Pafos and around Travel Guide

Pafos district, which takes up the whole of the western end of Cyprus, is probably the single most varied and most attractive region on the island. Wild and remote in parts, it was long regarded in the rest of Cyprus as something of a rural backwater, its inhabitants frequently lampooned as clueless country bumpkins. This situation changed substantially in the 1980s with the opening of Pafos Airport and the development of motorway links with the rest of the island. Suddenly the Pafos area became a magnet for developers keen to exploit its natural riches.

For a start, it has the longest coastline of any district, swinging around from Aphrodite’s birthplacein the south to Aphrodite’s Baths in the north and beyond, with beaches facing south, west and north along its length. It has, in the Akamas Peninsula and the forests of Tilliria, two of the island’s great wilderness areas, crisscrossed with trails and dotted with picnic sites. And inland stretch beautiful sunny uplands, carpeted in vineyards and dotted with wineries, monasteries and pretty villages. Pafos town itself might at first appear to be the archetypal beach-and-booze resort – no different, you might think, from hundreds of others across the Mediterranean. Yet look more closely and, laced through the maze of bars and restaurants and hotels are a number of fascinating historical remains, some of which have been granted UNESCO World Heritage status. And in Polison the north coast, with its beach, little fishing port and hinterland villages and unspoilt stretch of coast, it has a relaxed, away-from-it-all feel.

Top image © Menelaos Menelaou/Shutterstock

The Akamas Peninsula

The AKAMAS PENINSULA makes up the northwest tip of Cyprus and is one of the least inhabited places on the island. It is an area of great beauty – especially the rugged coast – and attracts walkers, mountain bikers and off-road drivers (there are no main roads – just dirt tracks and footpaths). As with most peninsulas, where it begins is debatable. It is broadly defined as the area north of Pegeia and west of Polis.

Once used as a firing range by the British Army – which kept away even the most determined hotel developers – the peninsula has an extraordinary range of wildlife, and contains virtually every type of habitat to be found on the island, from the dense forests of the south to arid pine scrub at the tip. Among the flora and fauna are 39 of Cyprus’s endemic plants, 160 or more varieties of bird, twelve types of mammal, twenty reptile species and sixteen types of butterfly. Top billing, however, goes to the sea turtles (both green and loggerhead) which lay their eggs on the peninsula’s beaches. Though not a national park, the peninsula does have some measure of protection – the Pegeia and Akamas Forests are the responsibility of the government, and other bits are controlled in various ways – but there seems to be no overarching plan to protect it. This is a worry, as powerful forces (not only the usual developers, but also the Cypriot Orthodox church) are keen to exploit the glorious beaches out here.

Driving on the Akamas means either renting a 4WD or signing up for a jeep safari (try freetimetours.com) and only experienced walkers, properly dressed and equipped, should attempt it on foot. Given its military past, if you find anything that looks like a live shell or other ordnance, leave well alone. For the faint of heart, the best way to see the peninsula is from the comfort of a boat – excursions run from Pafos and Lakki (Alkion run cruises in glass-bottomed boats along the Akamas coast).

Akamas walking trails

Walking trails through the Akamas are well marked, and in summer can be quite crowded. However, despite their relative user-friendliness, don’t be lulled into a false sense of security – it’s very remote, and all the usual precautions should be taken, so wear a hat, use plenty of sunscreen and carry bottles of water. Maps of the walks (and the excellent "Nature Trails of the Akamas” booklet which covers the routes here) are available from tourist offices in Polis and Paphos, and copies are posted in several locations. If you get into difficulties phone the local police station number (26806285), tell them what trail you’re on and the number on the last sign you passed. If you haven’t got a phone, or there’s no signal, you’re on your own.

The Trail to Fontana Amoroza

This is the easiest walk from the Baths of Aphrodite, a 6km stroll which follows the coast to a small spring. The Fontana Amoroza (“Fountain of Love”) was named by Italian poet-traveller Ludovico Ariosto, who probably mistook it for the Baths of Aphrodite (the contrast between the grandiloquent name and the actual tiny spring is amusing). The route is hugely popular, and if you do this walk in summer try to set off very early or late in the day, not only to avoid the heat, but also the noise of speedboats, quad bikes and 4WDs. If you don’t want to do the full 12km return walk, catch a boat from Lakki to Fontana Amorozo and walk back.

