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On top of the world in Cyprus December 17, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Cyprus.
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GO HIKING, BIKING AND CLIMBING IN THE CLOUDS

The views were supposed to be breathtaking but we were so busy hyperventilating at the sheer drops at the side of the “nature trail” they were somewhat wasted on us. In fact, we were grateful for the swirls of low cloud that danced around us, helping to obscure the drop-dead gorgeous, now I truly understand the description, panorama laid out before us from high in the Troodos mountains of Cyprus.

The climb had left us gasping too and our discomfort was only exacerbated by the cold. Five layers of clothing failed to keep out the sudden drop in temperature.

Much of our stay, despite being early winter, had been bathed in duvet-warm sunshine but until then we’d been a lot closer to sea level. The Artemis trail is definitely not for the fainthearted but anyone interested in flora may decide the fear factor is a small price to pay for the excitement of discovering a huge variety of plant species, many only to be found in Cyprus. And, to be fair, much of the 7km walk takes you on the flat and is safely walled on both sides by a forest of pine trees. Look out for Cyprus crocuses and orchids under the black pines, all clearly labelled with discreet plaques.

On a clear day you can see the whole of the island from this circular trail, which reaches 1,850 metres. There are around 200km of well-marked hiking trails in Cyprus, helping visitors to get the most out of the fascinating countryside.

I’d chosen this adventure holiday as part of my training to get fit for tackling the Inca Trail in Peru, so I was ready to take on every challenge, I thought! Next on the itinerary was mountain biking. The last time I rode any kind of bicycle was in the days before gears so I spent the first half-an-hour either frantically pumping the pedals at 100mph or desperately pushing with all my might to get the wheels to turn.

One of my fellow adventurers, James, who I might add was scared of heights, flying, spiders and ghosts, was a bit of an expert and took great delight in putting me right. Eventually I sort of got the hang of it and was able to ride and take in the beauty of my surroundings. We mainly stuck to dirt tracks around the Tochni region, an area only recently opened up to tourism, but when we did hit the road I was relieved to discover the Cypriots drive on the same side as the Brits.

Tochni is an inland region between Larnaka and Limassol which has been developed as an agrotourism centre, a concept designed to give visitors a taste of the real Cyprus by offering accommodation in renovated old stone-built houses and showing traditional countryside arts. It was there we were introduced to halloumi making, creating a salty, chewy cheese out of goat’s milk, a Cyprus speciality served at almost every meal. We arrived at our final destination, the Tochni Tavern in Choirokoitia, for a typical Cyprus lunch, triumphant but saddle-sore.

So it was with the greatest trepidation I faced our next activity, horse riding at Drapia Farm. Again my experience was limited, a couple of lessons at age six. Fortunately my Cypriot horse was kind but the saddle still took its toll.

All this exercise and I should have returned home several pounds lighter, were it not for the principal activity on our schedule, eating. On the first day we had two huge breakfasts by 10am thanks to the wonderful hospitality of the local people. Accept an invitation to coffee and you’re very likely to be served dishes of fruit, bread and halloumi alongside.

The food is fab, some of the best I’ve had anywhere. I can particularly recommend the fish meze at Andreas & Melany at Beach Hotel at the Governors Beach (00357-25-632314) and everything we tasted, most of the menu, at the upmarket Karatello Restaurant in Limassol (00357 25820464). Our accommodation ranged from the simple to the sublime.

If you’re doing the island on a budget then Cyprus Villages (www.cyprusvillages.com.cy) offer self-catering apartments in renovated traditional homes, but be warned some are basic.

If you’re hiking in the Troodos mountains, then the Pendeli Hotel in Platres (www.pendelihotel.com) is a good base. You’ll be sure of a warm welcome by Blue, a huge husky who pops his head over the counter when you arrive.

And for those who deserve some pampering after hiking, biking and horse riding, the Columbia Hotel in Pissouri (www.columbiahotels.com) is definitely a five-star favourite.

For further information on Cyprus, contact Cyprus Tourism Organisation at > www.visitcyprus.com

Fly to Larnaca with Cyprus Airways > www.cyprusairways.com

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