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Planning Retirement Online

Quick Trip To Cyprus

By Laterlife features editor Sally Smith

November 2015

Who remembers the name Makarios? While the modern generation wander over to Cyprus and have little idea of why there is a big boundary between north and south, many of us will remember the Cyprus problems vividly from news reports in our youth and the name of Makarios as the President and the battles between the Greeks and Turks will all sound familiar.

The fighting has thankfully stopped and now Cyprus is a fabulous place to visit plus of course still a hot spot for over 50s seeking a new life in retirement.

So when a chance came of a brief visit to the island, I was pleased with the idea of some hot sunshine.

I made Limassol my centre, not just because it was a major very active port (which always gives interest and lots of local colour to a place) but also because it was central. First stop was west to see the Kato Pafos Park because a friend had mentioned the Roman ruins there. I got there early to beat any coach parties and missed the entrance altogether; the site is very understated sign wise!

Finally in the right place and going through the big stone entrance area, suddenly I was greeted by the most glorious flowering landscape, bordered by a wide seascape of glittering blue. The area was bisected by little gravel paths, but one could easily walk across the land, through waving knee high grasses dotted with bright flowers including an abundance of yellow - possibly calendula arvensis. There was not a soul in site and the only noise was of twittering birds.

Funny to think that 2000 years earlier this area was the hub of a prosperous and busy port, filled with industrious Romans going about their day to day lives. In a small building I entered the remains of the House of Aion, dating from the 4th century, and the mosaic floor took my breath away. It was the most perfectly preserved roman floor I had seen - until I wandered off down another track and almost tripped my way onto another beautiful flat mosaic. This floor was even better - laying there undisturbed, out in the open, surrounded just by an unfenced walkway. Some of the walkway went across mosaic areas; to be standing on a surface that had earlier felt the patter of roman open-toed sandals was surprisingly exciting.

This set the scene of not only this special park, but of many of the numerous Roman areas across Cyprus; many well preserved and so many totally accessible. One could visit Cyprus just for its history; but I was only on a short trip so time to move on.

Tourist sites are great, but I wanted to find out more about the real Cyprus and so I headed away from the coast and up into the Troodos Mountains. Climbing steadily up good surfaced roads the vegetation changed. More ramshackle properties with chickens and broken fencing, it was clear that there was a non-stop battle with vegetation here, despite the heat and dryness of the climate. Near a village called Timliki and off on the left I passed a little wooden sign. It was hung at an angle with the words “Green Valley Waterfalls” scratched carelessly on it; and just beyond there was a local taverna with two men sitting at a roadside table playing backgammon.

I had to stop, it looked so rural and picturesque that I wondered if it was a tourist set up. But this place was not geared up for high level modern tourism; it was just a charming family run business led by a senior man who clearly had a good local eye for business.

Mr Tamar was charming and pointed us in the direction of his official entrance, and what an entrance that was. Festooned with handmade signs and things for sale, it was an entertainment in itself.

Following on down the fairly rugged rock walk - certainly not a route that would be passed by Health and Safety - the narrow track passed the inevitably broken wire fence and straggly chickens and then descended steeply, becoming increasingly wet and slippery, until eventually a bottom platform opened up onto three sweet waterfalls. Very tall and quite pretty, not overly dramatic, but fun and worth seeing for sure. The history of British troops who crept down here during the troubles for a shower and freshen up only added to its charm.

The Troodos mountains, with their variety of small local villages, extraordinary painted churches, and beautiful mountain walks, is a great area to get away from the hustle and tourism that permeates right across the southern flat coastal plain.

But time was moving on and, ticking off the Baths of Aphrodite, some salt flats and their wildlife and a couple of the fascinating monasteries, it was time to head for the capital. People of a certain age will remember the name Nicosia from the radio programme Family Favourites when locally based service people requested records for their families back home.

Heading up to Nicosia, it was the expected traffic chaos and I have to confess I arrived almost by accident at the most central parking area near the old city centre. Areas of the ancient walls are still visible and the centre is a charming pedestrianised maze of walkways with numerous coffee shops. I wiled away a lovely couple of hours over a latte and enormous slice of Greek cake (no idea! A mix of honey, orange and semolina at a guess), and then (don’t ask again!) got lured down a back street to visit the most amazing Motorcycle Museum I had seen; full of precious bikes from the last 100 years including some old war time and military bikes that must have seen some very exciting journeys. At the end of this small silent road there was a border reminiscent of old Berlin. High wire fences, an (unmanned) wooden control hut, more wire fences and then beyond I could see the continuing road, but this time full of empty and decaying houses. What a shame. Now caught in the no man’s land between the south and the north, these lovely old family mansions are just being left to rot. It was a depressing and sad site.