The Aphrodite Trail

This starts off along the same route as the one to Fontana Amoroza, but then swings west and climbs up to Muti tis Sotiras (370m), down to Pyrgos tis Rigainas (the indistinct ruins of either a Lusignan fortification or a Byzantine monastery), then back to the Baths of Aphrodite. Being a circular route (it’s around 7.5km), it can be done in either direction.

The Adonis Trail

A circular route, again about 7.5km long, which loops south of the Baths of Aphrodite, then strikes north to Pyrgos tis Rigainas, where it joins the Aphrodite Trail for the return to the Baths.

Around Pafos

Pafos is blessed with numerous day-trip destinations. To the southeast is Geroskipou with its fine church and first-rate folk museum and, beyond it on the outskirts of the village of Kouklia, the remains of Palaipafos (the original town of Pafos) with, on the coast, the pretty cove of Petra tou Romiou, legendary birthplace of Aphrodite. Driving east and northeast involves a climb to a plateau dotted with villages and vineyards, the Monastery of Agios Neofytos and the large village of Pano Panagia, birthplace of Archbishop Makarios III. Driving along the coast road north from Pafos takes you through a resort area with good beaches andsome interesting small museums.

Agios Neofytos Monastery

Such is the ubiquity and range of monasteries in Cyprus that visiting them can begin to feel like a chore, at least for the non-believer. Not so in the case of Agios Neofytos, about 17km north of the centre of Pafos (best accessed by climbing up the steep hills through Emba and Tala, at which, incidentally, it’s worth a refreshment stop in its very pleasant village square). It boasts a fascinating back story, and a spectacular setting worth a visit in itself. For a full appreciation of the monastery, do buy the guidebook published by the church authorities (€5).

The monastery itself, through the main gate, past the gift shop and café consists of a residential block, church and cloisters surrounding a lush garden; beyond here there’s a spacious terrace dotted with benches overlooking the valley. At the far end of the terrace, accessed by a stone bridge, is the reason for all the fuss – the Enkleistra, the caves dug out by St Neofytos himself.

The Enkleistera consists of three rooms – the first two are the nave and sanctuary of a chapel (the Church of the Holy Cross), the third is Neofytos’s cell. The walls of the nave are covered in frescoes, the upper ones sixteenth-century, the lower ones earlier works which could possibly have been painted by the saint’s own hand. In the sanctuary are more frescoes, this time twelfth-century. Look out in particular for the one at the western end of the roof of Neofytos (the bearded figure with wings) being escorted to the Day Of Judgement by two angels. The saint’s pious expression seems to suggest that he’s taking nothing for granted and the inscription reads “I fervently pray that this image should come to pass”. Beyond the sanctuary, through a low doorway, is the saint’s cell, also frescoed, and containing a bed, table, desk, chair, bookshelf, even a quill niche, all carved out of the rock. It also houses his tomb – he expressed a wish that when he died, his body be interred in it, and the cave sealed off. However, in 1756 the sarcophagus was opened and his bones transferred to the monastery church, where, once your eyes have adjusted to the gloom, you can see (and if you wish, kiss) his silver-encased skull, and inspect his sarcophagus – it’s on the left, under the pulpit.

Across from the church is a museum, housing the monastery’s many treasures – crosses, chalices, censers, sacred texts, bibles, vestments, icons and much else. Some of these objects are unbelievably exquisite: the 1560 Venetian bible, for example, and an illuminated manuscript from the late eleventh century. Sign of the times – all signs are in Russian as well as Greek and English.

Agios Neofytos – the hermit saint

Agios Neofytos (1134–1219) was born near the village of Lefkara. As a boy he had a strong yearning towards the spiritual life, especially when his family arranged a marriage for him to which he took exception. He fled to the monastery of Chrystomos, near Buffavento Castle in the north, became a monk, and finally occupied a cave north of Pafos which had been vacated by a previous ascetic. Neofytos expanded it, and settled into a life of quiet contemplation.

