Akamas Peninsula, Cyprus
THE idea was to escape the madding crowds and get out and about in some of the more remote places in Cyprus. But, as we all know, best laid plans can go awry.
In fact, things started to fall apart as we walked into a ‘furnace’ at Paphos airport and soon learned that a long lasting heat wave was set to continue.
Hiking in the wilds? No chance. I had to get used to the idea of embracing the daily dash to bag best-placed umbrellas and sunbeds scattered around the extensive, seafront grounds at the newly renovated Cyprotel Laura Beach Hotel, near Paphos.
It is a shiny, bright place that can boast of doing its homework to cater for all tastes. Think about extensive gardens sweeping down to the Med, indoor and outdoor pools, bars, restaurants, a cinema, gymnasium, entertainment rooms, internet links, and a shop open until midnight. And there is so much more.
Yet, despite all of the hotel’s four-star offering s and pampering, I felt I had to tear myself away. Thankfully, a speedy solution arose in the shape of a jeep laid on by George’s Jeep Safari Tours.
It meant I could get to wear my walking boots and see some of the island’s hidden delights without being totally exposed to the sun. Bingo! It was such an easy choice and it proved to be an outright winner.
Next day, with Manchester-born Paul Smith at the wheel, and a couple of fellow travellers from France, we headed for the Akamas peninsula, the last and least developed frontier in southern Cyprus.
In total, it covers 230 square kilometres. Among its many delights, it boasts spectacular, rugged scenery, sandy coves, sea caves, gorges, seemingly deserted villages, pine and juniper forests, and hundreds of plant species, many of which are endemic to the island.
The peninsula is also home to 168 different species of birds, reptiles, and butterflies, and provides a safe haven for turtles in the soft, golden sands of beautiful Lara Bay. It was impossible to get everywhere, but what we did see was truly spectacular.
Paul, 55, a former security advisor, has worked for the tour company for 10 years, and knows the place like the back of his hand. The route is mainly rough tracks and, at times during the drive, we lurched, bumped, and crunched along some particularly awesome and difficult terrain.
“Don’t worry, I’ve never lost anyone,” laughed Paul as he spotted me shrinking back from my front passenger side window as we traversed the edge of a scary drop.
Apart from his driving skills, Paul has taken the time to educate himself on the finer points of flora and fauna, and other aspects of the peninsula. His knowledge is so good that he makes regular stops along his route to provide the lowdown on everything from walnuts and carobs, to pistachio and peppercorn. You name it, he knew all there was to know about it, and we were willing ‘scholars’.
It was hardly a surprise to learn that previous jeep travellers asked for him to be their driver when they made return journeys to the island. One customer has made 10 trips with him. “I enjoy the job, and it’s great to know that people like what I do,” said Paul.
Places of interest come thick and fast and its hard to keep pace. But, for me, Chrysohou Bay stood out. It was simply stunning, a jewel in the Akamas crown. According to legend, it was here that Aphrodite, the mythological goddess of love and beauty, took a dip in the bay’s crystal clear waters before liaising with her lover, Adonis. He should be so lucky.
By now, my ‘tail’ was up, and within days, I got to wear my boots for a second time. Thanks to a local contact, I was able to get in touch with John Blanchard, a retired RAF electrician, who – like Paul - lives on the island.
Rotherham-born John, an angler and keen wildlife photographer, was happy to help, and he was so accommodating that he drove my wife and I to the Troodos mountains, where temperatures are usually lower than on the coast. It was still hot, though.
In the picturesque village of Platres, my wife opted to sit in the shade and read her book, while John joined me on a relatively challenging hike to the Kaledonia Waterfall, in the shadow of 6,404ft high Mount Olympus.
Our steep, two hour long expedition took us through the welcoming shade of a pine forest where we needed to make frequent stream crossings before finally reaching the falls. It was an invigorating experience, and I can’t begin to tell you how cool and lovely it was to feel the spray from the cascading water.
Back at the hotel, the veteran ‘sun bedders’ were more brown than me. But I was happy. My boots had got to see some walking. And I had emerged from the fabulous experience without being sun burnt. That’s what I call a result.
Monarch, the scheduled leisure airline, operates flights to Paphos from Manchester, Birmingham and London Gatwick. Fares, including taxes, start from £38.99 one way to £76.99 return. Seats can be pre-booked on scheduled flights for £5.99 per one-way flight. Extra legroom seats are available from £24.99. For further information or to book flights or holidays visit www.monarch.co.uk
Average cost of a week’s accommodation for two on an all inclusive basis at the Cyprotel Laura Beach is 800 euros. The jeep safari ride costs 70 euros and includes lunch.