We decided to make the most of our last day in Cyprus by taking the car across the Green Line once more. No shopping this time, just a scenic tour of the Tröodos mountains. It was a wonderful, sunny day to remember, with pine clad mountains, incline-defying villages, babbling brooks, 1000 year old churches, moody priests, the best pork chop in the world and an eccentric shop lady.
If you go to Cyprus you must visit the mountains. In late summer they offer some shade and respite from the blistering sun, along with unspoilt surroundings. It was busy when we went there and this was explained by the bonkers-but-lovely-lady owner of Cleopatra’s, in Platres, “it’s the Festival of The Cross”. There are festivals galore in this small island, and most weekends see some kind of an excuse for gathering together in the full-to-bursting tavernas and bars. Nevertheless, ruined by development and over-commercialism it was not.
We headed through the most Northern crossing, with the intention of not only seeing a different part of the country but saving time by avoiding the queues at the main crossing in Lefkosa. All went well at the relaxed Northern Cyprus side and as we happily motored past the Greek checkpoint I smiled at one of the guards. He frowned as we drove by. Then he and his mate stood up and with furious faces gesticulated at us to stop. With scowls they called us over. Maybe they hadn’t liked my toothy grin? As soon as our four UK passports were produced the atmosphere lightened.
It’s worth noting here that if you drive a car with Northern Cyprus plates in Southern Cyprus they presume you are a Turkish Cypriot. For much of the time this is irrelevant, but there were a significant number of occasions when we felt victimized. Cars drove close behind and honked their horns, we were glowered at by pedestrians, other road users gesticulated and bullied their way round us and unfriendly security guards made life unpleasant. Some of the bullies were surprised when their behaviour was met with typical Anglo-Saxon retorts and hand signals.
Anyway, back to Tröodos. It’s famous for its 11th century painted churches. We looked at the UN World Heritage listed Agios Ioannis Lambadistis Monastery in Kalopanayiotis where the evil-eye-glaring and miserable expression of the incumbent Greek Orthodox priest failed to dampen our delight in the frescoes. Admittedly we arrived at 2 minutes to closing-for-lunch-time, but oy veh, do these people never smile? At the museum, next door, filled with spectacular naif early renaissance icons we were greeted by a warm and exuberant guide who restored our faith in humanity. Also at Kalopanayiotis we found a sulphur spring, a narrow bridge over a babbling brook and half a doll weirdly hanging in the undergrowth. Go there.
The image on the left is the one I got severely shouted at for taking, so I’ll be damned if I’m not going to publish it!
I was in charge of the guidebook for the day (this is quite normal as, if you don’t know me, I am very bossy and like to know at all times what’s going on – control freak, moi?) and we were soon speeding out of this idyllic hillside village in search of lunch. We found a suitable destination in the nearby village of Pedoulas, under the trees of a taverna called Platanos (literally “plane trees”). If you want the best pork chops you have ever tasted in your life (are you reading this, Heston Blumenthal?) eat in this restaurant. Trish and Jim were in orgasms of delight over the half pig which arrived on Jim’s plate. Meanwhile J and I tucked into a never-ending supply of mezzes, each one more delicious than the last. We stuffed ourselves under the dappled light coming through the leaves and in the cool of the breeze trapped in the mountain pines above. By the way, is anything other than ‘light through leaves’ dappled? Grey horses, perhaps? J and I also wondered if anything other than clouds scudded? (Missiles?)
After lunch we headed yet higher into the mountains, stopping to take our breaths at the views (except Trish, who slept for two hours with her mouth open, dribbling – the last part’s not true, but we like to kid her about it). At Platres we admired the colonial mansions left by the Brits and stopped to wander round Cleopatra’s, a mad shop full of tat and car boot sale memorabilia, run by a tiny ancient ant-like woman with the innate charm of a Lady and well-oiled diplomat. There was nothing one could conceivably want in the shop. Jamie and I bought stuff.
On the way back we stopped off for tea and ice cream in the Village Pub in Kakopetria. Sounds crap, doesn’t it? Not so.