God clearly had other plans. Neofytos’s reputation for piety had spread, and acolytes from far and wide converged on the cave, bringing food and other gifts. So raucous did this informal encampment become that poor old Neofytos had to retreat further (in 1197) by moving into the cave above, accessible only by a ladder which he pulled up behind him. The new cave he called, with touching optimism, “New Zion”. Here he wrote a variety of commentaries, meditations, hymns and prayers, as well as a chronicle about the catastrophe that was overcoming Cyprus at the time – conquest by Richard the Lionheart and the start of Lusignan rule of the island. Not bad considering that he only learnt to read aged 18. Neofytos communicated with his followers through a hole in the floor and the site became the basis of an official monastery, the forerunner of the current one, established in 1170 AD. Neofytos died in around 1219, aged over eighty.

Geroskipou

GEROSKIPOU, although a separate municipality southeast of Pafos, is now virtually a suburb of the larger town. Yet its handsome square, dominated by the church of Agia Paraskevi and its fame as a centre of loukoumia production, give it a character all of its own. The name Geroskipou derives from the Greek for “Holy Garden”, a reference to the nearby temple of Aphrodite in Palaipafos.

Clearly signposted on the left as you enter Geroskipou on the old Lemesos road, just before you get to the main square, is the town’s Folk Art Museum, one of the best on the island. Its location, the “House of Hadjismith”, is a listed building once owned by one Andreas Zoumboulakis, the British Vice Consul from 1800 to 1864. In fact much of the enjoyment of this museum lies in its setting – shady paved courtyards, wooden shutters and balconies, flagged rooms and rustic stone walls. The eclectic collection features everything from ceremonial “wedding breads” (glistarkes) of stunning intricacy and traditional waistcoats and scarves to musical instruments and even children’s swimming floats made from gourds. Look out too for the tapatsia, a basket which was slung from the ceiling on a rope to keep bread out of the reach of vermin. Everything is clearly labelled in Greek and English, with occasional sketches showing how things worked.

Loukoumia – Cypriot Delight

Geroskipou is famous for its “loukoumia”, or what the rest of the world calls Turkish Delight. Indeed, it has Protected Geographical Indication, like champagne or Cornish pasties. Many shops along the main road and in the square sell the sweet, and it’s far more versatile than you might imagine. You can buy loukoumia flavoured with chocolate, nuts, vanilla, lemon, orange, mint or banana as well as the more traditional rose-petal flavour. Try Aphrodite Delights, which has a slick showroom, and visitor centre a couple of minutes' walk from the main square.

The Grivas Museum and Monument

On the Chlorakas coast 4km north of Kato Pafos, clearly signposted from the main road, a monument and statue mark the spot where General George Grivas landed on November 10, 1954 to spark off the EOKA uprising. Next to the memorial is a small museum housing the caïque Agios Georgios which ran guns and EOKA fighters during the struggle for independence before being intercepted by the British. The boat was bought by order of Archbishop Makarios to become a symbol of the resistance. Other (inevitably nationalistic) exhibits include weapons, documents and photographs relating to the gun-running activities along this coast, plus a visitors’ book which makes enlightening reading – somebody who’d served in the British Army in Cyprus, for example, commented that the museum was “biased”, which makes one wonder what they expected.

Petra tou Romiou (the birthplace of Aphrodite)

An attractive pebble beach, 9km or so west of Kouklia (and technically in Lemesos district), Petra tou Romiou, is where, according to legend, Aphrodite rose from the sea and came ashore (which may explain the sanctuary nearby). The Greek name refers to a different myth: Digenes Akritas, also known as Romios (or, more disappointingly, Basil), was the Byzantine hero of an epic song. He killed bears, lions and dragons with his bare hands, and leapt from Cyprus to Asia Minor, gaining purchase by grabbing the Five Finger Mountain near Kyrenia. He once vanquished some foes by throwing huge rocks at them, one of which is the biggest of those on the western tip of Petra tou Romiou.

Whatever its origins, Petra tou Romiou is an iconic vision of limpid sea and picturesque rocks. The beach is best accessed from the B6 – park next to the café opposite, then use the underpass beneath the road. Though you sometimes wouldn’t think so, climbing on the rocks is not allowed, but their shade is highly prized by visitors. As befits the birthplace of Aphrodite, love-hearts marked out with pebbles dot the beach and the surrounding low cliffs.

