Cyprus may be blessed with sandy beaches and dreamy waters, but it’s far more than just a beach lover’s paradise. Take the winding journey inland and quiet roads will lead you through sun-kissed slopes and up towards the peaks of Troodos Mountains for a taste of rural life at its best. Also known by locals as the ‘land of a million blossoms’, the lesser-explored Marathassa Valley is brimming with ancient treasures, old coffee shops, restaurants and some of the island’s finest monasteries and churches.
Kalopanayiotis is undoubtedly one of the most picturesque villages in the area, and was once a glamorous retreat for kings and queens who bathed in the healing sulphur springs near Setrachos River. Kalopanayiotis has experienced a recent revival, with many of the beautiful homes and their intricate flower-strewn wooden balconies painstakingly restored.
In the heart of the village, Casale Panayiotis gives you the chance to live and breathe village life as you immerse yourself in the local community, shops and traditional kafenia (coffee shops). Put your feet up for the night in one of its charming homes with dreamy views across the valley.
Myrianthousa Spa relives traditions from bygone days and features a hydrotherapy pool, sauna, herbal steam room and snow cabin. You can also indulge in treatments and therapies inspired by the nature of the area, focused on mental and physical rejuvenation and wellbeing.
Marathassa Valley is also home to a UNESCO World Heritage monastery. Ayios Ioannis Lampadistis (St John Lampadistis) is made of three churches – the oldest dating back to the 11th century. You’ll be awestruck by the colourful Byzantine frescos, deemed some of the most important of their kind on the island. A small museum nearby also has the oldest Bible in Cyprus, dating back to the 12th century.
A little further down the road, you’ll find Kykkos Monastery perched high on an isolated mountain peak. Founded between the 11th and 12th centuries AD during the reign of Emperor Alexios I Komnenos, the monastery is famed as one of the richest and most lavish in Cyprus and dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
Animated village folk congregate near the monastery selling local produce, with soujouko (resembling a knobbly sausage made with thick, boiled grape juice and nuts), palouzes (a type of grape juice custard) and pastellaki (sesame seed and nut brittle) some of the most tempting treats on offer.
Guests at Casale Panayiotis can visit the hotel’s orchard to collect seasonal fruit including olives, cherries, figs and more. Once you’ve filled your baskets, put your best foot forward in one of the nature trails weaving through the Marathassa Valley.
We recommend taking the signposted Kykkos Watermill nature trail (with easy access from the village centre) that will take you right up to an old mill dating back to the 17th century. The mill was recently renovated and declared a Heritage Monument by the Cyprus Department of Antiquities, and stands as a great example of pre-industrial Cypriot architecture. You can then cross over to the other side of the Setrachos River and follow a shady path that leads to a 16th-century Venetian bridge.
Venture into the countryside beyond Kalopanayiotis to the nearby village of Moutoullas and the start of another trail that’s just as impressive. Ta Loutra tis Rigainas (The Queen’s Baths) is a 1.5km (one-mile) circular hike to the spot where the medieval Queen Rigaina once bathed in sulphur springs between the rocks. Couples should head to The Bridge of Those in Love, where tradition has it that lovers should promise their eternal adoration.
It’s not unusual to walk past the open doors of a village home and catch a glimpse of elderly ladies congregated over pots and pans making soujouko, spoon sweets (fruits preserved in syrup), ladies’ fingers (fried dough dipped in syrup filled with ground almonds and cinnamon) and many other sweet delicacies, while others take great pride in their homemade halloumi cheese. Recently, a number of new establishments have opened their doors, offering a taste of traditional cuisine with a modern twist.
Head to Tsimpimatouthkia to dine with breathtaking views across the valley as the passionate owners dash about the place to serve dishes using locally sourced fruits and vegetables, cheeses and meats. With the youth of the area also intent on keeping tradition alive, KafeOinos is another hot spot filled with village antiques, where the young owner serves local wine, strong Cyprus coffee and thirst-quenching lemonade infused with rose petals, lavender or bergamot. Cheers!
To find out more and book your stay at Casale Panayiotis, visit: www.sovereign.com or call 01293 765 003. Sovereign is offering a 10-night holiday to Cyprus from £2,149 per person, including three nights at Casale Panayiotis, return flights from Gatwick, airport fast pass and private resort transfers.