It's July. Time to run to the hills.
FILM AND PICS: SIMON
Beautiful as this island is, the summer climate can be pretty oppressive. It may be perfect for roasting the thousands of tourists that flock here, but for the rest of us it means taking sanctuary in air conditioned offices, cars, and bedrooms, quarantined from the inferno outside.
Well, that’s certainly the case across the coast and lowlands of Cyprus. But venture upwards and it’s a different story. In the mountains the heat subsides, the trees provide welcome shade and the air is cleaner. No surprise then that come summer this is where we head for our riding fix.
In Cyprus - at least on this side - mountains mean the pine covered slopes of Troodos. Despite being sparsely populated, there’s plenty of picturesque villages - many with shady squares, coffee shops and natural springs to fill up those bidons. And best of all, two-wheeled visitors are pretty much always welcomed.
We started the ride at Saittas, a crossroads on the main road between Limassol and Troodos town itself. This is a popular meeting point for cyclists heading into the mountains - but be warned: the owners of the ‘Costas’ supermarket there take a dim view of lycra-clad riders filling their car park, so our advice would be to avoid, and seek another spot.
By the time we’d finished this ride my I had recorded 61km distance and 1,500m of climbing - basically there was hardly a metre of flat road to be had. From Saittas we headed for Pera Pedi and the Millomeris waterfalls, up from the Pera Pedi dam. This road was very recently paved and is now more welcoming to our skinny-tyred steeds - a section still remains rutted though, so minimum 25c and low-ish pressures is a rather good idea. The waterfall is tucked away and we had to click-clack our way down a fair few steps to reach it, but it was worth the effort. The serenity felt a million miles from the boiling coastal town we’d left an hour before.
From there we headed up to the mountain town of Platres. Out of season it’s home to about 500 people, but come summer that can rise to 10,000. In decades past this was where Cypriots headed to escape the heat, and there’s hotels, cafes and bars, although these days many are struggling to survive. The advent of air conditioning in the towns and cities below would be one of obvious culprits.
Up here there’s some wonderful roads, and we headed up through the lush, terraced slopes that skirt the Trooditissa Monastery towards Prodromos. Beware of strewn rocks and gravel falling from the mountainside, especially in the drier months. The tarmac is in pristine condition but many of the bends are fast and blind, so keep an eye for unpleasant surprises. At 1,380m Prodromos is the highest permanently inhabited village in Cyprus and in winter the main route people take to reach Troodos’s tiny ski resort.
Here too is one of the island’s most famous hotels. The Berengaria took its name from the medieval Berengaria of Navarre, wife of Richard I, and thus a queen of England (who was incidentally crowned in Limassol in 1191). Built in 1929 in an era when mountain resorts were quite the fashion, the hotel offered opulent luxury, attracting the colonial crowd, celebrities and even royalty.
Sadly poor management sealed its fate and the Berengaria closed in the early 1980s. Nowadays it’s a derelict, crumbling shell, a place that generates tales of ghosts and haunted halls, but the locals up here hope one day it’ll be redeveloped. In the meantime though it makes a fabulous backdrop for films and photo shoots.
Prodomos also provided a chance to stop and celebrate Richard’s birthday with a Cyprus coffee, a luscious pitta tis satzis (a layer of fried dough sprinkled with honey and cinnamon), and a couple of mis-matched candles.
And off we went, downhill this time. The descent to Kakopetria is a sweeping white knuckle ride: the road drops 600m and is largely free of both traffic and villages. It’s speedy, inner hooligan stuff but even though you’re dropping towards sea level the blast of hairdryer-hot summer air offsets any cooling effect you might have hoped for.
The name Kakopetria means ‘bad stone’, or ‘bad rock’, although the origins of the name are unclear. Architecturally it’s a place of two halves - a modern side where most of the locals live and where Cypriots (mostly Nicosians) have their holiday homes. The other side is a much older, medieval quarter, complete with narrow alleys and cobbled streets.
This is also the home of ‘Agios Nikolaos tis stegis’, a church (technically a monastery) built in the 11th century and one of nine painted churches in Troodos which are classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
After getting a little lost in Kakopetria we headed upwards again. So far the ride had been hard but pleasant. This next bit was just plain brutal - a punishing ascent to the mountain junction at Karvounas.
On paper (and at any other time of year) this wouldn’t induce too much fear. It’s a steady gradient built to accommodate heavy vehicles bringing supplies to the mountain villages, so gearing is pretty straightforward. Apart from Adam (who runs a ridiculous 23-39 as his lowest combo), our bikes are pretty tuned to climbing, wide cassettes and all. But today this was a perfect storm of pain: a wide, baking hot road combined with fading legs that had already climbed hundreds of metres.
Those cycling computers recorded an average temperature of 38C (100F), and at times it topped 41C (105F). We were all over the shop. I can’t think of another time in my life I’ve felt that hot.
By the time we reached Karvounas all I wanted was a Coke and copious amounts of cold water dumped over my head. Mildly revived, we thankfully headed downwards, back to our starting point. Not one of us wanted to spend any more time in this heat.
So that’s Troodos - a mix of vicious punishment and calm serenity, and we crammed it all into 60 action-packed kilometres. As a ride we highly recommend it, but in July...handle with care.