world, with the same furniture and fixtures. I am all for the modern amenities but what about individuality? Hotels of quality today offer not just amenities but style. In my opinion it is a mistake to think that things must be made cheap to attract more customers, it depends which customers you are looking for. Surely people will pay for quality and individuality, something they can’t get anywhere else, this is value for money.
And why will the visitor come to this unique hotel perched on its plateau, what has the area got to offer that will attract, no what has Cyprus got to offer the discerning tourist? There is a company based in the UK called Matin Randall who specialise in cultural tours with experts, they organise bespoke holidays all over the world to visit art and architecture with a specialist in each particular field to guide and inform. There is certainly plenty of scope for such holidays in Cyprus.There is a unique flora and fauna, as well as geology which could attract specialist groups of visitors with expert guides in these subjects. There are the fabulous collection of Unesco listed painted churches in the Troodos regions together with a myriad of ancient archaeological sites from ancient Amathus ,Kourion, Kolossi, Tombs of the Kings, Choirokoitia as well as Kantarra, Buffavento, Kyrenia, Bellapais, Salamis etc. There are also many people in search of activity holidays these days and Troodos lends itself to walking and cycling and painting or photography. Gourmet events specialising in local wines. These are certainly avenues ripe for exploration. Forest View Hotel situated as it is in Platres could be a good base for these kinds of holiday.Times are ever changing indeed but that means there are different avenues to explore.