What makes Cyprus such an up and coming cycling destination? One of the warmest climates in Europe with temperatures in the 20s from Feb and 325 sunny days per year. An amazing mountain range headlined by Mount Olympus at nearly 2,000m. Brilliant road surfaces with hardly any traffic. Light, tasty food with some great local cafes by the beach and in the mountains. Having heard the tale of all this I had to head to try it out for myself.
Nestled in the eastern Mediterranean with Turkey to the north, Lebanon to the east and Egypt to the south Cyprus offers a balmy climate in the earliest and latest parts of the cycling season that Mallorca and the Canaries could only dream of.
The Troodos mountains rise up over 2000m from Mediterranean sea level to the top of Mount Olympus (yes the one with the bearded guy and his big lightning bolt). It offers varied rides past ancient monuments and through tranquil forests, scenic vineyards and beautiful olive groves. There are hundreds of kilometres of smooth tarmac and best of all, unlike other Mediterranean destinations, Cyprus is still undiscovered by cyclists, the roads are empty and waiting to be enjoyed.
For our first ride after our 4-hour flight from London, we set out along the coast through Paphos, our base for the week and the main city of the Greek side of the island. A haven for sunseekers the year-round Paphos boasts a variety of seaside resorts, acre after acre of sunbeds hosting a large mass of sunburnt northern European flesh but our interest was the hills behind the city. After riding along the boardwalk we took a right and started the 12km climb up to the hill town of Kathikas, at an average of 6% it made for a lengthy but gentle start to our weeks training and the smoothie at the top made it all worthwhile! From there we took in 2 more climbs for the day before descending all the way back to cold drinks by the pool to finish, I could get used to this…
Home to some of the world’s finest olive oil, the birthplace of halloumi and with an array of fresh meats and seafood, Cyprus’ cuisine is light, nutritious and delicious. Even the most basic looking village café will rock out some world-class hummus and tzatziki with fresh crispy pittas on the side, beats a mars bar or an energy bar any day.
For our second ride we rode west winding our way along the coast past the famous ruins of the sanctuary of Aphrodite and down to the beach at Aphrodite’s Rock (a theme was emerging). The deep blue of the eastern Med was idyllic and the beach was abandoned this early in the morning, the lounger lizards wouldn’t be out for an hour or two when the sun had reached burning strength. From here we headed uphill, the Paphos side of the Troodos Mountains gives the possibility of some lovely long climbs, a twisting ribbon of tarmac up from the beach took us 11km to what seemed to be an abandoned village, a café sign caught our eye however and we poked our heads in to find not only a cold cola but all the trappings of a good Cypriot meze board to replenish our energy supply and ready us for the long descent and flat blast back to the poolside.
The highlight of the week was certainly our remarkable ‘queen stage’ ride to Mount Olympus. We wouldn’t have been able to live with ourselves if we didn’t tackle not only the most famous climb on the island but one of the most infamous mountains in history. Starting from near sea the climb is (without exaggeration) almost entirely uphill for 55km once you get started. That said, there’s never a dull moment as you progress from the foothills, through the vineyards, olive groves and villages and progress up to the forests of the high mountain.
The road is ever-winding and offers stunning views down to the ocean, you are occasionally reminded of Cyprus’ torrid recent history with the odd abandoned checkpoint or bullet holes in roadside buildings and even a statue of a man holding an AK-47 aloft at one point but as you climb through the high village of Platres with all its new roads and new chalets the environment could not be more peaceful, with the cool environment between the pine trees it almost feels like Patagonian mountain settlement, wherever you are you’re certainly a world away from the seaside resort where this ride began. From conversations with locals, it sounds like things are ever more peaceful and while a truly united island may be a way off there’s nothing to worry us tourists.
After what feels like a remarkably short time considering we had been climbing for 3 hours up to a height of 1800m we reached the village of Troodos with a selection of restaurants with a range of hearty lunch options, oh and one heck of a view. From here the job still has to be finished, we climb the last stretch up to the Mount Olympus ski station with its abandoned bar and ski lifts and beyond to the military satellite station beyond, signs advise it would be highly unwise to get that classic summit photo unless you fancy having your ride cut short by a man with handcuffs so we turn, engage the big ring for the first time in hours and begin the odyssey that is a 65km rolling descent through tiny villages and vineyards back to sea level and a celebratory beer, what a day out!
Mount Olympus immediately jumps into my top 10 ever day rides, Cyprus may not be as polished as some traditional spring cycling locations but that’s part of the charm. It has so much to offer, the smooth roads, the food, the mythic history, the mountains, the climate, the friendly locals and the easy-going nature of the place mean that Cyprus should be firmly in your sights for Spring 2020.