Legend has it that Aphrodite, the goddess of love, was born out of the sea’s waves just off the coast of Cyprus. Perching elegantly on a shell, she was blown closer to the island by the winds, where she came ashore by a rock known as Petra tou Romiou – known today as Aphrodite’s Rock. This rock, a craggy column jutting out into the turquoise waves of the Mediterranean, is still there today, 25km east of Paphos, and one popular superstition asserts that if you swim all the way around it, you’re ensured a life of eternal happiness. Whether this is true or not, it’s a romantic enough tradition to have attracted hundreds of couples over the years, who come to Cyprus to do a lap of Aphrodite’s Rock together and then finish their day by tying the knot right there on the beach of Petra tou Romiou.
It’s no surprise that Cyprus weddings are so popular; not only is the island, which lies in that glorious stretch of Mediterranean Sea between Greece, Turkey, and Syria, touted by holiday brochures as ‘Aphrodite’s Island’ and the ‘Island of Love’, but it enjoys 340 days of sunshine a year and boasts a wealth of picture-perfect white, sandy beaches, ideal settings for saying ‘I do’. And was I going to be one of those lucky brides making her vows on a sun-kissed seashore or in one of the many quaint, rustic, Cypriot chapels? Erm…nope. Sadly, I was lacking a groom (which I’m told is a pretty important part of the whole wedding process). But on my recent trip to Cyprus, I’d resolved not to let my status as a singleton put a damper on my holidays; in fact, I was determined to prove that Cyprus offers much more than just a romantic setting for getting hitched.
Well equipped with cheap travel tips from guidebooks and websites like mydestinaion.com/cyprus, I began my solo jaunt across the island. To escape the midsummer heat – and the tourists – I travelled inland to the Troobos Mountains, a world away from resorts like Ayia Napa and Protaras, with their busy beaches, bustling bars, and raucous nightclubs. Here I found traditional villages, untouched by the tourist industry, still lying nestled in valleys, clinging to the slopes of Cyprus’ largest mountains. It was the largest of these mountains – Mt. Olympus – that I’d set my sights on climbing. And so, having strapped on my hiking boots and slapped on the sunblock, I began the 1,952 metre ascent. There’s a road that winds its way up to the peak, but anyone speeding past in a car misses out on the experience of meandering through the pine and juniper woods, spotting the wildlife, and enjoying that ‘Yes! I did it!’ feeling of reaching the peak on your own two feet. Cresting the summit, I may not have stumbled across the abode of the gods – as the mountain’s name would suggest – but I did find the ruins of a 16th century Venetian fortress, as well as some splendid views of the sea and plains below.
Close to Mt. Olympus was another port of call: Kykkos monastery. One of the wealthiest monasteries in Cyprus, Kykkos houses a plethora of ornate mosaics and colourful frescoes, but the atmosphere is far from ostentatious; its location, high up in the Troodos Mountains, ensures a serene and peaceful mood. Entrance is free – which is a big plus for anyone travelling on a budget as tight as mine – but be warned: women must cover their legs if they want to enter the monastery. Unfortunately for me, I’d not been aware of this fact. Other female sightseers had wisely brought sarongs with them but I’d not had the same foresight, so a helpful family were kind enough to lend me their son’s Spiderman beach towel. I may not have been the height of fashion with a Marvel comic-book hero wrapped around my legs as I wandered through the monastery, trying desperately to look dignified, but at least my family and friends got a good laugh looking through my holiday photos!
Heading to the mountain village of Pano Platres for the night, I decided to sample some of the local hospitality and native cuisine. The friendly host of a small, family-run restaurant I’d stumbled across recommended the meze, and so – not really knowing what I was ordering – I asked for the whole lot. Twenty minutes later, I was sitting before a mountain of food: olives, tahini, tsatziki, fresh bread, salad, snails in a tomato sauce, pickled cauliflower, grilled halloumi cheese, and loukanika sausages. Glad that I was wearing shorts with an elastic waist band, I dove right in, washing the food down with a few too many glasses of the local spirit, Zivania – I wouldn’t be hiking up any other mountains the morning after, I assure you.
Cyprus proved to be so rich in culture, history, stunning natural beauty, and friendly locals that I never once felt a moment of loneliness on my travels around the island; every sun-kissed second was packed full of amazing sights, sounds, and tastes. And you know what? Cyprus’ reputation as ‘Aphrodite’s Island’ proved quite accurate, for while I was out there I did actually fall in love…with Cyprus itself!
Author Bio: Ceri Houlbrook
Ceri Houlbrook is from Manchester, England – no, she doesn’t support United – and her passions include reading, writing, hiking and travelling the globe in search of some adventure!
Have you visited Cyprus? What are your fondest memories of this beautiful island in the Mediterranean? How popular do you think it is as a travel destination? Share your thoughts below and this post too if you liked it!