That morning, getting our reluctant, sandy children (Jimmy, 12, Dolly, nine, and baby Evangeline) to leave our villa in the village of Khirokitia for the mountain drive had been a challenge, but our efforts were to be rewarded throughout the day. Stepping inside the muffling walls of Kykkos is like entering a huge Fabergé egg. The children instantly stop whining to go back to the seaside — silenced, finally, by the glittering icons covering every wall. Evangeline leans back in my husband Pete’s arms, reaching her little hands out to the many heavy gold chandeliers hanging above her head; her eyes huge with delight at finding herself beneath such celestial beauty.
Kykkos, which houses one of the three oldest icons of the Virgin Mary in the world, may be the jewel in the crown of the Troodos Mountains, but it’s not the only gem. Venture away from the coast, and the mountains reward you with the gift of magical churches, ancient villages and heart-stopping views.
Our drive inland had been on roads as twisted as a bowl of spaghetti. In Lofou, a village on a hill overlooking a chalky landscape tangled with vines, we stop at Kamares Taverna to eat ribs in wine and drink jewel-like glasses of Commandaria, the sweet wine favoured by Homer and Isiodos. At the Church of Agios Nikolaos tis Stegis (St Nicholas of the Roof), near the village of Kakopetria, we’re rewarded with frescoes and paintings, including a beautiful, extraordinary image of the Virgin Mary, breastfeeding.
At Kaminaria, the kids throw pinecones at each other in the shade while my husband and I knock on doors in search of the key to the 16th-century Chapel of Panagia. Above Prodromos, we gaze out over huge views to the south west of pine and oak forests, and at Mesa Potamos, dip our toes into the icy waters that fall from the hillside. Heading home, we pass through Lefkara, a village where old ladies sit out in the street embroidering lace, as they’ve done for centuries (Leonardo da Vinci is said to have visited to buy altar cloth).
By the time we arrive back to Khirokitia, we’re all famished. We pull up at a little restaurant called Rainbow. Everything else is closed, and the owner, Panagiotis, and his wife are about to shut. But seeing three hungry children, they relight their ovens, before laying out the best meal I’ve ever tasted — sweet pickled caper leaves, stuffed courgette flowers, asparagus omelette, the freshest taramasalata, grilled lamb chops and smokey chicken kebabs. If you pass Khirokitia, be sure to go there. This was just one day in Cyprus — but a perfect day.
Sunvil offers seven nights in Khirokitia from £683 per person, based on two people sharing a one-bed apartment; or £582 per person (four sharing a two-bed apartment). Prices include return flights (Gatwick) and car hire. www.sunvil.co.uk
Published in the Jul/Aug 2013 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)