“Wheee,” the kids scream. Hands are raised in the air in reckless abandon.
“Faster!” they shout, laughter creasing their smooth, tanned skin and eyes water-filled with glee.
We’re in Cyprus – not on a hair-raising theme park ride as you might expect from the ruckus being caused, but rather we’re on one of the bumpiest roads I’ve ever driven on, in an attempt to discover ‘another side’ to the island so favoured by many of us Brits.
This is our second family trip to Cyprus, having visited a few years ago, when our sons were much younger. Back then we had stayed in a luxury hotel near to Paphos and, lured by the cushioned sun-beds, inviting pools and blissful spa treatments, we had barely ventured out of the resort. While a good time was had by all, this visit would be different, I had exclaimed. We were going to explore Cyprus away from the usual tourist haunts. Injected with the idea of adventure, my boys – Benito, 11, and Lorenzo, six, and husband David, age withheld, – were sold upon the idea.
Touch down into Paphos airport and a few minutes drive outside, you’re faced with some of the so-called ‘tourist attractions’ aimed at the one million British visitors who descend upon Cyprus each year: signs for “Eat All You Can Pizza”, “Club Naughty” and ‘Paddy’s Irish Pub” flash luridly as we drove by. But this is not the true picture of what Cyprus is about – or indeed what the majority of UK tourists want from their holiday – and intent on proving this to the world, the Cyprus Tourist Board have gone into battle mode to show off its treasures largely hidden from many of its visitors.
Part of this ‘big reveal’ are the easy-to-follow Driving Routes and Village Guides, which take visitors through the island’s many areas of natural beauty. Revealing sleepy enclaves, off-the-beaten track craft museums and authentic tavernas, this is all part of Cyprus’s untapped side just waiting to be discovered.
Which brings me back to our rollercoaster car ride on the west coast of the island. Based in a villa in the tiny seaside village of Prodromi, in the north-western part of the country, we decide to spend our days leisurely exploring the surrounding area known as North Pafos, which lies between the Akamas mountains and Pafos Forest, with the help of the one of the new driving guides, namely Village Route 6.
But Day One and we have already gone off piste with a detour being made – by popular demand – to spend the morning at Lara Bay on the west coast. A local favourite, due to its sandy beach (much of Cyprus’s coastline is stony), it is also the nesting site of the Caretta Caretta turtle. While a 4×4 would have been more of a sensible choice, as this is off-road territory, our little hire car is doing its best to get us there. With the Med winking at us to our left, we bounce along on a landscape that is almost lunar in its dustiness and craters. Huge cracks in the terrain add to the futuristic feel. While this causes much merriment to our passengers in the back, it was the turn of the adults up front to say through gritted teeth, “are we nearly there yet?” as our heads bump into the car door-frame yet again.
After what seems like an eternity of twists and turns over a primeval terrain, the ocean peeps into view. Finally we reach our destination. “I can see the turtles,” screams Lorenzo, over-optimistically it turns out, as we are out of season. But it doesn’t matter. We hop, skip and jump (literally – as the sand is unbearably, scorching hot) straight into the cool water, beach paraphernalia left discarded in our wake. It’s well worth the trip as this is one of Cyprus’s loveliest beaches – often deserted, and as far as you can get from the crowded coastline of the south. On the edge of the Akamas Forest, it is also a good spot for walkers and adventure lovers to venture further afield and to discover the abundance of natural wildlife this area has. But it is too hot for us to do much more than swim and have a look at the caged turtle nests dotted along the shore. Inevitably the call of the wild, sorry child, soon occurs and with “I’m hungry” ringing in our ears, we consult our guide for lunch recommendations.
We head back south towards the coastal village of Agios Georgios and eventually find the Viklari The Last Castle Taverna. Despite its fancy-name, the remote, open-air restaurant is as simple (and picturesque) as you get – table-tops are made of huge slabs of stone and are found under shady, overhanging vines. There’s no menu as only one dish is cooked here – chicken and pork souvlaki, jacket potatoes or wedges and village salad (priced at €12). We all tuck in – even my eldest, who is normally the fussy one of the family – and admire the views of the twinkling sea beyond.
