Cyprus is the third-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea and has a character all of its own. This road trip offers beautiful nature hikes and stunning beaches, archeological treasures and hidden monasteries, and some highlights of local cuisine. Low season is the best time to go, there are no crowds but sun is still almost guaranteed. Spring has everything covered in wild flowers, while in fall the sea is still warm enough to swim. While there is still no political solution to the division of the island in 1974, it is now quite easy to move from the Republic of Cyprus to Northern Cyprus, so don’t limit yourself to one side!
This itinerary starts with the north-western corner of Cyprus, so try to stay around Paphos for the first two nights. Be aware that city names can be indicated in both English, Greek and Turkish, thus Nicosia can be indicated as Lefkosia and Kyrenia as Girne. There is a very bad 3G network throughout the country, so look up maps etc. in advance. However, there is free wifi at most cafes and restaurants.
Day 1: exploring Akamas peninsula
Start your discovery of Cyprus with Avakas gorge. You can hike along the slowly narrowing riverbed into the beautiful gorge, with walls going up to 30 m. Wear appropriate shoes. Afterwards, go for an early lunch at Viklari, a restaurant perched on top of a hill overlooking the entrance road to Avakas gorge. The food is rustic, but tasty (a set lunch of barbecued meat, potatoes and salad), and the view from the spacious, vine-covered terrace is amazing.
Just before Avakas gorge there is a nice little beach, simply called “wild beach” on google maps, if the weather is good enough for a swim.
Afterwards, drive on to Latchi. The road passing through Pikni Forest is very scenic. Just after Latchi you can find the very well signposted Baths of Aphrodite, a small natural pool where legend holds that the goddess used to take her baths and which is utterly unimpressive. However, if you keep following the trail you will arrive at the start of the Aphrodite and Adonis nature trails which are beautiful hikes. Both are loops taking in sweeping views over Chrysochou Bay and Lara peninsula. They make for quite intense hikes of about 8 km, but even walking up halfway before turning back is worth it!
After this you deserve a drink at any of the seafront bars in Latchi, and maybe another dip.
For dinner, I highly recommend 7 St Georges in Paphos. This year, 2017, Paphos is the European Capital of Culture, so lots is happening. Check the programme here.
Day 2: history and myth around Paphos
In the morning, drop by Agios (Saint) Neophytos Monastery just northwest of Paphos. Its founder, the monk Neophytos, originally intended to live here as a hermit. You can visit the Enkleistra, an enclosure he carved out of the mountain in the 12th century consisting of a tiny church, a refectory and the saint’s cell. The uneven walls and ceilings are completely covered with beautiful frescoes by Theodoros Apsevdis. The effect is quite magical. Unfortunately, no photos are permitted so you’ll have to see for yourself!
Paphos’s main cultural draw is the UNESCO world heritage site of Kato Paphos Archeological Park. The park encompasses ruins from the Hellenist, Roman and Byzantine periods, most importantly some Roman villas with exquisite and well-preserved mosaic floors. You can easily spend a couple of hours here wandering between the archeological remains in a scenic setting overlooking the sea. In spring, the place is covered in wild flowers and absolutely gorgeous!
Have lunch in Paphos. The restaurants lining the harbor just outside Paphos Archeological Park are a bit touristy and more expensive than most places in Cyprus, but the fish is fresh. We had some great grilled octopus at The Pelican. Otherwise, go for meze at Ta Perix tavern.
Time to go into the foothills! But first make a stop to admire the legendary birthplace of Aphrodite, Petra tou Romiou. This stunning pebble beach is also great for a dip in the crystal clear waters.
Continue along the coast (route B6) before taking the road up into Troodos mountains at Avdimou. The Troodos foothills are full of quaint little villages and vineyards. We stayed in lovely Lofou, a tiny town but very pretty. There are plenty of nice Airbnbs around here, like this traditional house, or you can opt to stay at Apokryfo hotel. The restaurant here is supposed to be great. The only other restaurant in town is Kamares Tavern, but fortunately it is good! Try the sinfully good halloumi house specialty.
