After our long cold gray, dreary winter last year, we decided that for our February break, we would look for somewhere warm and sunny. In February, almost all of Europe is still typically cold and winter-y, so we had to go way down into the Mediterranean in search of warmer temps and sun.
That’s when we came across a somewhat unknown island known as Cyprus.
Cyprus is a tiny little island tucked way down in the Mediterranean 50 miles south of Turkey, 65 miles west of Syria and 250 miles north of Egypt. Politically, the island is divided into the Republic of Cypress (lower 2/3) where the native language is Greek and the self-declared Turkish republic of Northern Cyprus (upper 1/3), where the language is Turkish; there is a tan buffer zone controlled by the United Nations. It seems that many people (myself included) often think of Cyprus as part of Greece, but it’s not. Cyprus is its own nation, not Greek or Turkish. While we planned to stay on the Greek side, it is still possible to cross up into the Turkish area- both the capital of Cyprus, Nicosia, and the US Embassy are both located up in that area, though it requires several security checks to enter and Americans are cautioned to enter that area at their own risk.
It has an interesting history in that it is newly independent from the UK (1960) and there is still evidence of their presence there.
We left Friday night from Clermont, and it ended up being serendipitous, because the next day, most of Clermont would be closed and blocked from in and out traffic related to a huge Gilets Jaunes demonstration that was predicted to bring GJs from all over France and to possibly become violent. In fact, as I was running around on Friday doing last minute errands, many stores and banks in downtown were boarding up to protect their storefronts from vandals the following day.
We drove to Geneva and spent the night near the airport so we could get to the airport for our 9am flight to Munich. It was a stressful few hours. Not only were things were really crowded making our way to our gate for our Munich flight, but we decided to risk me traveling with a passport that is now within the 6 month expiration window. It seemed too risky to send it away to be renewed since there would be a chance we would not get it back in time, and as current permanent residents of France, our research told us that I had up to the 3 month window to still travel. But, Chuck and I still held our breath for several minutes as we stood at the passport check window…. Phew! It felt good to make it onto the plane and settle in for a 3 hour flight. It was a beautiful morning to fly; up above the clouds, you could see the tops of the Alps and it felt like we were in an ocean…
By some miracle, I ended up next to the window (Wells LOVES the window seat) and was really able to get a feel for what Cyprus looked like from above- like an island covered in emerald-y green giant sand dunes that is surrounded by a sea of several shades of blue.
We landed at Larnaca Airport, grabbed our bags and headed to pick up our rental car.
We hadn’t been out of the airport 5 minutes when we saw our first wild cat.
There are sooooooo many cats on Cyprus. They have been on the island forever; in fact, the first example of domesticated cats ( human and cat remains buried together) was found in Cyprus and dated back 4000 years. I read that they arrived in the 4th century on a boat from Egypt in order to address a snake infestation. As a result of cats breeding freely for centuries on the island, the gene pool has remained undisturbed but the cats are feral and roam the island freely.
With driving on the left side of the road, Chuck was in for a challenge. Though we had been to London (and Scotland?), we took cabs everywhere:)
On longer drives, Charlie (who has a tendency to get motion sick) sits up front. It seemed so weird to see Charlie on the left, it was like a glimpse into the future when he’d be driving and Chuck would be riding shotgun. (Yes, I’m personally appointing Chuck as driving instructor to the boys.)
The sun was already beginning to set by the time we were in the car and as we drove the hour drive to Pissouri, the village where we’d be staying for the week, we saw one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen.
There was no way to justly capture it from the car window, but the colors were memorable.
We had to stop by the grocery store on the way up to our house (I’m always talking in my posts about how much we love grocery stores in new countries) so, by the time we arrived to our house in Pissouri, it was completely dark. Driving up a hill along narrow village roads on the left side in the dark when the directions fail to mention road closings made it a bit difficult to find the house. Thanks to google maps, we knew the road we had to take to reach the house, but it was closed. Chuck had to hike down a giant hill to walk around and try to find another road that would lead us there. Luckily, he was able to figure it out and we got there safe and sound.
