The scattered mountain villages in the Marathasa region hold a special place in the hearts of Cypriots.
Anyone who’s been there will recognise the picturesque houses clustered on the hills, scattered amongst the dense green scenery. The views are breathtaking and soul-filling; the air is pure and carries the vague scent of trees, plants and herbs; and the sounds are calming, with the sweet noise of running water following you everywhere.
These are the villages of our childhoods. They’d offer us hospitality during the scorching summer months, when the cities became unbearable and when holidays by the beach were not popular.
Families would trundle up from the towns, carrying cases, chests, pots and pans. Hotels, rooms, flats and houses in these mountain villages would all have full occupancy during the summer months. The restaurants would all be packed, as would the kafenia (the coffee shops).
There were kafenia lining the road – the one main road through the village – and the very last coffee shop would mark the outskirts of the village.
‘Going out’ at the time meant strolling together along the road, then sitting at a kafenio for the usual sweet treat, glyko tou koutaliou. This is a unique and simple desert, made with sugar and fresh fruit. The fruit is preserved when it’s in season, and becomes an intensely sweet, syrupy delight.
Glyko tou koutalio used to be our favourite desert during these stays in the mountains. Our parents used to tell us how the ‘glyko’ here was the best in Cyprus, because the fruit were grown in these villages, where the soil was rich, the air was fresh and the water was invigorating.
You’d see trees with apples, plums, pears, apricots, peaches and citrus fruit, nestled amongst huge pine trees, poplar and plane trees, acacias, vineyards and bushes, vegetable plots and wild herbs. What a rich mixture of thriving vegetation!
Those were the holidays of our childhoods, but people going back there today will find that little has changed.
It’s still spring in Cyprus. I visited the Marathasa region this weekend and was overwhelmed with the beauty of nature and the celebration of colours. Everywhere was the white blossom of cherry trees and other fruit trees, the beautiful yellow acacias and the purple, blue, yellow, and red, wild flowers on the ground.
And everywhere, the golden splash of the thorny ‘prickly broom’ bushes, known in Cyprus as ‘rashies’, or ‘spalathkies’.
This is natural beauty at its best; it’s art in its most basic and genuine form. How blessed we are in this small island, which has such a rich history, archaeology – and nature.