The cult of Aphrodite

You won’t have been in Cyprus long before you become aware of the island ‘s proud association with Aphrodite, whether it’s the dozens of hotels and restaurants named in her honour or everything from tea towels to T-shirts bearing her image. A brief primer is therefore worthwhile.

In the beginning there were only two beings – Ge, goddess of earth, and Uranus, god of the sky. Their children became known as the Titans. Cronus, their leader, on his mother’s orders cut off the genitals of his father, and threw them into the sea. From the resulting maelstrom of foam (“aphros”), the comely Aphrodite arose, and floated ashore on a scallop shell. She became the goddess of love – to be more specific, of beauty, pleasure and procreation – and created havoc with her power to bewitch both mortals and gods. The stories about her are copious. The most important in the Cypriot tradition involves Kinyras, king of Cyprus. He became Aphrodite’s adoring acolyte and favourite but was tricked into sleeping with his daughter, Myrrha, by a jealous Aphrodite. Kinyras almost killed Myrrha before the gods intervened, turning her into a fragrant myrrh tree. From the trunk of this tree Adonis, the ideal male, was born. Aphrodite soon fell in love with him, as did Persephone, queen of the Underworld. The pair fought over him until he is killed by a wild boar, and died in Aphrodite’s arms.

The cult of Aphrodite, practised at temple sites across the island, seems to have degenerated from a celebration of love and fertility to temple rites that included orgies and prostitution. Fifth-century BC Greek historian Herodotus describes how all women were expected to attend the temple and give themselves to any passing stranger. Attractive women, he comments wryly, could expect to complete their duty on the first night, while it might take ugly ones three or four years.

Aphrodite has, of course, been the subject of innumerable sculptures and paintings, from the demure Aphrodite of Cnidus and Botticelli’s golden-haired Birth of Venus to various soft-porn representations by Victorian artists. A number of seashells are associated with her too – scallops, because that was what she rode ashore on – and the suggestively shaped cowrie, which is named Cypraeidae in her honour.

Pafos

PAFOS (locals still often use the old spelling, “Paphos”) has two parts, each with a distinct character. Kato (Lower) Pafos is the area around the harbour and castle, from which it also runs east and south along and behind a palm-studded promenade (Poseidonos). This is the main tourist area, packed with hotels, cafés, bars, restaurants, souvenir shops, amusement arcades, boat-cruise touts and a couple of indifferent beaches. However, leavening this unrelenting holiday heaven/hell are some truly excellent historical and archeological sites which are conveniently close at hand. As well as the castle there are the magnificent Roman mosaics immediately behind the harbour, a group of Byzantine remains linked with Saint Paul directly across the road, and the eerie Tombs of the Kings to the north.

Ktima Pafos (perhaps best translated as “the lands of Pafos”) lies 3km north, on a steep hillside overlooking the lower town. Its narrow winding streets provide a contrast with Kato Pafos and there are several worthwhile sites including an art gallery, a medieval mosque and hammam and a couple of diverting museums. In general, Ktima Pafos offers a less hurried experience than the rather brash lower town – it even seems cooler, though the 65m elevation is hardly enough to account for it.

Brief history

The original town, Palaipafos, lies some 22km to the southeast of the present one, on the edge of the modern village of Kouklia. It was established during the late Hellenistic period, and was one of two city kingdoms in the west – the other being Marion, near modern-day Polis. When Alexander the Great died in 323 BC, the Pafiot king Nicocles was faced with the same dilemma as all the other towns in Cyprus – which of Alexander’s warring successors to support. He chose the Egyptian Ptolemy dynasty, which indeed eventually won. This did Nicocles little good, however. Deciding to rule Cyprus directly rather than through a proxy, the Ptolemies used a false charge of treason to get rid of him (Nicocles avoided execution by committing suicide). The new rulers of Cyprus decided to move the administrative capital from Salamis in the east to the fine new city of Nea Pafos in the west: apart from being closer to their home base of Alexandria, it was convenient for patrolling the western approaches to the island, and, through the thick forests inland, it was able to meet the almost insatiable demand for timber of the Egyptian navy.

