The off-season guide to Cyprus
For those who are very busy and important and can’t spare the time to go on holiday in peak season, or those who are violently allergic to the August Sun, Sea, Sex and Sangria crowd, then Cyprus is a rare gem.
The temperature in late winter/ early spring tends to be around 16 degrees centigrade upwards, therefore perfect for pasty-skinned Brits to sunbathe without turning that deep shade of crimson so beloved of our countrymen. And the island is at its best; without recourse to cheap poetics, the landscape really is transformed from an arid plain into something altogether more agreeable.
The trees burst out into an orgy of healthful life, the fields turn a dramatic blood red and the salt lakes fill up and become the temporary home of thousands of migratory birds. This includes up to 12,000 flamingoes, which tends to occasion a swift-double take and much gleeful posing for pictures from those who wish that they could afford Florida and not the Med.
In this season the south-west is the best destination. With its craggy cliffs and dramatic seascapes, it is a far-cry from the dank off-season sinkholes in the east (Agia Napa- I’m looking at you). Paphos and Limassol are a little more populated at this time of year than the east coast and hotels usually work on a price = quality basis, but of course a little research can sometimes yield surprising deals.
However, the best places for the discerning traveller are more off the beaten track.Villas are widely available for rent and, if you can hire a car, then there are some prime locations available with swimming pools and the obligatory breathtaking views. Pissouri village, nestled within orange groves is a favourite, with a healthy year-round population of locals.
The variety of activities available on the island from January to March are perfect for extreme-sports/ nature enthusiasts. The sea temperature is similar to the air temperature and so water-sports are an absolute must. Having spent nearly a decade living by the coast in Cyprus I can furtively reveal the island’s most jealously guarded secret: surfing is not only possible, it is actually very good. However, there is a complex mesh of evasion and deceit around this very topic and people do not reveal their equipment or spot sources without coercion.
The fabled winds that blow in from September to March, christened the ‘Coptic Gales’, are often of Biblical severity and no fisherman worth his salt (no pun intended) would be without his trusty copy of the gale chart. This makes for wind-whipped, furious seas and so if you have managed to locate a board then this is the time to brave the waves. A local guide is an absolute must, however, as the south-west coast has what I call ‘big sea’. The coves are wide and often rocky, currents are unpredictable and the rips can catch the uninitiated unawares. Unless you are both a confident swimmer and competent surfer, then it is better to reject the smaller unknown spots in favour of beaches with lifeguards.
If surfing seems far too much bother, what with the web of intrigue and unpredictable conditions, then wind-surfing and kite-surfing are much safer bets. Conditions are not quite as vital as with surfing and there is much more provision for these sports, especially on the west coast near Limassol. Once again, research must be undertaken to find equipment, but it is much more readily available, as is instruction and beach guidance.
Other board sports require a change of scenery. From the coastal resorts in the west it is but a short drive into the Troodos mountain range. From around February there is a fairly reliable snow-fall and snow sports of all kinds are available. The journey is clear most of the way up, but 4x4s or wheel chains are needed for the last stretch, so this should be in mind when booking a hire car.
There are good hotels both near the slopes and in the surrounding villages a little lower down. Equipment is also for hire in the mountains, although it is on a first-come first-serve basis, so serious skiers and boarders would be better bringing their own kit. The slopes cater to all abilities, with an F.I.S. homologated trail accessible from the Zeus lift. The Ski Cyprus website at http://www.skicyprus.com/ is an excellent resource for skiing and boarding information and it even has a live webcam from the slopes for instant snow updates.
For fans of horse-riding, Ride in Cyprus should be the first port of call. The business caters to those who would like to see a hidden side to the island and the trails run through backdrops of unparalleled beauty. Caroline Grossmith is an expert on the local area and runs a clean and professional business that provides a range of packages from one hour of riding to up to 7 night stays in the vicinity. Her horses are well-loved and gentle and are used to carrying children as well as experienced riders. Her website http://www.rideincyprus.com/index.htm has a photo gallery as well as a wealth of information on the horses and staff.
For many, the off-season is the only season in Cyprus. With all that there is to offer in the winter months it would be reckless and foolish to choose to go in summer to fight the Easyjet crowds for a square inch of sand, only to pass out upon arrival at the beach from heatstroke and dehydration. And, if the winter sports seem that tad too energetic and dangerous for the more sedate traveller, then you could just take eighty pictures of flamingoes.
In the event of anyone asking about the surfing, it is perfectly within your rights to say with a resigned shake of the head: ‘didn’t you hear? The Coptic Gales blew in. Yeah, I spoke to a fisherman about them…didn’t put a toe in the water. Gnarly, dude. Gnarly’.