East of Marathasa, the SOLEA region straddles the main road to Lefkosia, ensuring its popularity as a day-trip and weekend destination for the capital’s residents. Progressively less hilly the further north and east you travel, the region is mainly popular for its village life, and for its wealth of painted churches. The main village, Kakopetria, has enough hotels, restaurants and services to make it a good base from which to explore.Read More
KAKOPETRIA sits astride the Karyotis river on the main B9 road to Lefkosia, 50km from the capital, and allies the convenience of hotel, restaurant, bank and petrol station with a pretty (and now protected) old town of alleys and tottering houses. Busy with tourists at the height of the season, but pretty and relaxing around the main square, it has a soundtrack of whispering or roaring waters, depending on where in the village you are.
The name “Kakopetria” means “bad stones”, deriving, it is said, from the numerous large rocks swept down from Olympos in primordial times, which you can still see in the foundations of some of the houses. One such stone (“the Stone of the Couple”) had a reputation for bringing good luck to newlyweds: they would walk around its base, climb onto it, and make a wish. That reputation was somewhat dented when the stone shifted, killing a young couple in the process (it has since been underpinned by concrete and stone).
Just a couple of well-signposted kilometres southwest of Kakopetria along the F936 stands another of the region’s ten UNECO World Heritage Site churches, Agios Nikolaos tis Stegis (St Nicholas of the Roof). Make sure you visit during opening hours – it’s completely fenced off, and you won’t get even a glimpse of it from the road. The church building has a rough-and-ready, lopsided look, prompting speculation that the eleventh-century masons who built it weren’t quite up to the job. The steep-pitched roof, added to protect the early cross-in-square building from the harsh winter weather, led to the name. The church was once part of a monastery, but the rest of the buildings disappeared in the late nineteenth century. The paintings range from the eleventh to the seventeenth centuries and therefore represent a remarkable history of the development of Byzantine art. The oldest paintings (for example, the Transfiguration and the Raising of Lazaros, both early eleventh century) may not look as impressive and colourful as later ones, but are extremely important. Note the number of life-sized saints in the nave and the narthex, and the larger-than-life-sized St Nicholas in the entrance to the diaconicon (the chamber to the south of the apse in which the books, vestments and no or used in the services are kept). Look out, too, for the painting of St Peter on one of the east piers supporting the dome, and in particular for the graffito (in ink) written by Russian monk and early travel writer Basil Moscovorrossos in 1735 in which he outlines his recent travels in the region – vandalism, it’s true, but interesting vandalism nonetheless.
The loneliest railway station
The loneliest railway station
As you travel north on the B9 from the heart of the Troodos Mountains towards Lefkosia, a string of villages present themselves, sitting on the slopes of sharp-crested hills, their houses deep in trees or perched on ridges – particularly GALATA with its numerous old balconied houses and several old churches, all worthy of note but of interest mainly to enthusiasts. A further 6km brings you to EVRYCHOU, a sizeable village just off the main road, unique on the island for having a railway station. Evrychou Station is in fact one of the few remains of the Cyprus Government Railway (CGR), built by the British authorities to link the port of Famagusta to Lefkosia and the copper mines of the northwest. The 2ft 6in gauge line was not an economic success, and was progressively wound down between 1932 and 1951. Odd buildings and bits of equipment survive, mostly in Northern Cyprus. However, in 2004 it was decided to restore Evrychou Station, pave the road to it and open a museum of the CGR. Progress so far appears to have been substantial on the restoration, but not on the paving or the museum. It is very clearly signposted, but the road to it is little more than a track, would require a 4WD, and was, at the time of writing, closed.