Generally advice on all fronts is that you can’t drive across the border into the north, but I had also been told that there was one crossing where hire cars could go. Most car hire companies won’t allow this but on advice I found possibly the only company in Cyprus that would cover you to go through the border, Petsas Car Hire. This is run by a Cyprus family who went out of their way to help – despite the fact that none of them had ever crossed the border!

I had been told there was only one main crossing we could try. Here’s another interesting aspect - the maps I had obtained in south Cyprus, even the town map of Nicosia, all ended at the border. There was no sign that any land existed further north. The aversion and in many cases hate of their northern neighbours remain.

I finally found my way by trial and error (I hadn’t invested in SatNav which was not readily available in all areas anyway) to the Agio Dometios crossing point. I had been warned that even crossing by foot, it was a good idea to provide a piece of paper for the control stamp - general information was that a Northern Cyprus stamp in your passport would cause enormous problems if you tried to come back into Southern Cyprus. But talking to the charming man at the check point, I decided this was crazy. As a British subject, how could I be denied entrance back into the Republic of Cyprus, part of the European Union. I got my passport stamped and drove through into the barren no man’s land that now separates the two countries.

Hitting the Turkish border, I received a good welcome, had local maps handed into the car free of charge, and hit the road. Suddenly I was in Turkey, the whole atmosphere was different, the style of buildings different, the language definitely different! Road signs to Kyrenia were clear and after a small detour around the backstreets, I finally found my way to the Ship Inn, an incongruous name for a small but comfortable converted old home bordering the north western edge of the town. Originally it had been set amidst the most beautiful olive groves, but building sites were encroaching and it can’t be long before this atmospheric old building is swallowed up.

Having read Lawrence Durrell’s famous Bitter Lemons book on Cyprus, I knew I had to see the Tree of Idleness. Driving up the peaceful back roads behind Kyrenia, it was clear that Northern Cyprus was a gentle step back in time, less commercialised than the south, slightly less well kept up, but with a very distinct charm of its own. The backdrop of high crag topped mountains against the clear blue sky added a dramatic feel to almost every area of this region.

Driving right through the narrow twisty streets of Bellapais, I skirted the ancient abbey and stopped in the large car park. The views were spectacular, right down over the northern coastal plain. Sadly a new Turkish restaurant is now built about the Tree of Idleness, where old Greeks used to while away the day drinking under the shade of an ancient tree; but that said, the coffee was good and the people really friendly. I walked up the back streets to try and find Lawrence Durrell’s yellow house, and spotted someone who might be able to help. Asking politely, it turned out I had found the one person who really could answer any of my questions! Deirdre had lived in Bellapais since the late 1940s! The climate must be good, she looked so young. She knew all the Durrell family well, she even had photographs of them as youngsters in her home album. Her home is up a few more incredibly steep backstreets (no cars here, even donkeys would stumble!) and tucked away in a mass of bright red bougainvillea. She runs a wonderful tea shop cum restaurant and sometimes overnight accommodation for local walkers and various visitors. Definitely on my list for a visit in the future; but on this short meeting she answered my questions; how she had known the village through its Greek days; how it is now of course totally Turkish; how things had changed; how she gets her water - all the fascinating local information that makes a place really interesting. And she pointed me towards the yellow house which had been my original destination.

Up in the hills high above Kyrenia the old Crusader castles were another area of high interest for me - literally. Well worth clambering up too but not for anyone with a problem with heights. St Hilarian Castle is probably the most accessible and you can view the lower areas without too much effort or courage! How they built these amazing edifices so high up such in hostile terrain is quite extraordinary. More history to fascinate and absorb.

For a short visit, I had crammed in so much and seen none of the Cyprus that I had expected! A coffee by the delightful Kyrenia harbour was a little more predictable and clambering over the high ruins of the adjoining Castle was another triumph over health and safety.

Even better, driving back into Southern Cyprus, despite all the dire warnings, was no hassle at all - I didn’t even have to get out of the car at the check point.

Time was running out - and there was so much more to see; and I hadn’t even checked out the world famous orchids and the beaches! I will be back.

Sally travelled with British Airways but other airlines including Thomas Cook and Easy Jet also fly to Cyprus from around £200 return depending on dates.
Car hire was from Petsas Car Hire, visit
Green Valley waterfall is on left on the B8 main road from Limassol to the Troodos near Trimiklini village.

Deirde Guthrie at the Gardens of Irini, Bellapais or

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