Just after the environmental centre, a narrow road leads off the main highway, heading due east across the southern edge of the salt lake. After about 2.5km, a parking area on the right marks the entrance to the monastery of Agios Nikolaos ton Gaton. Originally established in 325 AD, the present buildings date from the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries. Surrounded by citrus groves, and altogether rather unprepossessing, the monastery owes its celebrity to the presence of the cats that give it its name. They were introduced, it is said, by St Helena, to keep the monastery clear of snakes or, as another racier version has it, to replace young boys as companions for the monks. The monastery was abandoned after the sixteenth-century Ottoman invasion, but has since been taken in hand by an order of nuns who are bringing it back to life (and who look at visitors rather as if they expect them to make off with the silver). There seems to be a cheerful acceptance of modern life – air conditioning, plastic patio furniture – as well as the retention of older things, not only the buildings themselves, but in the grounds, an old well and water trough. The practice of keeping cats around ecclesiastical buildings spread to other parts of Cyprus and beyond – indeed, today, you’ll see far more cats in Larnaka’s Hala Sultan Tekke than in St Nicholas of the Cats.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

Cyprus features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Video: 18 things not to miss in Cyprus

Video: 18 things not to miss in Cyprus

From ancient ruins to beautiful beaches, Cyprus has a multitude of incredible things to see and do. Whether you're after a challenging hike, fancy some wildlife…

27 Oct 2014 • Rough Guides Editors videocam Video
The best beaches in Europe

The best beaches in Europe

Porthcurno, UK The closest Britain gets to beach paradise in Cornwall, with turquoise waters that glint in the sunshine and fine yellow sand. High cliffs on ei…

19 Apr 2013 • Rough Guides Editors camera_alt Gallery
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month