Bushfires & Shiraz: A ride through the wine-producing villages of the Limassol district
Film and pics: Simon
We all remember the first time we rode a bike on our own, away from parents’ supervision and this has been - for a lot of us - the first taste of true freedom. Freedom to roam away from rules and regulations, freedom to explore the same or new roads using a machine that somehow magically multiplied the speed and efficiency of our usual bipedal locomotion, despite the measly input. It was also a time to make new friends, strengthen bonds and form little gangs. For old timers like ourselves this meant no predefined rendezvous, no mobile phones, and no timetable.
But times have changed. The riding itself thankfully remains as thrilling as ever, but good luck with aligning the schedule of busy working parents that we now are. So when the time came to ride around the wine villages of the Limassol district, computers and smartphones said no, and all that was left was the core CR crew: myself and Simon.
The western areas of the district are rather peculiar. Shoot straight up from Limassol and you’re on the main road to Troodos, head east and you’re on your way to the capital; to the west lies Paphos, which is a sparsely populated region with small villages dotting the countryside on rugged terrain. And these villages do one thing quite well: They produce wine.
We parked them cars at Avdimou, a village with its namesake beach a few km down the road, and just on the north of the Limassol-Paphos motorway. Summertime demands starting early to avoid the midday roasting, so we rolled out amongst sleepy villagers that were just commencing their day.
After a few warmup km on rolling terrain, we hit the lower slopes of the ‘redemption’ switchbacks climb, getting its name from the Strava segment that spans its steepest part. No one knows why the Strava segment is named as such, but it’s an apt one: Take them hard and you’ll be begging for forgiveness.
The truth is that the route was packed with climbing, but most came in short, steep ramps, terrain where puncheurs thrive on. This first one was continuous though, and contained 6 hairpin bends. It’s not hard overall, but the middle section is a brutal 11% average for about 1.5km, where the road swings left and right. Proper pacing is the ticket.
Anogyra is sporting a large paved central plaza surrounded by traditional, stone-made houses, and a cobbled central road that would make the Roubaix farmers proud. Despite the fact that we’d been through the village numerous times, it was the first I noticed signs for the ‘black gold’. We laughed a bit, but didn’t give it too much attention - but soon it became clear what the village was selling: It was carob syrup, made from the fruits of the carob tree. The tree itself can grow quite tall, beyond the reach of human hands, so locals use long poles to gently poke the high-hanging fruits to force them to the ground, where they meet large unfolded sheets of canvas for a quick collecting action. We met an older gentleman doing just that who was kind enough to say a few words on camera. Watch all the carob action in the ride video.
Thanks to the local authorities’ decision to pave over almost all older dirt tracks connecting the various villages, Cyprus’ countryside has been left with an intricate web of crisscrossing tarmac, which would certainly not be the choice of any design engineers of the modern era, but bloody thankful we are; there's unexplored territory around every corner.
Riding up said slopes, the roadside bushes and carob trees slowly started giving way to vineyards, taking advantage of the rich soil and milder climate. We rode through the village of Pachna with its vibrant kafeneia, local coffee shops, often frequented by the village elders. Usually two of them and arranged at opposite sides of the road, they are the home of heated political debate and local gossip.
Omodos is one of the major wine villages of the region, with significant exports in Cyprus and abroad. The village is truly handsome, with a 17th century monastery dominating its central square, and tables and chairs from the local cafes and restaurants occupying the central cobbled plaza. There are vendors selling local produce, souvenir shops and hordes of tourists (especially in the summer) sampling the wine, and sipping coffee under the Cypriot sun. It’s situated at an altitude of 820m and is one of the major stops in the area, but its permanent population (among most of the mountainous population centres in Cyprus) has waned recently, bowing to the urbanisation pressures its younger residents are facing.
Shiraz & Merlot
The village of Mandria pleasantly surprised, as we had never been through it before. After some vicious ramps we took the steep slopes off the main Platres-Pera Pedi road towards Koilani. There really has not been any engineering works to mellow the gradient on these roads - they are simply ribbons of tarmac laid over the countryside contours, and left untouched. Cue16% grades, followed by 20% descents, from lung-busting leg-presses to panicked pulls of the brakes. We had the unfortunate honour once to witness a riding companion burying his front wheel in one of the sewage grills in the village, and making a perfectly executed somersault and landing on his head. We had to call a local doctor then to take care of the jaded cyclist, but see below for more.
Koilani is yet another one of the wine villages of the area, cute square and all - with a couple of wineries in or around it. One of them is called Agia Mavri (which would directly translate to ‘Saint Black’), taking its name from a small chapel in the area just 200m from the winery’s buildings. We leant the bikes against a wall and click-clacked in unannounced - the owner came a minute later to greet us, suspicious at first of the middle-aged men dressed in skin-tight lycra. He is a retired medical doctor who incidentally was the one that had taken care of the fellow stricken rider a couple of years back - it's a small community we live in after all.
The doc opened up and talked us through the infrastructure and the produce of his establishment. Watch the video to hear the lovely man speak!
The day would be complete as it was, but why not a little bit more drama? We took the most direct way back to the cars, and just before we arrived at Avdimou, the road was almost blocked by a wild bushfire that seemed that had just started by the side of the road. There were a couple of cars stopped, others were passing through, but none taking decisive action. We called the fire brigade that seemed to have no idea, and said they’d dispatch a fire engine immediately. The day after I read in the local news that it had burned almost a hectare of dry grassland, but thankfully did not spread more.
So get on your bike and ride these roads. You’ll thanks us for it, guaranteed.