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Cyprus has beauty and a laid back charm. photo: Wayne Milstead.

GoNOMAD DESTINATION MINI GUIDE:
Polis, Cyprus

By Wayne Milstead

WHY GO?

Dotted with citrus groves, overlooking turquoise seas, Polis is the least developed beach resort in the South of Cyprus. It is the perfect base, offering easy access to the varied landscapes of rocky promontories, lush meadows, rugged forests, sleepy monasteries and quiet beaches comprising the largely unspoiled western region of Cyprus.

Polis looks across Chrysochou Bay to the Akamas Peninsula, a nature conservation area complete with hiking trails steeped in mythological legends. The surrounding coastal and mountain villages offer authentic Greek Cypriot hospitality, culture and cuisine, while unique flora and fauna abound.

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The Region's own brand of eco and agro tourism coupled with a generally laid-back attitude allows the alternative traveler to interact with locals, connect with the natural landscape and have a more authentic encounter with the island.

This realness provides a unique vantage point to see beyond the headlines and observe the day-to-day complexities of the divided island's ongoing difficulties over Greek-Turkish relations.

On that note, it is important to remember that Cyprus is essentially two different countries at the present time: the Greek South (recognized by the international community as the Republic of Cyprus) and the Turkish controlled North (recognized only by Turkey as the Republic of Northern Cyprus.) Greek Cypriots refer to the North as Turkish Occupied Territory.

The United Nations (U.N.) patrols a buffer zone, called the 'Green Line', complete with fences, barbed wire and military equipment zigzagging across the island, dividing the two sides. It is not possible to tour both the North and South in one visit. Passing from one to the other is not allowed, except for day trips from the South to the North.

There are strict rules governing such trips. Visitors are not allowed to bring luggage and must return to the Southern checkpoint before 5 p.m. Failure to do so can result in being blacklisted by immigration officials and refused future entry into the Republic. Northern Cyprus is accessed only by plane or ferry from Turkey.

Located just off the coast of Turkey, Cyprus is divided into two separate nations that don't get along.

Cyprus signed a European Union (EU) ascension treaty on April 16, 2003 setting the course for full EU membership. The U.N. held peace talks between the North and South to hammer out a reunification plan so the entire island could be admitted to the EU. Despite much effort, those talks failed on March 11, 2003 and unless further talks are held and agreement reached before the treaty is signed, only the South will join the EU.

WHEN TO GO

Thanks to its position in the eastern Mediterranean, Cyprus enjoys a mild climate year round. April/May and September/October are the best times to visit weather-wise. The crowds are smaller and the prices lower. Hiking is optimal during these periods, especially in the spring when the countryside is washed in color. June through August is high season. It is hot, crowded and more expensive. The winter offers mild temperatures, the occasional rain shower, and solitude. It is a great time to hike, and mix with locals, although some trails can be muddy.

GETTING THERE AND AROUND

The Republic of Cyprus has two International Airports: Paphos and Lanarca. Paphos, a 23-mile drive from Polis, is the most convenient. More flights go to Larnarca but it is a 111-mile drive. British Airways flies to both airports from its U.S. gateway cities via London. KLM flies to Larnaca from its U.S. gateway cities via Amsterdam. The frequency and price of flights varies depending on the season. Check discount airline agencies and websites for special deals.

During the summer, buses regularly run between Paphos and Polis. It is also possible to catch a bus from Larnaca to Polis via Lefkosia (Nicosia.) However, if you plan to do some serious exploring of the mountain villages, countryside and remote hiking trails, it is advisable to rent a car. This can be done in Polis, after arriving by bus, or at the airport. A few of the major companies rent at the airports, including Hertz. Several local firms rent as well, offering bargain rates. A good website to check is: www.cyprus-car-hire.com

The interior roads are extremely mountainous, and some secondary roads can be bumpy. Consider a 4-wheel drive vehicle if you want to explore off the beaten path and access secluded hiking trails.

Keep in mind that Cypriots drive on the left side of the road, a holdover from its days under British control.

Another option is to take a bus to Polis and then rent a scooter, or motorcycle to putt along the coast to Akamas and other seaside villages. Bear in mind, the twisting roads coupled with the fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants driving style of the locals can make driving a car, let-alone a scooter or motorcycle, hair-raising at times.

BEST LODGINGS

There are many types of accommodation available in Polis and the surrounding villages, ranging from camping to a luxury resort. The currency is the Cyprus Pound (C£).

Camping

Nestled in a thicket of Eucalyptus tress abutting a long beautiful beach, this enchanted spot offers a cheap enjoyable setting for those willing to rough it. Somewhat reminiscent of a hippy tent city, it is a popular spot among German hikers and naturalists who helped establish Polis as a destination in the early 1980s. About half a mile walk into town, a few tavernas, grocers and a hospital dot the road on the way. There is also an onsite snack bar. From the town center, follow the signs pointing the way to the campground. Fees are C£1.50 (US$2.75) per tent and C£1 (US$1.85) per person.