The transition to Roman rule in 58 BC did Pafos no harm at all, and it continued as the capital of the island. This period was the high point of Pafos’s fortunes, and the origin of its wonderful Roman mosaics and plentiful early Christian ruins. The New Testament (Acts 13, verses 4 to 13) relates how St Paul visited Pafos and converted the Roman ruler of the island, Sergius Paulus, to the new faith, though not before the evangelist was tied to a post (the so-called St Paul’s Pillar) and lashed “forty times less one” for spreading the gospel.

In 365 AD the city was destroyed by an earthquake, and in 653 AD by a Saracen raid. It never recovered. Most of the inhabitants moved away from the coast, onto the hill of what today is Ktima Pafos, and the status of capital was moved back to Salamis. The harbour silted up, the land around it became marshy, and for centuries visitors to what remained of Pafos had little good to say about it. In the fourteenth century the Lusignans built a castle to protect Christians in transit to the Holy Lands; in the sixteenth century the Ottomans built a fort on its remains. But Pafos continued as a quiet backwater until the building of the airport and the motorway in the late twentieth century brought about a surge in tourism.

Kato Pafos

The heart of Kato Pafos is the harbour area, a south-facing hooked finger that seems to beckon in boats from the sea. The harbour combines workaday buildings – the Customs House, Department of Fisheries and the Port Authority – with important historic sites including the castle, the wave-washed remains of an ancient breakwater, and the memorial to St Paul’s visit during his first missionary journey. Close by is the entrance to the archeological park that contains the town’s world-famous mosaics.

Pafos Castle, sitting at the edge of the harbour and reflected in the water that surrounds it, presents a scene worthy of any romantic watercolourist. Unsurprisingly, it is frequently used as a backdrop for concerts, plays and operas (it has been known for incoming jets to be diverted out to sea so as not to disrupt performances during the Paphos Festival). As with many Cypriot castles, it has a complex back story: built by the Lusignans around 1391, it was destroyed by an earthquake towards the end of the fifteenth century, and what was left was levelled by the Venetians to prevent it falling into the hands of the Turks. Despite this, the castle was rebuilt and garrisoned by the Ottomans in 1592. After the British takeover of Cyprus, the castle was relegated to a salt store. The main attraction of a visit is to climb up to the battlements where once twelve cannons stood guard. The clear field of fire they required now offers excellent views across the harbour to the distant low hills to the north.

Housed in an archeological park northwest of the harbour (you can’t miss the large entrance gates just behind the quay, fronted by a modern clock tower), Pafos’s Roman mosaics are one of the glories of Cyprus and are simply unmissable. The mosaics were first revealed in 1942 when British soldiers digging trenches for air-raid shelters uncovered a representation of Hercules and the Lion. The ancient artwork was swiftly covered up to protect it from German bombs and its location, and even existence, in due course forgotten. In the 1960s, more mosaics were revealed during building work, and the Department of Antiquities stepped in to excavate the site. So far, four villas have been unearthed, each named after one of the more notable mosaics it contains.

Mosaics – a Rough Guide

Mosaics such as those found in Pafos were expensive to make, and therefore were confined to public buildings and the houses of the rich. Even in the great villas of important men, mosaics were installed only in the public rooms where they could be seen and admired (and envied) by visitors. In bedrooms floors were far more likely to be of simple pebbles set in mortar, while kitchens and workshops would have to manage with beaten earth floors. Most mosaic customers chose from a library of set patterns while the super-rich commissioned their own designs.

The artworks were painstakingly created by dozens of men using small cubes of pottery or glass called tesserae. First, relatively unskilled apprentices hacked out and levelled the ground before filling it with crushed stone, gravel and/or pottery shards mixed with lime mortar. After this a layer of fine plaster was laid, into which the tesserae were set. More skilled workmen created geometric patterns, while compositions involving figurative representations of humans and animals would be left to the master craftsman. Finally, marble dust, sand and lime were rubbed over the finished surface to fill in the joints and any cracks, and a drainage hole was created so that the mosaic could be periodically washed with water.