Day 3: Troodos mountains
The foothills of the Troodos mountains are filled with picturesque villages, frescoed churches, monasteries and wineries. Just drive around and see what you come across, or follow one of the wine routes. The following is just one of many possibilities!
Have your morning coffee on the touristy but cute main square of Omodos before visiting the adjacent Holy Cross Monastery. There is a winery, Limos, located just outside Omodos, but it may be a bit early for that!
Next stop is a hike to the Kaledonia waterfalls (about 40 minutes). You can stop for a picnic lunch here or have fresh trout at Psilo Dendro before driving further into the mountains to the beautiful and richly decorated Kykkos Monastery.
Casale Panyiotis in Kalopanyiotis is another option for lunch, or afternoon break. One of the few luxury hotel resorts in the area, it has taken over half the village. Rooms, restaurants and a spa are scattered over the small community. You could consider spending an extra night here if you want more time discovering the Troodos mountains. The charming Ioannis Lampadistis Monastery just across the river is worth a visit.
We decided to go on to Northern Cyprus, crossing the border near Astromeritis. Check in advance with your rental car company if you are allowed to take your car across the border and if you are insured. If you don’t have car insurance covering Northern Cyprus, you will have to buy it at the border crossing on the Northern side (minimum 3 days, 20 euros). The official currency in Nothern Cyprus is the Turkish Lira, but euros are accepted everywhere.
Spend the night in Girne (Kyrenia) in the atmospheric old quarter around the harbor. Stay at the well located Kyrenia Palace Boutique Hotel, one of the only luxury hotels in this area. It is housed in a beautiful old building with a very quaint interior, and breakfast is served in the lovely courtyard. The place has great potential and is very atmospheric, but do not expect real luxury. We had dinner here but I cannot really recommend it. Also, be advised that the hotel is situated right next to the old mosque, so the first call to prayer at sunrise will be your evocative wake-up call! For drinks, check out Ego bar right next door.
Day 4: archeological treasures of Northern Cyprus
Pass by the pretty ruins of Bellapais Abbey. A bit too well-maintained for my taste, but charming nonetheless and easily accessible.
There are several picturesque castle ruins in the Kyrenia mountains around Girne, we decided to skip the most famous and probably also most visited, St. Hilarion castle, and opted for Buffavento castle instead.
To access the castle, you have to drive 6 km up a very narrow road along a very steep drop-off. We were lucky not to cross anyone going in the opposite direction, but this road is not for the faint of heart! From the parking lot at the end of the road it is a 40-minute steep climb up to the castle. The path is very well maintained and you will be rewarded with sweeping views. A slight minus is the fact that the ruins are now sometimes used as stables for the herds of goats in the area and are filled with droppings…
After this climb you deserve a hearty lunch. Buffavento Restaurant, just opposite the turnoff for Buffavento castle, looks suspiciously touristic, but the Turkish food served here turned out to be delicious, the portions copious and cheap. On top of that, the view over the “5 finger mountain” is incredible.
From here it is a 1 hour drive to the ancient city of Salamis. This archeological site has ruins dating back from the Greek Late Geometric period (8th century B.C.) to Byzantine times (6th century A.D.) The ruins are more impressive than in Paphos, especially the gymnasium and baths right near the entrance, there is hardly anyone around and the extensive grounds make for a gorgeous walk.
If you still have energy and time left, you can drop by the monastery of St Barnabas, which houses the archeological museum, on the way back. We drove back towards Larnaca for an early flight the next day and had an amazing last dinner at Creative Tavern To Patrikon, worth the detour if you are in the area!
Besides spending more time in the Troodos foothills, there is the old town of Famagusta and the ghost town beside it to visit in Northern Cyprus, and of course the divided capital of Nicosia with its restaurants and museums. The Hala Sultan Tekke mosque near Larnaca also seems to be worth a visit