Cyprus sublime


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A venture off the beaten track on this golden island to see for myself for Sublime Magazine. Katrine Carstens

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Cyprus sublime

  1. 1. places places TURNING Venture beyond the main beaches of Cyprus and there are treasures to be found, woven into a rich tapestry of history and mythology. BACK TIME Believed to be one of the first places to practise large-scale agriculture, the island was also at the centre of the copper trade in the Bronze Age. Truly a cradle of civilisation Words and photography Katrine Carstens I n modern-day Cyprus, creating alternative sustainable livelihoods able to coexist with the environment has become a key priority in a globalised world locked in economic strife. With so much to offer, ecotourism has the potential to play a vital part in this equation and with this in mind, I set out to explore the rural side of the island. My first destination was Tochni, a small village set slightly inland between Larnaca and Limassol. Descending the staircase to the terraced pool area of Tochni Tavern felt like entering a hidden haven, offering a striking view of the traditional village snuggled in a small valley peppered with vegetation still green after the wettest winter in recent memory. Sofronis, owner of Cyprus Villages, has over the last decades restored traditional Cypriot houses into 72 carbon-neutral, self-catering apartments spread through Tochni and its nearby villages. Think terracotta tiles, shutters, exposed limestone and local art, some of it painted by Sofronis himself. Rustic and tasteful, there are a variety of styles of houses, some perfect for larger groups with a number of apartments clustered around a pool, others suitable for couples wanting a bit more privacy. Some of the apartments are interconnected, making them suitable for families. Soon after arriving, I was zooming off in a fine cloud of dust with Sofronis in his battle-worn car to collect fresh halloumi, a key ingredient in the night’s authentic feast of Cypriot delights destined for a group of Norwegians. Sourced from the valley, or perhaps the one beyond, most ingredients are organic, or produced according to age-old techniques that have changed little over time. Absorbed in a blur of blissful orchards bathed in the golden evening sun, I soon lost any sense of direction. Gnarled olive trees, some of them nearly a thousand years old, were intermingled with almond, lemon and orange trees. It seemed a perfect homage to the ancient heritage of this fantastically fertile basin, with us in a golden bubble where you could almost touch the texture of time. Out of nowhere appeared an antique chapel, Panayia tou Kambou. The newer part, from the 15th century, nestled up against the ruins of a much older section, and I was surprised to hear that it was still in full use. Remarkably, to my urban brain, the doors were unlocked, revealing mesmerising murals and a sacred flame powered by olive oil. Sofronis explained how the importance of olives is omnipresent in Cypriot society, not least in religious ceremonies such as baptism and funeral rites, representing the essence of life in day-to-day matters as well as in faith systems. It is a terrific example of how human cultures used to be much more intuitive about ecology – an awareness lost in most places, but hopefully to be found again.110 | sublime sublime | 111
  2. 2. places places Top, from left Traditional Cypriot fishing boat; selection of freshly caught grilled fish; Loulla, the halloumi maker, in action; milking of the goats at Natura Beach Hotel’s animal farm also a preferred site for turtle nests, and the hotel has developed Arriving at the halloumi farm, Loulla, the valley’s resident cheese- a system to mark nests so guests don’t disturb them. At night, maker, was stirring steaming pots of whey, busy finishing our order. A the outside area of the hotel is dark, to save electricity and avoid keen goats’-cheese lover, for me the pungent smell was at first almost confusing any hatchlings by luring them towards the light, away overpowering, yet when handed a plate of hot halloumi straight out from the sea. You can guess what would happen if that carried on. of the pot, rolled in salt and herbs, the other-worldly flavour of this Last year it was estimated that 4,000 hatchlings entered the sea 100 incredibly fresh produce prevailed. I was in halloumi heaven. metres away from Natura’s beach. Many guests return year after year Loulla, surrounded by her children, is herself one of 11 siblings. to experience this remarkable sight. The halloumi farm has been in her family for generations, but due The hotel itself is very calm, with relatively basic yet nice standard to the economic situation she may well be the last to carry on the rooms. Suites and four large villas are also available. It is a perfect tradition. This is not an unusual story in rural Cyprus. Although it base for a relaxing holiday, with grounds leading straight down may look like the Garden of Eden, things are far from rosy. Young to the beach. Umbrellas are not allowed on the actual beach, in people are flocking to the cities at an alarming rate, threatening to case they interfere with the turtle nests. Most guests tend to set up leave villages virtually devoid of life within the next few decades camp on the hotel lawn, right on the edge of the beach. Less sand when the older generation has passed on. everywhere is a bonus! There are plenty of nature walks, and a good For visitors interested in exploring a way of life that has changed little bus service to Paphos. Airport transfers can also be arranged, so a Gnarled olive trees, some of them in hundreds of years, this is a good fit. At Loulla’s farm, trickles of hire car is not essential although some sights can only be reached by car. The hotel is happy to arrange jeep tours on request. nearly a thousand years old, tourists have started to come, to have a halloumi-making lesson followed by a light lunch. This helps, but a more steady stream is Both Natura Beach Hotel and Cyprus Villages are part of an were intermingled with almond, initiative created by Cyprus Sustainable Tourism, which was started needed to make the economic wheels go round. in 2006 as a joint venture with the Cyprus Tourist Organisation as lemon and orange trees … in a Armed with the cheese, we headed back to the taverna. The kitchen got straight to work and the result was downright delicious. well as The Travel Foundation. The overall aim is to tempt tourists golden bubble where you could off the beaten track and into the interior of this intriguing island, Half-board is available, with breakfast and dinner served at the to explore its villages in a respectful way that is beneficial to both almost touch the texture of time tavern, leaving guests to enjoy anything from cycling, horse-riding, community and visitor. visiting wineries or perhaps exploring one of six carefully planned self-drive routes of the island created by the Cyprus Sustainable Tourism Initiative (CTSI), affiliated with The Travel Foundation, a However these days there is an equally strong force – the current UK NGO working to promote sustainable outbound UK tourism. economic system and how this is influencing human nature, creating Combine this with a few lazy lunches during the midday heat at a disconnect from the environment. The question is, do we leave a village taverna. Or perhaps you’d rather have a cooking lesson, the villages to empty out, or do we try to make the most conscious Sofronis, owner of Cyprus followed by some fruit-picking. Yoga sessions can also be organised by prior arrangement. If you want to know about other things to do, holiday choices we can, injecting life into rural areas? The choice is Villages, has over the last just ask Sofronis, who has lived in the area for most of his life. ours, but the second is the only choice that will increase the chances of completing the circle of Cyprus civilisation, connecting it back to decades restored traditional Moving on from Cyprus Villages, I arrived at the other end of the island at Natura Beach Hotel near Polis, a paradise for nature how ecology systems work. The above activities are just a handful of things you can do as a Cypriot houses into 72 lovers and with an impressive ecological ethos. Run by Dr Christos sustainability-conscious guest on Cyprus. Visit the websites below carbon-neutral, self-catering Georgiades, it has its own olive groves, orchards and 25 acres of organic vegetable gardens. There’s even an animal farm. Most for more information. apartments spread through ingredients are produced on site, with waste made into compost and Tochni and its nearby villages used on the farm. Solar power and the reusing of all waste water help to create a virtuous circle of creation and consumption. Bird lovers flock here, with a watchers’ book at Reception regularly updated with the time and location of new sightings. The beach is | sublime sublime | 113