Roads Less Travelled
Roads Less Travelled
WHILE THE SUN, SEA AND SAND MODULE STILL HOLDS A MAGNETIC ALLURE THAT DRAWS VISITORS TO THIS LITTLE MEDITERRANEAN SLICE OF HEAVEN, CYPRUS IS ALSO DEFINED BY A MYRIAD OF CULTURAL, HISTORICAL AND NATURAL TREASURES JUST WAITING TO BE DISCOVERED BY THOSE WILLING TO VENTURE AWAY FROM THE ORDINARY… AND EXPLORE THE EXTRAORDINARY.
What better way to experience a destination than in the company of passionate local guides who are eager to share the riches of their country with travellers in search of more meaningful connections. Take note: we’re not referring to mass tourism, cookie-cutter, or hop-on hopoff bus tours. Today in Cyprus you can further develop your hobbies or specialised interests by participating in a number of unique and innovative niche adventures, which enhance the island’s tourism offering, while simultaneously promoting and raising awareness of some of the lesser-known layers of Cypriot culture.
From cycling across the awe-inspiring landscapes and picturesque villages of rural Cyprus or foraging for wild herbs in secret off-the-beaten-track locations, to sampling the unique culinary heritage of a destination surrounded by three continents, the varied options and opportunities to experience the charm of Cyprus are worth exploring. And while these expeditions may be unrelated in their focus or niche, they are united in their all-encompassing goal of showcasing authentic Cypriot hospitality, sharing local cultures and traditions, and taking tourists away from the well-trodden trails, to experience a lesser known side of the island.
Meet some of the vehemently proud, highly experienced and deeply knowledgeable locals behind three alternative tours to uncover the wealth of uniquely Cypriot experiences lying in wait when you scratch beneath the surface.
Stephania Christodoulou and Pavlos Kitsis – aka The Cyprus Hobbit – really know their stuff when it comes to the herbs and plants of Cyprus. Both self-confessed nature lovers from childhood, Stephania and Pavlos have always enjoyed road-tripping across the island, collecting herbs and connecting with nature. In the wake of sudden redundancy, the couple decided to do what they love for a living. Nine months of extensive learning and research later, the Cyprus Hobbit was born.Today, two years into their passion project, these two free spirits are filling a niche in the market, taking visitors on unique tours to forage in the wilderness deep in the Cyprus countryside. Ideal for those with a special interest in plants, nature, herbs and natural medicines, these tours all start the same way. Once groups have shared their personal interests and requests with Stephania and Pavlos, a route is designed accordingly, and participants are asked to trust and follow their expert guides.
“Where we go depends on what the members of the group want to experience,” says Stephania. “The main ingredient is their willingness to connect with nature, and apart from that, it depends on what they like. Whether that’s water, rivers, forests, herb collecting or bird watching, we can combine anything they want to experience.”
Along these educational walks – which always take place in magical, hidden off-road locations – the hobbits point out wild herbs, sharing their in-depth knowledge of the history, uses and medicinal benefits of each plant and teaching participants how to trim and collect sustainably, in a way that allows the plant to thrive and always with the utmost respect and gratitude for nature.
It is this ethos and way of interacting with nature which forms the backbone of these tours and is why the hobbits ask that groups do not share their location on social media or online, in a bid to ensure the destinations stay wild and protected, maintaining their untouched magic for years to come.
“We prefer not to share our routes and maps; we would rather protect these wonderful locations from the invasive effects of mass tourism, to preserve their unspoiled natural beauty,” says Pavlos. “Instead, we want to share our way of thinking, so that people not only get to the point where they can go out and collect their own herbs, but they also develop a more intimate connection to nature and greater respect for it.”
A passionate foodie with a strong desire to share the bountiful flavours and traditions of her country, Elena Onisiforou appreciates the intricate relationship between food, society and culture. And it is thanks to this inherent understanding – together with this dynamic businesswomen’s fierce drive and appetite to provide more meaningful travel experiences far removed from the mass tourism offering – that travellers to Cyprus can now embark on journeys of epicurean and cultural discovery during bespoke tours with Elena’s company, Gastronomy Tours Cyprus.
Set up three years ago after a successful application for an EU funded female entrepreneur programme, Gastronomy Tours Cyprus is Elena’s contribution to fill a gap she recognised in the market – a shortage of highly specialised, educational and participatory tours emphasising Cyprus’s rich culinary heritage and traditions.“In Cyprus everything is about food,” Elena laughs. “We are always eating, but it’s not about eating to survive. Gastronomy links everything together. There’s the cultural side, the festival side, the social side, the historical side. Food is civilisation itself. And what could be better than combining the cultural side of food with travelling.”
CULTURE ON THE MENU
Combining her love for food with her love for her job as a travel agent, Elena now takes groups on themed tours across the island, introducing them to local produce and uncovering the unique culinary character of each region. This happens through a vast selection of diverse presentations and hands-on demonstrations by local producers and fusion cuisine workshops that bring deep-rooted tradition into the present.
Elena’s tours have seen visitors from Asia amazed to see olives they harvested with their own hands transformed into delectable olive pies; or groups from America donning gloves and learning the art of halloumi making from a local grandmother who has been making it every day since she was 14. It doesn’t get more authentic than that. But perhaps most importantly, it happens through the cooking and sharing of food, wine, memories and experiences with local residents in rural village outposts across the island. Ideal for those yearning for a genuine experience of authentic local life, customs and habits of Cyprus, Elena’s bespoke tours encourage this casual interaction with local villagers and producers – the most authentic ambassadors for the famous Cyprus hospitality. “Sharing food with people is the most important part,” says Elena. “Food is all about sharing and love among people.”
First attracted to cycling after being impressed by the shiny new bicycles of his older friends, Mike Hadjioannou has been a two-wheel enthusiast since he was 12 years old. Over the 35 years following this first encounter, Mike has managed to turn his childhood passion into a profession, competing on the national cycling team, training Cyprus’s Olympic cyclists at three Olympics, founding the island’s most prestigious cycling tournament – The Sunshine Cup – and taking riders of all levels on tours across the island with his company Biking Cyprus Adventures.
Mike started the company seven years ago after seeing a niche in the market for a service that covered the whole island and gave visitors a taste of what Cyprus has to offer explorers on two wheels. And when he says “across the island”, he really means it. The tours follow a vast database of routes covering all regions, from the highest peaks all the way down to the rugged coast, taking in charmingly quaint rural villages, archaeological sites, ancient bridges, abandoned old roads, waterfalls, lush green forests and verdant valleys along the way.
AUTHENTIC CYPRUS HOSPITALITY
And while the landscapes themselves inspire awe and wonder with their majestic sweeping beauty and rich diversity, the value of the tours goes far beyond scenic routes and stunning views, with history, culture and tradition interwoven into the very seams of each ride. “There are also things to witness, people to meet, history and traditions to learn,” Mike says. “Our policy is to offer the local experience; we want you to take back unique Cyprus memories, and visitors who bike outside the main cities can truly discover the authentic Cyprus.” Sharing tales of riders who return to Cyprus every year to visit friends that they met in the villages during their Biking Cyprus Adventures tours, Mike believes the raw, authentic rural Cyprus can best be found in its people, who are always willing to stop and chat with bikers en route, and have even been known to invite them into their homes for coffee or food. “It’s a great way to discover Cyprus and fall in love with the island,” he says with a knowing smile.
While Cyprus’s extensive road network, short distances and great weather conditions make the island an ideal cycling destination, it is this authentic Cypriot hospitality in the rural outposts that really make the Biking Cyprus Adventures cycling tours a one-of-a-kind experience.