On foot in Cyprus
Written by Brian Johnston
Cyprus has recently been making a name for itself as one of the eastern Mediterranean’s top walking destinations. Avid hiker and Cyprus admirer Brian Johnston takes to the hills.
Thanks to sunshine and sea, Cyprus is known for its beach holidays. However, its coastal and mountain walks offer a different way to experience this beautiful and history-soaked island: at a slow pace, and surrounded by nature.
There are many things to love about Cyprus: ancient ruins dramatic on cliff tops, beaches under a Mediterranean sun, whitewashed houses, the scent of lemons and thyme on the breeze, and a craggy backdrop of purple mountains. Curious, then, that so many visitors simply jet in for a week at a resort, staying only long enough to shop for souvenirs and dabble their toes in the sea. Get beyond the resort towns, however, and you’ll find that Cyprus has gorgeous landscapes, hospitable locals in villages that have scarcely seen a tourist, and the scattered remains of a stupendous, millennia-long history. Bring your hiking boots, a water bottle, and your curiosity and get exploring, because Cyprus has plentiful rewards, and walking is one of the best ways to appreciate them.
Ease yourself in by starting in Paphos, which is surrounded by some of the most scenic countryside in Cyprus. ou might first just stroll along the seaside path that links the coastal sprawl of hotels with its very pedestrian-friendly old town, where the interesting Byzantine Museum and pottery-filled Archaeological Museum will give you an initial insight into the island’s impressive pedigree.
By late afternoon, head to the ruins of Kato Paphos, an easy walk from the centre of town. Stroll through the remains of its colonnaded streets and scramble across its theatre, then inspect some of the best-preserved Roman mosaics anywhere, including one depicting a tiger hunt. A sunset dip afterwards at the beach just below the ruins is a pleasurable reward for your sightseeing. Later, the sea turns to burnished copper, and by the time you settle down to dinner the water is glimmering smoky silver in the moonlight.
Having warmed up with an easy day’s walkabout, it’s time to strike further afield and get more serious about your hiking. The surrounds are certainly enticing, with their neat rows of vines and olive trees, whitewashed villages, and citrus groves. You can explore from Paphos, or relocate to Polis, a somewhat remote but exceedingly charming seaside town on the northwest coast that makes a great hiking base.
Between the two lies Akamas Peninsula National Park, as far west as you can travel without falling off Cyprus and accessible only by four-wheel drive, bicycle, or on foot. The sandy bays of the peninsula alternate with pine-topped cliffs. Inland lies undulating limestone country, scraggy with mastic and eucalyptus trees, where you’re still scarcely ever out of sight of the turquoise glimmer of the sea. Hiking (or perhaps mountain biking) is really the only way to appreciate both the scenery and the peninsula’s natural assets.
There are trails across the Akamas Peninsula suitable for all levels of walker, and many are well marked. The rugged, seven-and-a-half kilometre Adonis Trail, for example, links destinations associated with ancient Greek myths and, though it’s rather a challenge, provides wonderful scenery. The easier Smigies Trail takes about two hours and covers some of the same ground, with great views over the peninsula and a pleasing respite from the sun as it passes through dense forest. At the easiest end of the walking scale, a coastal stroll will take you six kilometres from the famous Baths of Aphrodite – where the Greek goddess supposedly enjoyed bathing – to the bubbling stream known as Fontana Amoroza. It’s a beautiful enough route to tempt you into walking the six kilometres back again, but don’t worry: you can always catch a return boat, at least during the summer months.
Wild crocus and tulips bloom in springtime. Daisies, poppies, and cyclamen are among other recognisable blossoms, but Cyprus also has 100 flower species unique to the island. Hiking is particularly wonderful in spring, when wildflowers provide an Impressionist’s palette of colour. Twice a year, bird populations also flourish. Cyprus lies at the crossroads of migration routes between Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, seeing all manner of feathered friends come and go. Eagles circle in the sky overhead, turtles breed on the beaches, and you may spot mouflon (curly-horned wild sheep) or rare griffon vultures.
Just south of the peninsula, Avakas Gorge is another scenic walking destination. To walk its full length and back (14km) requires occasional scrambles over boulders. At some spots the gorge narrows to three metres and you might have to wade through water. Fortunately, the most spectacular section of the gorge is nearest its entrance, so even short walks will be sufficient to admire the sculptural, water-eroded rock in colours from honey to pink and grey, reflected in rocky pools. You’ll also see fruit bats, lizards, and abundant birdlife.
Inland from Avakas, in the centre of southern Cyprus, loom the Troodos Mountains, which rise to just under 2,000m and provide a cool retreat in summer. Villages sun themselves among vineyards, medieval monasteries hide in a tumble of mimosa, and forests of cedar and pine provide scented greenery. An excellent agro-tourism initiative allows you to walk from village to village, staying in local houses and farms for the night; often basic, but allowing for a relaxing escape. Make sure your wanderings take in pretty Omodos village, where cobblestoned streets meander between whitewashed houses.