Rooms and Villas

Lodging options run the gambit from simple rooms to self-catering apartment-style rooms to a few bona fide hotel resorts with restaurants, bars and a pool. A plethora of multi-room villas, many with a private pool are also available in Polis and the surrounding villages. Rates range from C£6 to C£40 (US$11-US$74) for rooms and C£30 to C£150 (US$56-US$278) a day for villas. Discounted rates are the norm outside of high season.

Visible across the relatively pristine bay from Polis, and somewhat an anathema to many locals and visitors, sits a controversial C£300 a night five-star luxury resort built on land that is arguably part of the Akamas preserve.

A much more affordable, eco-friendly resort alternative is the three-star Natura Beach Hotel approximately a half a mile east of Polis. Built in 1999 by botanist Christos Georgiades in a citrus grove set back from a quiet beach, it offers uncomplicated hotel amenities, including a restaurant, bar and pool with friendly staff, in a beautiful natural setting.

The complex is festooned with rosemary and thyme bushes and an assortment of other flowers and herbs. There is also a library and tiny bookstore offering books about the region's flora and fauna, including one by Georgiades himself. Room rates range from C£21.00 to C£24.00 (US$39-US$44.50) in the low season and C£25.00 to C£28.00 (US$46-US$52) in the high season. Villas range from C£100 to C£115(US$185-US$213) in all seasons.

The sites cyprus-hotels.com and cyprus-villas.com provide many comfortable and reasonable lodging options.

BEST EATS

Food in the South is essentially Greek with obvious influences from the other cuisines that inhabit this part of the Mediterranean. Expect humus, Greek-style salad called village salad, eggplant salad, roasted meats, fish (on the coast) and the delicious local cheese, haloumi, usually served grilled or pan-fried.

The traditional style of eating in Cyprus is called 'meze'. It is best described as a revolving buffet, consisting of small portions of as many as 20 different cold and hot dishes served as they are prepared. Most meze is a mix of vegetables and meat, but some restaurants offer vegetarian or fish meze.

Meze can be the most exciting and economical way to sample the wide variety of Cypriot dishes, including exotic dishes that strike the chef's fancy that day. But bring your appetite. It is easy to overindulge on salads before the meat dishes arrive. Since plates appear on the table without a word, pace yourself and feel free to tell your waiter to slow or stop the onslaught when you've had your fill. You'll both be grateful and food won't go to waste.

End it all with a Cypriot Coffee, a thick muddy coffee served in a small cup with grounds in the bottom. It is accompanied by a glass of water. Be sure to specify whether you want it glykos (sweet), metros (medium), or sketos (unsweetened).

Porto Latchi
It is a popular place for fish meze, housed in a spacious stone building in the nearby fishing village of Latchi.

"Mystery" Family Tavern
Despite its ambiguous name, this Polis haunt offers a variety of tasty meze specialties along with a full menu in a cozy relaxed setting.

Seven St. Georges Tavern
If you are flying in or out of Paphos, stop at the village of Yeroskepos near the airport for an all-natural Cypriot meze. The proprietors, George and Lara, have no set menu and serve only authentic meze dishes featuring vegetables, fruits, meats, and cheeses available fresh that day from local organic farms or growing wild in the countryside. They routinely prepare traditional dishes using uncultivated herbs, plants and fungi that you would not encounter outside a private Cypriot home. For an idea of what it's like to cook and eat with George and Lara, see Savoring the wild side of Cypriot cuisine.

Araouzos
In the Akamas Heights village of Kathikas, this authentic taverna with exposed timbers and decorative vines is an experience in itself and a great value. This is true meze. There is no menu. No sooner than you sit down, a copper pitcher of red wine hits the table. Soon a salad follows and then dish after dish. Finally, a plate of oranges signals the end.

Arhondariki
Housed in an old mansion near the archeological museum in Polis it looks expensive, but prices are reasonable, the food good and the staff friendly and efficient. It offers a full menu along with the best vegetarian meze in town.

BEST ATTRACTIONS

Akamas Peninsula
A wild, undeveloped finger of land jutting into the Mediterranean, the Akamas is a true gem. It contains a network of nature trails and the Bath of Aphrodite, a waterfall and pool where legend says the goddess escaped to bathe when not entertaining lovers. It is tentatively set-aside as a preservation area, but this status could be in danger. It is currently a hot topic of debate with one side calling for National Park status and the other for development to bring more tourist money into the region.

Kathikas
Called the 'gateway to the Akamas', Kathikas is a quaint village in the Akamas Heights that offers a visitors center, local crafts, produce and authentic taverns, including Araouzos, described above. The Laona Foundation, an organization dedicated to preserving rural village life, architecture and environmentally friendly tourism is based here and offers information and activities.

Agiasma Nature Trail
Outside Kathikas, this is a short hike that follows the ridge of a large gorge before descending beyond the serrated edge into the valley. Wild herbs, plants and citrus grow in the gorge. It is a great walk that compresses a variety of landscape features into a small space.

Vouni Panayia Winery Hike
This hike starts next to the church in the village of Panayia. Look for the wooden trailhead marker, and continue up the Trodos foothills above the village through the vineyards to a lookout station offering sweeping views of the land and sea. The hike then continues past a small hilltop chapel, down to Chrysorrogiatissa monastery, which sells its own wine, and then back along the road to town. Proceed to the Vouni Panayia Winery for a tour and tasting. The white Alina is exceptionally light and refreshing.