We were greeted by Tina, a lovely woman from Sri Lanka who, along with Indie were the caretakers who welcomed us and showed us around the Villa. After a long day of travel, it was so nice to come into a warm home with a fire burning and a freshly baked warm cake waiting for us on the table.
It didn’t take us long to make ourselves right at home….
It was too late and too tiring to think about going back out, so it was frozen dinner for everyone. Luckily, we found some pretty decent Indian.
The next morning, we couldn’t wait to wake up and explore the villa. The home we had found on Air B&B is affectionately named “Villa Meraki”… Meraki means to complete something with all your heart, “a labor of love” and was so named by the family that owns it as a tribute to all the labor and love they have put into making it the special place that it is, where they have spent the last 20 years of relaxing and fun-filled holidays…We had been following “villa meraki” on Instagram and couldn’t wait to stay here.
Though we knew it would be a bit different to stay here in February, the off-season where temps are in the 50s/low 60s and often rainy, we were looking forward to a restful and relaxing few days.
There were big beautiful orange trees and lemons that we enjoyed picking from, especially Wells, who made himself some OJ every morning….
There were so many beautiful flowers and trees all over the property- sadly, the olive trees were not growing any olives at this point in the year, but Tina had kindly left us a nice big bottle of freshly pressed olive oil made from olives on the property…
and fresh eggs from the little farm on the back of the property…
During the day, all the chickens, the rooster and a turkey would roam the property and the rooster would cock-a-doodle every so often… he got started early every morning, but it never seemed to wake us up.
We wanted to take advantage of the 2 sunny days the weather was predicting, so we drove to Paphos, a town 25 minutes away, to explore…
We walked around in the downtown area, along the water but it was mostly tourist shops, many of the bigger stores were closed. The warm ocean-y breeze felt so good….
We had kebabs, greek salad and baked halloumi (a local Cypriot cheese, think if mozzarella and feta had a baby:) and of course pita…we were so hungry we all ate before I could get a pic! This was Charlie’s.
We have loved drinking this Mastiqua water, a sparkling water flavored with mastic, a resin from Mastic trees, grown only in Chios (Greece)… Beginning 4000 years ago, in Egypt, the resin has been collected, distilled and infused with water where it is then used for drinking or, known for it’s anti-inflammatory and healing properties, it was also used in beauty products and even in Hippocrates’ medical treatments!
One funny thing about Cyprus is the toilets. Because of inadequate plumbing throughout the island, almost all toilets have a sign forbidding the flushing of toilet paper in the toilet, but to dispose of it in the trash can. Yuck! This took some getting used to. In general, the whole toilet thing was different there.
Next, we headed to the Tombs of the Kings, a big necropolis (cemetery, “city of the dead” in Greek with elaborate tombs) full of ancient ruins containing many underground tombs cut from rock that date as far back as the 4th century BC where many prominent figures (though not actually kings) were laid to rest.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the tombs have been known and explored for ages but not formally excavated until the 1970s and is still in progress today.
It was like a giant park sitting alongside the ocean full of caves and elaborate tombs to explore.
A plaque outside a few of the different tombs pointed out that entry to each was via a stone staircase of 13 steps. Not sure what the significance of the 13 is though.
Some of the tombs were still mostly intact and were quite elaborate.
Many of the columns in some tombs were still fully erect, and others had crumbled but were labeled with numbers identifying which pieces went together, like a puzzle…
Our next stop on the way back home to Pissouri was to Aphrodite’s Rock (Petra tou Romiou), a beautiful stack of rocks sitting in the ocean which sat alongside the main road between Paphos and Limassol.
To get to the beach, we had to park across the highway and walk through a tunnel underneath to get out onto the beach.
Greek legend notes this rock as Aphrodite’s birth place, where she came up out of the water and onto the shore. It is a popular tourist site and known for it’s magical sunsets…
The sky was unbelievable.