In the Troodos Mountains (as elsewhere), the Forestry Department has created trails that cater to various abilities, which are well signposted and often have information panels along the way describing the flora and geology. The 13km circular Atalante Trail around Mount Olympus (a ski resort in winter) is a great hike, up and down through cedar, oak, and juniper forest studded with wild roses, with many panoramic viewpoints along the way. For more of a challenge, Vouni Panagias Trail is a rough, 10km looped hike that will get your heart rate going, with the reward of stunning views over the Troodos Mountains and Paphos Forest all the way to the Akamas Peninsula.
True hiking experts can tackle the 17km, one-way Venetian Bridges Trail. It’s named for its three medieval, Venetian-built bridges and takes in forest, farmland, and some impressive views: more of the scenery-and-history combination that makes walking here so alluring.
Stories in stone
Settlers from most of the major ancient cultures of the eastern Mediterranean have influenced Cyprus, including Greeks, Phoenicians, Persians, Romans, and Byzantines. Paphos isn’t the only impressive ancient site. At Kourion, there are more mosaics, public baths, gladiatorial buildings, and a Roman theatre where classical plays are still staged. In Larnaca, the remains of Kition are 3,000 years old, while those of Choirokoitia, 33km to the southwest, date back to Neolithic times. Now on the UNESCO World Heritage List, Choirokoitia’s circular stone houses have a brooding presence and imposing location on a scenic, rocky ridge.
Its name means ‘queen’ in Greek, and certainly you’ll feel like royalty at Anassa, one of Cyprus’s best hotels and a member of Leading Hotels of the World. Its slightly remote location on the coastline west of Polis is compensated by a stunning outlook and hideaway feel. The resort is set in beautifully landscaped grounds with two pools; there’s a further pool indoors, plus a sophisticated spa, often nominated among the world’s best.
Akamantos Avenue, Latsi, +357 4 2688 8000, anassa.com
Classic: Golden Bay Beach Hotel
This classic beach hotel in Larnaca has just what you’d expect: lots of water sports such as windsurfing and kayaking, pools for swimming or just flopping, a well-kept stretch of parasol-dotted sand, and restaurant terraces with views over landscaped gardens and sea. Most rooms also overlook the Mediterranean. The five-star resort is family-oriented, with a playground, games room, and (during the summer months) a kids’ club. A full-service spa and four restaurants round off the amenities.
Dhekelia Road, Larnaca, +357 2464 5444, goldenbay.com.cy
It’s rare to find a boutique, design hotel that caters to families, but this resort offers both a contemporary vibe and chic, minimalist décor, plus plenty of child-oriented services, including babysitting, a kids’ club, kids’ menus, and a dedicated children’s pool. Couples needn’t fear: there’s a serene spa, evening outdoor movie-screening by the lap pool, and interesting Mediterranean–Japanese fusion dining; there’s also an adults-only pool. Book one of the sea-facing Kyma suites if available.
Poseidonos 12, Paphos, +357 2688 8700, almyra.com
Named for the Greek goddess said to be born from the waves in Cyprus, this classic waterpark on the coast near Paphos is a great way to cool off. It has high-speed water slides (such as the hurtling Kamikaze and stomach-lurching Free Fall) and a more relaxing lazy river and wave pool, as well as several swimming zones. The bouncy, slippery Wet Bubble is very amusing.
Poseidonos Avenue, Kato Paphos, +357 2691 3638, aphroditewaterpark.com
Camel rides are the big drawcard here, but this park 20km outside Larnaca also features donkey and pony rides, a swimming pool, and a kids’ area that includes bumper cars, swings, and a mini train. The kids can also get up close with goats, deer, wallabies, and ostriches, which will eat carob beans out of their hands.
Kiti–Mazotos road, Mazotos, +357 2499 1243, camel-park.com
Adventure Mountain Park
If your kids aren’t already exhausted from hiking, this sports park, wedged into the foothills of the Troodos Mountains, will run off their final energy with rock climbing, paintball, archery, and other adventures, such as rope traverses across a riverbed. You can also relax in the more restrained children’s play area or botanical garden.
Doxa Si o Theos, Kyperounda, +357 9777 2177, adventuremountainpark.com
The vast majority of Cyprus’s hotels are bland, mid-range resorts perched along its coastline. For something different, this charming budget-priced hotel provides a delightful family atmosphere and a location right in the middle of Paphos old town, perfect for discovering sights and surrounding tavernas. The pink hillside hotel has lovely views to the sea, especially spectacular at sunset.
Andrea Ioannou Street 2, Paphos, +357 2693 2866, axiotheahotel.com
For an insider’s look at Cyprus, go no further for a guide: Andreas was born in Paphos and knows everything there is to know about the town, its ancient ruins, and the surrounding countryside – and his degree in International Relations adds a layer of intelligence and insight to conversations. He can also give you hints on where to walk: the guide hikes with his dog and knows every top sunset outlook around town.
This rather old-school family restaurant with its sea-gazing terrace has a limited menu, but every dish is well done in rustic, home-made style. It specialises in Cypriot dishes; if hiking works up an appetite, tuck into hearty kleftiko, oven-baked lamb accompanied by potatoes and seasoned with lemon and herbs. Otherwise, linger over sunset and numerous tasty meze dishes.
Piale Pasha 42, Larnaca, +357 2465 5867
Distance: 2024 km
Flight Time: 3 hours, 50 minutes
Frequency: 10 flights a week