Travels Around the Island

It has been a busy and mixed time since my last post. My Uncle died very sadly on Good Friday eve and because it was Easter the funeral didn’t take place until the following Tuesday in Lefkosia. It made the Easter celebrations bitter sweet but in a strange way very apt as it’s a time of death and rebirth. Nearly all the family were at the funeral some  relatives I hadn’t seen for many years. There is a tradition of inviting the mourners to take some bread, olives, cheese and wine at the cemetery. There is a  special area set aside for the relatives to cater for this in the cemetery where my Uncle was buried but my Father was buried in a small village cemetery and we had to make do as best we could. Also food is provided for those mourners who wish to go back to the house.

When my Father died he was buried the next day which is the custom in Cyprus, being a hot country there is sense in expediency. We went to my Dad’s garden to collect flowers and leaves from his bushes to put in the coffin with him which I thought was a very nice idea, much more personal than buying them and he did love gardening.

I stayed with a cousin in Lefkosia for a few days and took the opportunity to visit a shop called Faneromeni 70 near Agia Faneromeni church in the centre. A friend had told me about this shop which features solely works by Cypriot artists or artists connected to Cyprus in some way. It is a non profit organisation run by a group of professionals among them anthropologists and geologists, and the money from the sales goes to help the unemployed. A fascinating shop full of quirky things.The shop is surrounded by cafes and as the sun was out and the weather warming up these cafes were full of young people as there are also several small colleges and universities close by. At night I can imagine that this area is very popular as a meeting place for young people to sit and chat over coffee.

I went straight from Lefkosia to visit my cousin Androula and spend some time with her in Tries Elies. People come here to walk, rest, enjoy the countryside as it is so tranquil, surrounded as it is by a variety of blossoming trees and at this time of year wild flowers, some very rare, with a river running through by the footpaths and trails all year round. Being such a tiny village in the Troodos mountains you would imagine that there is not a lot going on here. I have to tell you that the few days I spent here were some of the busiest so far in my stay, with people from many different parts of Europe crossing my path. On arrival an old friend had arrived for lunch with her partner from Greece. Then some guests arrived the following evening from Switzerland. On the Monday a Frenchman stopped by to meet the Swiss couple. Next door to Androula now live three young people, an Hungarian, a Belgian and a half Cypriot, half Irish young man; more of these and an exciting eco venture in another blog. On past visits I have met a Japanese couple, British, Russian, Turkish and American. All with interesting stories to tell.

The Frenchman’s name is Dominique Micheletto he is a master beekeeper, he has many hives all over Cyprus and spends his time tending to them and giving talks on bees and honey, which was why the Swiss couple had come to Cyprus to meet him and learn about the bees. He won two gold medals in the Apimondia International Federation of Beekeeper’s competition in September 2009. I had wanted to meet him after reading about him in the book ‘Cyprus – a culinary journey’ and here he was without any effort on my part. The conversation between us all was in French, Greek and English, Dominique can speak all three fluently.

During my stay with Androula we also visited a friend who lives close by in Pedhoulas and she and her husband are from Israel so yet another nationality to add to the mix.

One of my days spent in this beautiful area I visited Platres which is about 20 minutes away by car, it is the largest resort of Troodos and although its origins are very old it became popular as a summer retreat away from the heat, when the British took control of the island in 1858 and quickly a network of bars and hotels to cater for their needs were established.  Here is a long established chocolate workshop. The owner John Adams, is English married to a Cypriot lady Praxi, they have lived in Platres since the early 1980s. John trained as a chocolatier in both France and Venezuela many years previously and when he moved to Cyprus found an outlet for his love of chocolate by developing unique recipes combining the flavours of Cyprus. With pure dark chocolate, very little sugar, no dairy and a little vanilla and Cyprus Royal Jelly, these chocolates not only are delicious and unique but healthy as well. The chocolates  flavours are  based around the tastes of Cyprus varying  according to season and John is always coming up with new combinations. Comanderia, kitrilomilo glyko, brandy sour, zivania these are the flavours many know as Cyprus. John together with his assistant Rocky, have come up with yet another unique range based around the herbs of Cyprus such as Lavender and lemon geranium and I can tell you that they are superb. These bespoke hand made chocolates are different , as well as unique and delicious. www.cypruschocolate.com 

On my way back from the mountains I visited the very picturesque Lofou  village on the way down to Limassol. This village must have once been quite a large and wealthy one, as there are many good size stone houses and the streets well ordered, many now deserted but being restored. All on a hilly slope, with little streets branching off it is a lovely place to explore with great views of surrounding countryside all around.  Ancient Amathus was my next stop, the archaeological site spreads over an extensive area. Amathus is one of the most significant ancient city kingdoms which dates back to1100 BC. Similar to Kouklia this site saw the important cult of Aphrodite – Astarte flourish here. This is why Cyprus is known as the island of Love.

Since I’ve been back in Prodromi I, along with many of her friends, went to cheer on my friend Elena Savvides of Orexi Cyprus fame, last night as she took on the daunting task of giving an hour long talk at Droushia Heights hotel. She was amazing and the story she told was not only full of interesting detail and mouthwatering photos of some of the food she has cooked for events and suppers but was exceptionally touching and had a few of her friends a little bit choked, with emotion I might add not the food. Elena had also prepared some delicious bits to eat so it was a very satisfying evening on all levels.

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Cultural Pursuits

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.

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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.

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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.