RURAL AND NATURE
The variety of plant and animal life and the unspoiled scenery make Cyprus one of the most beautiful places for appreciating nature.
With its rugged coastline, alternating between long stretches of sand or pebble beaches, rocky shores and promontories, sun-baked plains and forested mountains, there is something for everyone.
If you’re a nature lover, or into photography or painting, you’ll find much to inspire you. For a birdwatcher Cyprus is a must-visit, as the island is on the migration path between Europe, Asia and Africa, while a large number of endemic plants, such as the Cyprus orchid, tulip and crocus, make it a botanist’s paradise.
The island even has its very own national animal, the Cyprus mouflon, a kind of wild sheep that roams free in the extensive forests of western Troodos and has been used as the symbol for the island’s national carrier.
Exotic and rare forms of wildlife give Cyprus a special touch. Green and Loggerhead turtles breed on the island’s sandy beaches in summer, while the Mediterranean monk seal and dolphins have also been seen swimming in the warm, calm, crystal clear seas of the island.
The Akamas peninsula, named after an Athenian warrior and son of Theseus, who arrived here after the Trojan war, is a unique area, both geologically and physiographically and with regard to flora and fauna.
Almost all the geological formations of Cyprus can be found here, from narrow deep valleys, caves and islets to gorges such as that of Avakas, resulting in a real geological mosaic. For this reason the Akamas peninsula is endowed with a unique biodiversity, habitats and ecosystems.
The uniqueness of the flora stems mainly from the unparalleled endemic wealth. In the Akamas there are about 530 indigenous plants, of which 35 are endemic, out of a total of about 142 endemic species, sub-species and varieties occurring throughout Cyprus. Some of these plants are endemic to the area. Alyssum akamasicum and Centaurea akamantis have taken their name from the area itself, while species such as Centaurea veneris, Tulipa cypria, Gladiolus triphyllus and many others are found either exclusively or chiefly in the Akamas peninsula.
As regards fauna, the endemic Glaucopsyche paphos butterfly can be considered the emblem of the area. Until recently the Mediterranean seal, Monachus monachus, bred in the inaccessible caves of the peninsula, while on the remote beaches of Lara, the sea turtles, Caretta caretta and Chelonia mydas, continue to breed in large numbers.
The area has one of the favourite haunts of the mythological goddess Aphrodite. Legend has it that after swimming in the crystal clear waters of the bay, she would walk up the hill and bathe in a pool fed by a freshwater mountain spring dripping down the sides of a shady grotto overhung by a leafy fig tree, which has come to be known as the Baths of Aphrodite. It is here that Adonis saw and fell in love with her while hunting in the Akamas forest. The Italian poet Ariosto wrote a poem about the area and its waters which became known as the Fontana Amorosa.
The myth of Aphrodite lived on through the Middle Ages turning into the love story between the mythical Byzantine hero Dhigenis Akritas and the Queen of Cyprus known as Rigaina. The ruins of an old monastery in a clearing in the heart of the Akamas with a giant oak tree and a bubbling spring, is known as the “Pyrgos tis Rigainas”, or the Queen’s castle, and is linked to this love story.
Get to know the area on foot along one of the nature trails that cross the peninsula, such as those of Aphrodite or Adonis, affording marvellous views of the bay and the west coast and an opportunity to admire nature from close up. European path E4 cuts through the region as it goes across the island. Stop off for a rest in the shady Smygies picnic site, a place associated with love and where Digenis met Rigaina. The area is ideal for cycling due to its numerous forest roads.
A masterpiece of nature, Avakas Gorge is situated in the unspoilt Akamas peninsula in northwest Pafos (Paphos). A trekker’s paradise, it offers spectacular views and a generous introduction to local flora and fauna, including the endangered centauria akamantis – an endemic plant found only in the gorge. Carved out of limestone rocks, rising up as high as 30 metres and narrowing dramatically at one point, the gorge is a fairly difficult hike as the rough track winds its way along and over the stream that formed this natural wonder over thousands of years. Parts of the walk are slippery and involve a certain amount of clambering over rocks and stones. Solid footwear and sensible clothes are recommended. Visitors are advised to take ample drinking water and urged not to enter the gorge alone without first informing someone of their plans.