Tomb Raider: Luigi Palma di Cesnola

In the literature surrounding a lot of Cypriot archeological sites, the name of Luigi Palma di Cesnola (1832–1904) has attracted a fair amount of infamy. An Italian soldier of fortune, he fought on the Union side in the American Civil War, eventually winning the Congressional Medal of Honor. When the war ended, he was rewarded with an appointment as US consul in Larnaka, where he served from 1865 to 1877. A keen amateur archeologist, he spent his twelve years in Cyprus digging up antiquities all over the island – especially from Kition in Larnaka, Idalion in Lefkosia, Amathus and Kurion in Lemesos and the Tombs of the Kings in Pafos – discovering, so he claimed, 35,000 items. Most of these he sold abroad, in particular to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (whose first director he became in 1879). Di Cesnola’s methods were unorthodox to say the least – leaving the bulk of the work to assistants he often invented discovery locations, rarely photographed finds, and exaggerated their significance. And the accusations didn’t stop there – during his time at the Met he was accused of carrying out “deceptive restorations”, and of being insufferable to his staff. He died in New York in 1904, and is buried in nearby Valhalla.

Ktima Pafos

A short bus ride up the hill from Kato Pafos stands KTIMA PAFOS, the more sedate administrative centre of the town. Its most atmospheric part is the old Turkish Quarter, or Mouttalos. This teeming area of narrow lanes has been turned into a covered market by the addition of glass and timber roofs. In these labyrinthine streets you can buy anything from souvenirs and sunglasses to slippers and tablecloths. Along the southern edge of the Turkish Quarter, on Pafiasafroditis Street, a series of cafés and restaurants offers fine views south towards the harbour.

Pafos region festivals

May

Anthestiria Flower Festival (early May) Celebrates the arrival of spring, with floats covered in flowers parading down the seafront.

Pafos Guitar Festival (mid-May) Classical guitar festival with concerts and master classes.

June

Choir Festival (late June) International choir festival held in the Ancient Odeion.

July

Koumandaria Festival (mid-July) Celebrations of the famous wine in a number of Koumandaria villages.

Ancient Greek Drama (late July/early Aug) Part of an island-wide festival, with a performance in the Ancient Odeon on Fabrica Hill in Kato Pafos.

August

Arkadia Festival (mid- to late Aug) A village festival in Kallepeia, with food, drink and music.

Dionysia Festival (late Aug) Three-day wine festival with wide range of displays, food and dance, held in the village of Stroumbi.

September

Aphrodite Festival (early Sept). An opera company is invited each year to mount a production in front of the castle.

Polis and around

The north coast of Pafos district is dominated by the small town of POLIS (or Polis Chrysochous, to give it its full title) which sits on the banks of the Chrysochou River where it empties into wide Chrysochou Bay. A small, appealing and unpretentious market town, which was attacked by the Turkish air force during the Kokkina Incident, Polis licked its wounds, repaired the damage, and became a favourite with backpackers in the 1980s. Since then reservations about its rate of development have been expressed but appear a little premature – while the town centre is full of restaurants and bars, it’s still a delightful place at which to fetch up, has an interesting and varied hinterland, and represents an important counterweight to brash and breezy Pafos.

There’s not a huge amount to see in town – a venerable old church, a neat little archeological museum and a rather old olive tree (supposedly aged 700) – yet just to the north is a good sandy beach with a campsite and views of the Akamas Peninsula.

Brief history

According to tradition, the Mycenaean Akamas, son of Theseus, first established a city here, having landed nearby on his way back from the Trojan War. Whatever the truth of this, it is likely that the Chrysochou Bay was indeed first settled by the Mycenaeans more than a thousand years before the birth of Christ. By around 750 BC it was one of Cyprus’s great city-kingdoms, called Marion. It flourished because of its copper and gold mines and traded closely with the Aegean islands, Corinth and Athens. The city fell to the Persians but was freed by Kimon in 449 BC. Following the death of Alexander the Great, it backed the wrong horse during the struggle between his successors, and in 312 BC the victor, Ptolemy I, destroyed the city and resettled its inhabitants in Pafos. A new city was built near or over the ruins of Marion by Ptolemy II and named in honour of his wife (who also happened to be his sister) Arsinoe. As far as we know the city continued to be inhabited, though it suffered from Muslim coastal raids during the seventh century. Now called Polis (simply the Greek word for “town”), it continued as a small rural settlement, a remote part of a remote district, and didn’t hit the headlines again until the explosive “Kokkina Incident” in 1964.