Sarama - Skarfos Bridge Walk
The tiny roads near the village of Sarama are virtually traffic free. Park the car on the side of the road and start walking. You'll encounter the ruins of a mill and medieval Skarfos Bridge, outmoded not just because of age, but utility as well, since the stream it once traversed changed course and no longer runs under it. Wind your way through this region along the road parallel to the stream and encounter the abandon Turkish-Cypriot village of Evretou, citrus and olive groves and eventually the forest's edge.

BEST ACTIVITY AND TOURS

With the tempting aquamarine waters and varied interior landscape, swimming, sunbathing, sailing, hiking and mountain biking are the top activities.

Hiking opportunities abound. Pick up a hiking guide for an overview of the Akamas Peninsula trails.

Jalos Activ in Polis near the post office, rents mountain bikes.

BEST ALTERNATIVES

Lara Beach

Worth the effort, Lara Beach is a scenic undeveloped beach where green and loggerhead turtles lay eggs during the summer. The Lara Beach Turtle Station is located on the northern bay and often locks off the area during the summer to protect the turtles. Volunteers staff the center and assist with preservation of the turtles including placing wire-mesh cages over nests to thwart scavenging foxes. It is difficult to reach in a regular car because of treacherous unpaved roads, but can be managed in a 4-wheel drive vehicle. It also makes an excellent hike and can be incorporated with other worthwhile hikes in the area including the impressive canyon landscape of Avakas Gorge.

Agrotourism
For total immersion consider going the Agrotourism route. Thanks to an established network, it is fairly easy to rent a traditional Cypriot house in a small rural village. Besides offering unique insight into rural life, these types of arrangements often include cooking lessons, tours of a farm, instruction in cheese-making techniques or other aspects of Cypriot culture. The Laona Foundation has properties available throughout the region.

Kato Pyrgos
Although there is not much to do besides eat fish and play on the beach, Kato Pyrgos is worth a visit. Bordering the "Green Line", it is off the beaten path and exudes a calm remoteness that is relaxing. The Turkish North controls a small enclave called Kokkina just south of Kato Pyrgos that is surrounded by South Cyprus on all sides except the sea. A U.N. patrolled fenced perimeter effectively cuts off Kato Pyrgos (and the main coastal road) from the rest of South Cyprus. The only way to get there is via a rugged road up, over and then down an enormous mountain. It is a thrilling white-knuckle drive along the perimeter fence, offering spectacular scenery. The beaches are quiet, people friendly and the fish delicious.

BEST EVENTS

Greek Orthodox Easter, considered the most important holiday, produces the biggest celebrations of the year. Look for special meals, candle-lit processions, fireworks and other festivities. It occurs fifty days after the first Sunday in Lent, which has its own festival. Cyprus Independence Day is October 1.

COMMUNICATIONS

If you need to contact the outside world there are telephones outside the Cyprus Telecommunications Authority office and the hospital. There is usually a Café or two around the pedestrian-only plaza offering access and some hotels, such as the Natura Beach, offer onsite pay Internet terminals.

HEATH AND SAFETY

There are no serious health risks, but do wear appropriate clothing for hiking, use sunscreen and drink plenty of water. Also, consult a hiking guidebook, or ask locals about the difficulty level and condition of trails. Some trails are steep, narrow and turn into treacherous mud slicks after a January rain.

If you travel near the Green Line, keep your wits about you and do not stop, take photos or attract attention to yourself. Also avoid demonstrations and political events. While the situation is relatively stable with the average person on both sides waiting for the leaders work out a solution to the 'Cyprus Problem', tensions sometimes run high and occasionally violence ensues.


RESOURCES

Windows on Cyprus
windowoncyprus.com
All about Cyprus, including lodging, car rentals, history, activities and more.

The Cyprus Home Page
kypros.org/Cyprus/root.html
Information about various aspects of Cyprus: tourist resources, the Cyprus Problem, news, history, turtles, the Akamas, and much more, including many pictures.

Books about Cyprus. Find them on Amazon

Bitter Lemons of Cyprus
Lawrence Durrell's 1957 account of living in what is now the Turkish controlled North. Dated, but a beautifully atmospheric read offering insight into the character of the island and its people.

Journey Into Cyprus
Written by Colin Thurbon about a 1972 walk around Cyprus before it was divided, this is the quintessential Cypriot travelogue.

Nature of Cyprus
An immensely useful guide to the island's wildlife by Christos Georgiades, owner of the Natura Beach Hotel in Polis. Buy it at the hotel.

Rother Walking Guide: Cyprus
While it covers the entire area of Southern Cyprus, a large number of the detailed walks concentrate in the Polis/Akamas/Trodos Foothills region. An indispensable resource for hikers.

Nature Trails of the Akamas
A booklet available free of charge from the Cyprus Tourism Organization (CTO). It's interesting to take along on the Akamas hikes since the numbers on the trail markers match up with numbered snippets of information contained in the booklet. Or at least that is the theory.

Wayne Milstead writes from Friendswood Texas.

 

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