Rich in flora, the gorge has pine trees, cypresses, junipers, wild fig trees, ferns and oaks among other trees as well as a profusion of wild flowers. Prize specimen among them is the extremely rare endemic centauria akamandis with its purple flowers that blossoms in the spring. Animal life includes foxes, hares, falcons, crows, night owls, butterflies and a large number of reptiles. The gorge is some 3km long. A number of travel firms carry out organized visits to the gorge.
Cape Gkreko National Forest Park
The rocky promontory on the south-eastern coast of Cyprus, east of Agia Napa and south east of Protaras, is an area of unspoiled natural beauty that has been declared a National Forest Park and conservation area and covers an area of 385 hectares.
Hike along the network of nature trails lined with miniature pine trees and juniper stopping to admire spectacular views from sea cliffs overlooking turquoise seas. Benches along the way provide the opportunity to rest and gaze down into crystal clear waters. One of these trails forms part of the European Long Distance Trail E4, running from Gibraltar to Cyprus. The 2 kilometres Aphrodite nature trail which goes along the north east coast of the Cape GKreco promontory is part of the Aphrodite Cultural Route and commemorates the link with the goddess. Do not miss the small white washed church of Agii Anargyri with steps down to the sea where the Holy Water exists, or take one of the trails leading to theso-called Cyclops’ cave stopping at the nearby picnic site for a pleasant rest.
Specialist cycling paths also exist in the area both for lovers of this sport and as a means to explore. The island has perfect weather for cycling, especially in the winter months, what with low annual rainfall and few of the headwinds that are a bane to cyclists.
Take a boat trip along the coast anchoring near these a caves that nature has carved out of the ten-metre limestone cliffs and adorned in such a way as to merit the name the Palaces.
The Cape Gkreco area is popular with divers, thanks to warm seatemperatures ranging from 16ºC in winter to 28ºC in summer and with avisibility reaching 30 to 40 metres. The fauna of the waters of Cape Gkreco hide many interesting sea creatures.
Polis Chrysochous Area
The northern coastline is relatively unfrequented and the road travels more or less along the coast, weaving in and out along the undulating shore with the occasional straighter stretch along a long beach of dark sand, while towards the easternmost areas near the tiny village of Pachyammos the mountains fall straight into the sea. The main point of interest is the impressive church of Agios Rafael, an important pilgrimage site for the faithful due to belief in the miracle curing powers of the saint. The village of Pomos at the tip of a pretty bay surrounded by steep hillsides has a picturesque fishing shelter. Drive inland up into the Troodos mountain range and experience nature at its best. High up in the vast wooded tract of pine forested lies Stavros tis Psokas, with its forestry station and hostel. If you’re lucky you might see a mouflon, an indigenous mountain sheep that has become a symbol for the island, roaming the hills, otherwise visit the enclosure nearby where they are kept. Breathe in the fresh mountain air walking along one of the surrounding nature trails and admire some spectacular views. Return to Polis via charming Lyso and Peristerona with its Byzantine museum.
From Polis explore the many picturesque villages in the Troodos foothills such as Pelathousa with its 15th century church of the Virgin Mary (Panagia Horteni), returning via Kinousa from where you can admire some of the most beautiful sunsets in Cyprus, and the Limni jetty from where copper which was mined nearby was loaded onto ships.
One of a handful of wilderness areas, the Akamas peninsula, with its tabletop mountain, spectacular views between pines to turquoise waters down below and the famous Baths of Aphrodite, is an excellent place to admire nature on foot or by bike.
Visit the picturesque villages of the Akamas hills, such as Neokhorio, Inia, Droushia, Kathikas, Terra, Kritou Terra, Arodhes and Akourdaleia with their stone houses nestling amidst vineyards, local museums, churches, coffeeshops, restaurants and superb views of the coast below.
The fishing shelter of Polis, Latsi, with its waterfront promenade and long sand and pebble beach offering all kinds of watersports, is now being expanded into a 200 berth marina. In the past carobs were exported from here, but now the old stone carob warehouses have been converted into excellent seafood restaurants.