When the heat of summer gets a little too hot to handle, sometimes the only thing for it is to pack your bags and head for the hills – and what better place to escape the humidity than the breathtakingly beautiful Troodos Mountains?
With a peak of 1,952 metres, the Troodos Mountains are officially the largest mountain range in Cyprus, offering an array of visual and historical delights within its peaks and valleys, from stunning Byzantine monasteries and UNESCO churches, to cascading waterfalls and sensational fishing spots.
In fact, even with a map in hand it’s hard to know exactly where to start exploring, but with a little dedication, patience, strong legs and a good vehicle to hand, you can see some of the world’s most sensational sights – but what really gets the heart pumping and where’s worth a stop?
Here’s a guide to some of the best mountain villages:
Located on the north-facing foothills of the Troodos Mountains, Kakopetria stands at an altitude of 667 metres, making it the highest village in the Solea Valley. Away from the hustle and bustle of touristy coastal areas, Kakopetria offers a slower-paced, more traditional way of life, with winding stone roads, picturesque houses, and wonderfully crafted hotels (notably The Mill, with its architectural uniqueness being a real talking point) awaiting those looking for a magical escape.
There’s a real sense of community here with both sightseers and locals integrating and interacting well together. Both want to enjoy and both want to appreciate, absorb, and respect the beauty this village has to offer. As the Kakopetria waterfall crashes onto the rocks in the centre of the village and children play in the neighbouring park, you’ll typically find residents and visitors alike tucking into loukoumades under a fan at a nearby coffee shop. These mouth-watering honey balls (crunchy on the outside and soft in) literally ooze sweet syrupy goodness as you bite into them, and tend to be served warm with a scoop or two of your favourite ice cream. Heaven!
While we’re on the subject of food, Kakopetria is also renowned for an array of culinary delights, most notably souvlaki/souvla – small/larger pieces of meat slow grilled on a skewer – and kleftiko, lamb or goat, wrapped in foil and slow cooked in a traditional stone oven until it’s completely tenderised. The site and smell of such treats is enough to get your tummy rumbling and, unless you’re a vegetarian, you’d have a hard time leaving without giving into temptation. While utterly delicious and often plated up with potatoes and salad, the latter’s history is a little more sinister, with Cypriot freedom fighters of the 19th century cooking stolen meat in earthenware pottery underground in order to conceal it’s smell.
From one sinister tale to another; Kakopetria, which translates to ‘bad rock’, derives from an old folktale which claims a large rock – which is displayed at the entrance to Old Kakopetria even today – crushed a newlywed couple to death. Legend has it, the love birds were sitting on the rock in the hope it would give their marriage strength, when it tumbled over and trapped them underneath.
Despite its name, however, Kakopetria is a breath of fresh air and the perfect place for a relaxing walk by the river, even in the summer heat.
The mountainous village of Platres is also a top destination for anyone with a sense of fun and adventure. Dating back to at least the Lusignan Era (1192-1489 AD), Platres is as historic as it is fascinating, offering an array of sights to discover. While a ‘grab-a-map-and-go’ mentality will take you past the trout farm, through the winding streets, and possibly lead you towards one of the many eateries serving local cuisine, there are several spots that certainly shouldn’t be missed including the Kalidonia Waterfalls – one of the highest in Cyprus with water tumbling from over 12 metres. It can be reached via a three kilometre trek through a stunning forest walkway and, while the route is relatively steep and requires decent footwear, the shade from the trees makes the walk both doable and enjoyable. The only thing missing is somewhere to buy a drink along the way, although once you reach the fall it’s perfectly acceptable to fill a drinking bottle with fresh mountain water that’s nothing but thirst quenching.
Aside from the highly popular Kaledonia Waterfalls, there’s another delight which many people don’t yet know about. In fact, unless you talk with the locals or happen to get lucky and hear excited tourists discussing their next stop, you may miss it altogether: Millomeri Waterfalls. Not only easier to access than the Kaledonia Falls (a simple walk over a picturesque bridge and down some steps will get you there), Millomeri Waterfalls are also higher with water cascading from 15 metres. What’s more, the water is deeper, meaning you can enjoy a very refreshing shower and swim if you‘re brave enough, but beware – the water is extremely cold!
If you’ve energetic kids in tow or simply fancy a personal challenge, the Sparti Platres Adventure Park may also pique your interest. With over 1.4km of exhilarating adventure courses to discover, you’re guaranteed a heart-racing adventure. There’s something for all levels with a special trail for kids and courses of varying degrees of difficulty putting intrepid travellers to the test. All safety equipment is provided so all you need to worry about is taking on the wobbly bridges, climbing up tree ladders, and pretending to be Tarzan as you zip wire through the trees.
The great thing about villages of the Troodos Mountains is that, while they have many features in common, such as a friendly atmosphere and an old-fashioned charm that’s been lost in many of the coastal regions, they all have very unique characteristics and personalities. As you drive from place-to-place you can instantly detect a new vibe as you reach each individual destination and Omodos is no different, welcoming people with open arms to sample the array of nuts, oils, breads and other treats on offer.
Located on the southern foothills of the Troodos Mountains at an altitude of 900 metres, Omodos is at the centre of the famous wine-making region of the country with the ancient Linos (wine press) being one of the oldest in Cyprus and an example of old-fashioned craftsmanship. Indeed, the Socrates winery is a real highlight. Located in the stone building of a traditional house, it illustrates the history of wine making from standing on the grapes to using more basic machinery and equipment and is well-worth a trip. The hosts are genuinely delighted to impart their knowledge about the local area and, while their audience has become increasingly multicultural due to tourism, you get the sense that the heart and soul of Omodos has not changed much over the years.
While there are many, many villages dotted through the Troodos, there are some which imprint on your heart and mind; that leave a lasting memory that won’t be easily forgotten; that you simply can’t drive through and ignore; that you’ll talk about for days/weeks and even years to come, not because they’ve rivers of gold but because they’re so simple that they almost capture an innocence that’s long been forgotten. One such place is Alona.
Located in the mountainous area of Pitsilia, east of Mount Olympus on the Eastern Slopes of the Troodos Mountains, Alona stands 1,200 metres above sea level and offers a glimpse back in time. Largely unaffected by modern life, the village is simple and quiet, with traditional stone house and lush green gardens lining the narrow, windy roads. The aging population can be seen walking around in traditional attire while youngsters skip merrily along the pathways. While you probably wouldn’t plan a long break here, stopping off for a bite to eat could give you the chance to sample some of the best taverna food going including lamb chops, chicken souvlaki, halloumi, goats-milk yoghurt, and village salad, all while enjoying epic panoramic views.
Moreover, what’s particularly fascinating about Alona is the sense of community that’s virtually vanished in many parts of the world. Here, grape vines grow across the road between opposite facing buildings to provide shade throughout the village, yet this is not some clever government incentive, oh no. It’s just the result of practical villagers putting their heads together in a bid to make the most of their environment – and it sure does work.
The Troodos Mountains offer a green, tumultuous paradise full of treasures to find. Everyone’s adventure will be different and, while hitting the tourist hotspots is a must, venturing off the beaten track can make your trip that little more special.