Our days unfold like this – picking out ideas from the guide and finding local places to eat nearby, and in fact we discover this is the joy of the new driving routes. All six have been designed so you can either tackle each in one go (taking roughly a day for each) or instead for you to pick and choose elements of interest along each route. We find that the latter method suits us – and the children – the best. Taking us through out-of-the-way villages and beauty spots, the easy-to-follow maps show off a Cyprus that is at times more Middle Eastern than European. And it’s no wonder – situated in the middle of the ancient world (close to Lebanon, Egypt and Greece), Cyprus has at its heart a rich mix of different cultures.
We also discover that places we would have normally avoided, assuming they’d not be kiddie-friendly, are in fact some of the highlights for the boys. Take the village of Kathikas, in the heart of Cyprus’s wine country, for instance. Driving south towards Paphos one day, we decide to stop there at the tiny Sterna Winery. Unexpectedly, the boys love the tour behind the scenes and the mini museum. They wander around the wine cellars and poke about among the equipment. The wine-tasting session also turns out to be popular, especially with the one non-driving adult. Okay, I confess, I’m the only one doing the tasting, seeing as David is driving, but the endless supply of soft-drinks and nibbles is just as much a novelty for the boys. Less so are the endless “can I just try one sip?’ badgerings as each glass of vino is bought out (and that’s just from the hubbie).
Lunch at the nearby Meze Meze Taverna means just-cooked moussaka (the dish on offer changes daily, according to what the chef has in). Then we walk it off in Drouseia, a typical Cypriot village with its winding streets and traditional houses with their peacock-blue doors and windows.
After a detour to the village of Ineia and some cheerful, hand-made baskets purchased (for a breeze) at the tiny Basket Weaving Museum, we head back to the villa for some downtime and endless splashing about in the pool.
In terms of sightseeing, what the Cyprus Tourist Board – and locals – want to show off are like little mouthfuls of amuse-bouche. Nothing takes very long to digest and so works wonderfully with children in tow. During our week in Cyprus, we come away feeling like we have seen so much – Paphos old town with its souk-like market and the Oleastro Olive Museum near Paphos were another two unlikely hits – but importantly we also feel that we’ve had fun together. Of course, there are more substantial sightseeing ‘meals’ to be had at Cyprus’s showstopping sites – such as the spectacular Kourion Amphitheatre, a restored Greco-Roman theatre, west of Limassol, and the famous Tomb of the Kings, a UNESCO world heritage site, which has underground tombs dating back to the 4th Century BC. While we also visited these, they proved more all-consuming and rather rigid days out, and as a consequence less popular with us all.
“This is the life,” sighs Benito, in a knowing way, as we stop off for the umpteenth time for ice creams on one of our last days. We’re en route to the Baths of Aphrodite, near the fishing harbour of Latsi towards the tip of the Akamas peninsula. “This holiday is cool,” agrees Lorenzo. “Adventuring is not as scary as in the books.” I tell them that the beauty spot where we’re headed to is a grotto where Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love used to bathe and where Adonis fell in love with her. “Yuk,” says Lorenzo, clearly unimpressed with both concepts of bathing and love, when I explain the story to him. “I’m not going in there, then,” he says firmly. “Holidays are meant to be fun.” He’s got a point.
This article is also in the current issue of Family Traveller magazine
Cyprus specialist Sunvil Holidays, 020 8758 4759, www.sunvil.co.uk, offers a range of villas on the island. A seven-night self-catering stay at Villa Amaranta (sleeps six) in Prodromi costs from £325 pp based on four sharing.
Return flights with Cyprus Airlines from London Heathrow to Larnaca, from £220 (inclusive VAT) per person. For more information, visit www.cyprusair.com.
For further information or enquiries on Cyprus, please visit www.visitcyprus.com or call the Cyprus Tourist Organisation on 020 7569 8800. The six self-drive routes are available from The Travel Foundation: www.thetravelfoundation.org.uk.