The boys ran down and played on the beach while we sat way up high on the rocks to see the sun tuck down behind the curving road up above.
We had read about some small villages a little further north, up in the mountains that were charming and worth visiting for a true “village” experience. Omodos and Vasa were near to each other and only 40 minutes from us, so the next day, we drove inland to explore.
Unfortunately, though Omodos was listed on one of the several “Wine Trails” that we’d read about, all the wineries we passed on the way were closed for the season, but we continued on into the village.
It was truly an old village and other than several men sitting around outside a bar/tabacco shop playing a game, the rest of the village was like a ghost town. None of the restaurants were open and even the museum in the center of town was closed for the season.
Nevertheless, it was fun to walk around a bit and really appreciate the quiet and simplicity of this place….
After a little stroll around, we decided there was nothing further to see and it was approaching lunch time, so the nearest bigger town was Limassol, a 40 minute drive and one of the biggest and most developed cities in Cyprus.
We parked near the beautiful marina, the area around which has been recently developed and lined with several restaurants and many higher end shops.
We ate lunch outside at a restaurant on the marina. The wind was quite strong that afternoon so it was chilly!
Wells had ordered some “pickles” as an appetizer, but was disappointed to learn that the pickles were a chopped up relish in a thick yellow mustardy sauce. It was “interesting”. Chuck and I had souvlaki platters that were really great….It was a great way to try several different things at once!
We walked around the old town part of the city afterwards and went into a few shops, but most of the restaurants in that area were closed, many still for winter.
Such a charming and cute town.
Grabbed coffee and a snack before the drive back at Café Nero, a coffee shop we’d first tried in Lisbon.
Something we surprisingly loved was this tahini pie… a Cypriot specialty, it is shaped more like a cinnamon roll, it’s a doughy pastry filled with a mixture of tahini, honey and cinnamon and it was sooooo good. The boys didn’t care for it, though.
The next day was cooler and windy, but sunny (AGAIN!) and so we wanted to go see Pissouri Bay, which was a beautiful beach a 5 minute drive from our villa. Again, a freezing cold morning swim by Wells.
Our villa in Pissouri was very close to some beaches down at Pissouri Bay. Even though we knew it was too cold and windy to swim, the drive down through the windy hill roads to the beach was beautiful.
The beach was almost completely deserted other than for a few swimmers and people walking along the sand…
We walked along, looking for perfectly shaped rocks and found some really interesting looking ones…
It was too cold to swim, but that didn’t stop Wells from burying himself in the sand….. fully clothed!
And, since we had our very own photographer traveling with us…
We woke up Wednesday morning, fully expecting to see rain but were thrilled instead to have yet another sunny morning! After breakfast, we went back to Paphos, but this time we explored the old town and then drove to nearby Tsada to visit Aphrodite’s Rock Brewing Company.
This was a really rustic microbrewery up in the hills with a great menu and several really good beers. We had salads with lots of good feta and great pizza. But even better was the friendly staff, run by a family of Yorkshire brewers from the UK, it is recommended in different travel sites as a can’t miss for beer lovers visiting the island.
The beer was good! They actually had an Oktoberfest (one of my faves) that is on the menu year-round:)
Since we had already been to the marina area of Paphos on Monday, we had read about the mall in Paphos, and decided to go check it out. Malls in different countries are definitely a cultural experience.
There didn’t end up being much new other than the stores we have in France, so we took advantage of the big grocery store there to stock up on some of our faves that we miss from back home… instant oatmeal, granola bars, animal crackers, Pringles and Starbursts! Really, it seems silly that you could actually get excited about instant oatmeal, but it’s one of the things the boys actually miss!
We back to Villa Meraki just as the sun was setting and it got dark quick! But that didn’t stop us from sending the boys outside to run around and play. As we should’ve guessed, at some point, Wells’ shoes ended up in the pool, followed quickly by Wells (in his undies:) and Owen next. 50 degrees, dark and windy. It still blows my mind how we can be related….
