The Troodos Mountains, Cyprus

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Back in August, I ventured over to Cyprus for the first time, to act as second photographer for a semi-traditional Greek wedding - and took the chance to get a quick working holiday. I was looking forward to sunshine, and we certainly got it; luckily not the 40°C+ temperatures we were warned about, but heat which two extremely pale English people occasionally found fairly overwhelming. We'd planned a few drives to get to the multitude of heritage sites which Cyprus has to offer, but in the end we eschewed spending several hours each day in a sweltering car, and instead tried an (unfamiliar) relaxed approach to our days off. 

Flapping about in the pool, reading and having lie ins is nice, but it turns out both of us can only do it for so long. So, we decided to brave the pulsating heat of our little red rental and drove in the direction of the Troodos mountains, with a large packet of crisps and no real plan. Our first stop was Agios Nikolaos tis Stegis, one of the most famous 'painted churches' of the region, built in the eleventh century and now sporting an unusual double roof to protect it from the elements. We arrived as the entire local population seemed to be playing some kind of team game on the hill above the church, and our views of the elaborate paintings dominating the wall space inside were accompanied by a soundtrack of cheering and singing.

Next, we drove on through the mountains - thankful for the newly resurfaced roads and large crash barriers, we tried hard not to look too closely at the steep drop beside us. Eventually we reached Kykkos Monastery, surrounded by trees and four thousand feet above the busy beaches of Ayia Napa. Though the original building from the eleventh century founding no longer exists (the building burnt down several times), the whole place was spectacular. Elaborate, brightly coloured mosaics illustrated biblical symbols from the famous Noah's ark and burning bush to more obscure mother pelican wounding herself to feed her young. We wandered through corridors and in courtyards, passed by robed monks and the devout on their way to kiss the icon of the Virgin Mary, as well as the odd cat. Our last stop was the museum to see the vast collection of icons, relics and artefacts.

The drive home brought us through sleepy little mountainside villages, full of bright houses with painted wooden shutters and tiny verandas overflowing with plants. We took a leisurely route down the other side of the mountains, pointing out the towns of Turkish Northern Cyprus visible on the coast, and stopping at a lake with water as green as the plants surrounding it. Returning to the late-season bustle and neon lights of the strip was faintly disappointing, and I wished we'd been able to spend more time in the quiet of the mountains.

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