GoNOMAD DESTINATION MINI GUIDE: Polis, Cyprus
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
mind that Cypriots drive on the left side of the road, a holdover from
its days under British control.
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.
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£).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
It is a popular place for fish meze, housed in a spacious stone building
in the nearby fishing village of Latchi.
Despite its ambiguous name, this Polis haunt offers a variety of tasty
meze specialties along with a full menu in a cozy relaxed setting.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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
ACTIVITY AND TOURS
With the tempting aquamarine waters and varied interior landscape, swimming,
sunbathing, sailing, hiking and mountain biking are the top activities.
opportunities abound. Pick up a hiking guide for an overview of the Akamas Peninsula trails.
in Polis near the post office, rents mountain bikes.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
Windows on Cyprus
All about Cyprus, including lodging, car rentals, history, activities
Information about various aspects of Cyprus: tourist resources, the
Cyprus Problem, news, history, turtles, the Akamas, and much more, including
Books about Cyprus. Find
them on Amazon
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.
Written by Colin Thurbon about a 1972 walk around Cyprus before it was
divided, this is the quintessential Cypriot travelogue.
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.
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.
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.
Read more GoNOMAD stories about Cyprus