Thursday, we decided to drive to Kourion beach, near Episkopi. It was about halfway between Pissouri and Limassol, so maybe 25 minutes. As we drove through Episkopi, we noticed several stands selling strawberries. Summer still feels ages away in France, which means yummy strawberries in season are still a few months off.
As we pulled over to buy some, we noticed this tent behind the stand, with strawberries growing in the most unusual way…
It was like an open-air greenhouse!
The strawberries were beautiful!
We got to Chris Blue Beach and it was so cold and windy. Luckily, we could pull the car up right next to the shore and hop out for a few minutes, without having to walk far to the beach.
The water was so blue! And it was such a perfect day for windsurfing.
The beach was completely rocky (no sand) and was kinda tricky to walk on, but I couldn’t resist getting closer to the water…
I love rocky beaches. While they are difficult to walk on (even in shoes!), and much more uncomfortable to sit on (it’s hard to sunbathe on a bed of moving rocks) these beaches are so much prettier and less messy! I especially love the sound the water makes when it pulls back from the shore along the rocks…
We didn’t realize until later that night when we were looking at our photos that Chris Blue Beach is actually part of the UK!
There are 2 tiny areas on Cyprus that make up 3% of the island and were held onto by the UK when they gave Cyprus independence in 1960 in order to strategically maintain presence and monitoring in Mediterranean and the Middle East. Chris Blue Beach is in one of the 2 tiny English territories!
It’s strange to think that the official language here is English, along with the UK flag and the queen is Queen Elizabeth!
When we got to Limassol, we were surprised to see that the city had completely come alive. It was “stinky Thursday”, the first day of an 11-day long carnival, a huge festival throughout the town in the days leading up to Ash Wednesday that extends back to medieval times, but has become a much larger celebration since the beginning of British rule in the 18th century.
It was fun to walk through the streets where literally everyone was wearing masks, parading through the streets, mingling together outside their homes, stores, shops, restaurants, in the main squares, drinking and eating grilled meats and vegetables that they were cooking on these small portable grills….
The residents of this city are known for their love of having fun and celebrating and we got to see it first hand!
There weren’t many tables available outside so we found a great restaurant that had inside seating and the waiter encouraged us to try some of the meats they were grilling outside. Their house specialty for the day were these platters with grilled chicken kebabs, sausage, halloumi cheese, hummus, tzaziki, fries, pita and salad. All the good things together! I really think that is one ofhte best things about Greek food… being able to try lots of different things at once!
After we ate and walked around for awhile, it was back to the marina and back to Café Nero for one more latte and tahini pie.
Everyone was so busy partying in the old town that the area near the marina felt deserted, the streets were empty!
And so, a road race before hopping back into the car…
The next day was Friday, time to pack up and head out. Because there were no guests checking in later that day, Tina offered that we could check out later in the day and since our flight out of Cyprus wasn’t until 5 pm, we had most of the day to relax and hang out at Villa Meraki…
One last chance to dare Chuck into jumping in…
We said goodbye to sweet Tina…. she was the best hostess we have ever had. Baking cake for us (and sharing the recipe!!), checking on us daily, bringing fresh milk and eggs, coming quickly the several times we lost power, coming by every evening to build us a fire… she was so kind to our boys and told us about her 9 yr old son back in Sri Lanka that she missed terribly. She will always be a big part of our Cyprus memories…
As we drove down the hill from Pissouri, one last view from up above this beautiful island…
We stopped briefly in Vienna for a quick layover… just long enough to buy a pretzel and burn some airport energy before heading to Geneva.
We woke up the next morning to rainy and cool, so after breakfast the boys swam in the indoor pool and then we went into downtown Geneva to see the lake and walk around.
It was clear in early afternoon, but rain later shortened our visit and it was time to go home. We had been so lucky with the weather all week that we were ok with it. Back to Clermont, where spring was just around the corner…