“A lot of people compare Cyprus to a Greek island, but actually it’s nothing like one,” says Vakis Hadjikyriacou, the enterprising Cypriot architect who, along with his interior designer wife Diana, is responsible for transforming a sizeable chunk of the half-forgotten village of Lofou into a low-key but unerringly gorgeous Mediterranean hideaway. “In Greek islands people have to live off the sea, but in Cyprus they must live off the land – Cyprus was made from villages, not ports.”
Most Cypriot villages are tucked behind mountains, but Lofou is one of a handful whose original residents went right for the summit: “They were unafraid of pirates, so they built their villages up here to command a view of the area,” Hadjikyriacou says. But by non-Cypriot standards, this place – a glorious jumble of low stone buildings and twisting lanes baked to a blond glow by centuries of sun – screams seclusion.
The only traffic noise at Apokryfo comes from the occasional jet fighter taking off from the British Sovereign Base Area at Akrotiri – ISIS is keeping the base humming these days. A courtyard and pool are at the center of an ancient stone ensemble of 13 refurbished rooms and houses. It’s all about giving guests a taste of the island’s arcadian hinterland, but in a modern manner. So once you untangle those mercifully paved upswept curls and find it, you can have your satellite TV and spa treatments along with dreamy cobalt-blue stained wood doors and night skies thick with stars.
The village of Kalopanayiotis in the Troodos Mountain foothills is known for its sulfur springs, proximity to a Byzantine monastery and a hotel property on the Apokryfo model.
Called Casale Panayiotis, it unites six independent ancient stone houses of various shapes and sizes. There’s a modern spa and restaurant, and you can take a guided detour up into the Troodos in a jaunty renovated 1950s Bedford British bus.
Less secret than these pockets of posh is that the island is more or less split across the middle. The legendary stomping ground of Aphrodite is the largest island east of the Aegean, but what it really takes first prize for is historical hot mess. This is the ancient isle that Marc Antony gifted to Cleopatra, where Alexander the Great tweaked his fleet for eastern conquests, where Ottoman Turks trounced the Venetians in 1571, and where modern ones swooped in again in 1974.
Turkey still intransigently (and illegally) occupies roughly the northern third of Cyprus while a UN-monitored buffer zone trails like a sad gash across Nicosia, the inland capital that flourished under Venetian rule (their sturdy ramparts are still standing).
Greek Cypriots tend to be stoic about all this — after all Zeno, the founder of Stoicism, was born here.
There are traces of Neolithic civilizations in Cyprus that stretch back ten thousand years, and in addition to the remains of their cozy round stone houses, archaeologists have unearthed here a fossil of the oldest known housecat. Some 3,500 years ago, Mycenaean Greeks ventured east from Greece and despite the endless ebb and flow of empires, the cultural character of the island remains predominantly Greek. Prior to the Turkish invasion (prompted in part by a coup in Athens) tourism in Cyprus was all about the beach and there’s still ample reason to go coastal here, but if sprawling resorts like Anassa north of Pafos tempt with creature comforts, they don’t exactly fire the imagination either.
So back to those pirates of yore for a moment: one place where people evidently were fearful of them is Kalavasos, which is wedged between an ancient copper mine and a mountain not far from the main highway that leads to the port city of Limassol. The village boasts (quietly) a minaret – this was an ethnically mixed village before the Turkish invasion – improbably decorated with stone crescent moons and Stars of David. Further evidence that little Cyprus is full of surprises…