Kato Pyrgos

The final Republic of Cyprus village on this stretch of the north coast is KATO PYRGOS, in some ways a place that time forgot, and certainly one with a unique atmosphere. To reach it you need to drive inland from Pachyammos (effectively the end of the coast road), around the Kokkina Enclave’s fences, guard towers and Turkish and UN troops; what should be a short hop is now a 23km drive along serpentine mountain roads. When you return to the coast, it’s another 6km into the unexpectedly large village, which occupies a wide hill-girt bay.

Squeezed between the Kokkina Enclave to the west, north Cyprus to the east, and to the south Tilliria, the largest wilderness area in Cyprus, Kato Pyrgos has been pretty well isolated since the mid twentieth century. However, the opening of the new crossing point just east of the village in October 2010 has gone some way to ending this, since there is now a direct route to Lefkosia through the Turkish-occupied North. Kato Pyrgos has a few hotels, the westernmost of which, the Tylos Beach, overlooks the modern harbour, home to a small fishing fleet. Either side of the harbour is a rocky shore often waist-deep in dried seaweed. Incidentally, it was in Kato Pyrgos that Makarios was based when he made desperate and ultimately futile attempts to stop Grivas and the National Guard attacking the Kokkina Enclave.

Crossing into the North from Kato Pyrgos

The Kato Prygos crossing point, scenically sited among low hills 4km to the east, is the most convenient for those staying around Pafos district. The roads are good, and this venture into the north can make for an interesting cross-cultural experience. Unlike some of the other crossings, it is easy to find on both sides of the border – the road has nowhere else to go. Once over the Green Line (the actual crossing takes 5–10min), the road, although marked on the maps as a very minor one, is in fact of good quality and makes for an exhilarating drive.

The first Turkish-Cypriot village you get to is Yesilirnak/Limnitis, and beyond this are the two ancient sites at Vouni and Soli, on the left and right of the road respectively, followed by Xeros where you join the main road to Güzelyurt. From there you can bear left for Kamlibel and Girne, or continue straight towards Lefkoşa. For the return to the south, you can either retrace your steps to Kato Pyrgos, or cross back through the Astomeritis/Zodhia or the Agios Dometios/Metehan crossing just outside Lefkosia

The Kokkina incident

The events of 1964 surrounding the village of Kokkina on the north Cypriot coast were in many ways a rehearsal for the Turkish invasion ten years later. This part of Cyprus had a high proportion of Turkish Cypriots, and after independence in 1960, the village of Kokkina, 27km west of Polis, became in effect an armed Turkish Cypriot enclave where TMT paramilitaries landed arms and goods from Turkey. EOKA, unsurprisingly, took exception to this and – despite being warned not to by President Makarios – attacked the town on August 6, 1964. On August 10, with the Turkish Cypriots facing defeat, Turkey intervened by sending jets over to strafe and napalm villages and towns, including Polis, causing heavy casualties. All-out war was avoided only by UN intervention. From then on, Kokkina became a Turkish military area – all Turkish Cypriot civilians were relocated elsewhere. After the full Turkish invasion of 1974 effectively divided the island, the Green Line between the two armies was established just east of Kato Pyrgos. This left the Kokkina Enclave separate from the rest of north Cyprus, a situation which continues to this day.

Tilliria

The forest wilderness of TILLIRIA lies south of the coast between Polis and Kato Pyrgos and northwest of the Troodos Massif. The region makes for a great drive with endless forest vistas. Drive with caution, though – look out for bends, and for rocks that have fallen from cliff faces above. Despite what it says on older maps, which show it crisscrossed only by 4WD tracks, there is now a well-surfaced road (the F740) that cuts right through the forest from the road around the Kokkina Enclave. Apart from Stavros tis Psokas there are no settlements (or petrol stations), and only the very occasional picnic site (though there’s a beautiful one deep in the forest at Livadi). During the summer you’re likely to come across a fair amount of traffic – especially coaches, jeeps on safari and forest wardens’ vehicles – but outside the main holiday season you might not see another vehicle for hours.

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Andy Turner
8/29/2020
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