Exploring Cyprus: mountain biking around the Akamas peninsula
The Akamas peninsula, on Cyprus’s west coast, is the quieter side of the island, with breathtaking lagoons and secluded bays – perfect terrain for mountain biking.
Based on an article by Susannah Osborne in The Guardian published on Friday 12th April 2013. All rights acknowledged.
But by continuing to visit the island, British tourists will be doing many Cypriots a favour. What’s more, some tour operators are reducing their prices in a bid to fill rooms. And a trip to the island doesn’t have to mean big resorts or the infamous Ayia Napa; there are still beautiful and unspoilt areas.
The Akamas peninsula – named after Acamas, a Greek warrior who had a love of faraway places and came here after fighting in the mythical Trojan war – is one of them.
This thick undeveloped finger of land in the far west of Cyprus is all undulating limestone and deep, narrow valleys at the point where, geologically, three continents meet. The tip of the peninsula, Cape Arnaoutis, points north towards the Turkish coast, around 60 miles away across the Mediterranean.
The region covers 230 square kilometres and feels a world away from the booze-fuelled strips of the island’s party towns. The only thing on display here is raw, natural, enchanting beauty.
Exploring Akamas is relatively easy: walking trails, including the E4 European long-distance footpath, criss-cross the area and are used by cyclists as well as walkers. Quad bikes are also a popular, albeit controversial, way to explore: opponents have concerns about their impact on local habitats, as well as the noise pollution.
I chose to visit on a mountain-biking holiday with Cycle In Cyprus, a small company run by Börje Ekstam, a Swede who, since his retirement, spends “all the time that it’s dark in Sweden cycling in Cyprus”.
On our first ride we set out from the fishing village of Latchi, at the eastern edge of the peninsula and headed north-west, following the coastline. We didn’t see another soul and were soon surrounded by miles of thick, stunted maquis scrub and gnarled, twisted juniper trees that appeared to be tumbling into the sea.
“We’ll ride to there,” said Börje, pointing to a high point in the hazy distance. “Then we’ll take the track down to the sea – you might have to carry your bike, as it’s really, really steep.”
Despite the dense flora surrounding us, the wide path ahead resembled the surface of the moon and was strewn with what looked like bits of meteorite. Handling the bike was hard going, and concentrating on grappling with gravity and zigzagging down a hillside on a rugged marble run meant I almost missed the view. Eventually, though, the trail flattened out to a creamy, wave-cut platform and disappeared into calm blue sea. We stopped and savoured the captivating loneliness of Cape Arnaoutis.
Just under half the peninsula is managed by Cyprus’s Department of Forests and here building is forbidden. The remainder is privately or government-owned and although not officially a national park, it is protected land and subject to planning controls. (In theory, at least: there is widespread concern among environmental groups, such as Cyprus Conservation Foundation and BirdLife Cyprus, that these are flouted.)
We’d been riding for two hours and the sun was high, so we took a direct route back to the van, and Börje drove me round to the south of the island to Takis House in the village of Kalavasos. It’s a charming place to relax. A shared swimming pool awaits weary cyclists and the village square has a selection of the tavernas and coffee shops.
The next day we headed back to Akamas to ride part of the Aphrodite trail, a wide, sandy path that skirts Chrysochou Bay and then heads inland to a viewpoint at 370m Moutti tis Sotiras. Juniper, wild olive and carob trees – the last heavy with blackening pods – pepper the coastline and provide a contrast to the glittering blue sea. Our starting point was the famous Baths of Aphrodite, a freshwater pool overhung by a lush fig tree, where, legend has it, the Greek goddess of love liked to bathe.
After less than an hour on the bikes, we stopped to take a dip ourselves – in the turquoise waters of the Blue Lagoon, a crystal clear pool a couple of miles up the coast.
Heading on we came to Lara beach, a strip of deserted biscuit-coloured sand – accessible only by 4×4, bike, or on foot – where green and loggerhead turtles still nest. Then the terrain started to get tricky again and Börje encouraged me to “lift up my front end”, to get the bike up and over the rocks ahead. I pushed down on the handlebars, pulled my shoulders back and drove my feet into the pedals. Nothing happened and for a second I was frozen in the air. Then I landed – with the bike on top of me. My head was pounding and there was pain from a gash on my knee. But I stayed still for a minute, and listened. Silence. Reason enough to visit this lovely area of the island.
Cycle-in-Cyprus organises mountain bike guiding from €35 per person per day. Mountain bike rental costs from €90 for three days [prices correct for 2013].