If there's one thing you mustn't do when shacked up in an isolated and empty hotel in the middle of a snowstorm, it's to think about The Shining. Make sure you don't think back to the chilling moment when the little boy rides his tricycle round the corner and sees the ghosts of the two twins at the end of the corridor, or that painfully narrow escape the terrified wife makes through the too-small bathroom window away from the mad axe-wielding of Jack Nicholson. Oh no, don't think about it, or the chances are you'll end up scared out of your wits...
OK, so the manager at the Jubilee Hotel in Troodos1 turned out to be really lovely, and he ran a great little hotel without even a hint of ancient Indian burial sites about it, but imagination is a powerful thing. Driving up from Pafos we'd scoffed at the guidebook's insistence that we'd be able to go skiing on nearby Mt Olympos, and as the road signs counted down the distance to Troodos towards the 10km mark, there wasn't even a hint of snow, let alone isolation.
And then suddenly, as we turned a corner on the winding main road over the Troodos mountains, snow flakes started falling from the grey sky, and within ten minutes there was snow drifting along the side of the roads, settling on the trees and getting heavier and heavier until the visibility was absolutely terrible. By the time we reached Troodos, I was driving as slowly as I could get away with, because with absolutely no warning at all, we'd driven bang into a blizzard.
This, apparently, is relatively common on the mountains of Cyprus, though perhaps not to the degree we would end up enjoying. The snow line on Cyprus is tangible, and once you've seen it, it's easy to understand how, given the right weather conditions, you can be skiing in the morning and lazing on the beach in the afternoon. Pafos had been full of people wearing shorts and wandering along the seafront in T-shirts, but here, 1700m above sea level, we were in a winter wonderland. Through the driving snow we could make out pine trees frosted with heavy layers of snow, their needles and trunks looking jet black in the surrounding glare. Troodos village, if it can be called that, is nothing more than a main road flanked by a handful of small cafés, a post office, a sculptured park containing swings and seesaws for the coaches of package tourists that swarm here in the summer, two hotels and a Youth Hostel. And, of course, the more central hotel had closed down through lack of business and was almost invisible behind mounds of packed snow thrown up by the snow ploughs, and the Youth Hostel only opened in the summer, so this left only one option for accommodation, the Jubilee Hotel, out to the north of town along the less-used road towards the summit of Mt Olympos.
On checking in, we asked the manager about the chances of us getting our bog-standard two-wheel-drive car up to the top of Mt Olympos, and he shrugged and said the only thing we could do was give it a go, so throwing caution to the wind in the way all drivers of hired vehicles are morally obliged to do, we slid our way up the short road to the Cyprus Ski Federation hut, not far from the top of the mountain. It was a little late in the day for skiing – instead we entertained ourselves with a little sledding back down in the village – but happy that we now knew where to go to ski, we settled in for a solitary night in the Jubilee.
The first thing that caught our attention was a terrible smell from the room next door. In Cyprus you often find your room is attached to the next door room by a double door, which can only provide a through passage if both doors are opened; through a small gap under this door leaked an utterly putrid smell that, I assured myself, had absolutely nothing to do with the word 'decomposing'. This wasn't a horror movie, and that's exactly what I told Peta, who shot me a glance that made it clear in no uncertain terms that if I mentioned The Shining once more, she'd be the one wielding the bloody axe. Luckily the manager tracked down the smell to the drains next door, and while we went in search of food he aired the room and made things much more bearable.
The kitchens in the Jubilee weren't open that night (not surprisingly, as we were the lone tenants), so the only option for food was the snug little Fereos Park restaurant back down in the village. Deciding that driving through the snow after dark was probably a bad idea, we trudged through the blustering blizzard down into town, where the restaurant's gas-fired stove and chilled beer helped wash down a more than passable mixed kebab while the snow levels outside continued to rise. Walking back, the part of the road that had been cleared by a snow plough only an hour or so before was an inch deep in fresh snow, and all the while more snow tumbled out of the sky, dulling our crunchy footsteps and blanketing the mountains in complete silence.
When we got back to the hotel, the only signs of life were the barman, his assistant, and a solitary local propping up the bar; true, none of them appeared to be the ghosts of past caretakers, but just in case they had a hidden agenda involving wood-chopping equipment, we sneaked downstairs for a quick game of pool in the deserted basement, while the storm continued to batter the hotel. Throughout the night shutters banged and the wind howled and whistled, leaving us to lie wide-eyed in our wonderfully heated room, desperately trying to persuade ourselves that the squeaking sounds outside were the hinges, and not those of an axe being sharpened.
The next morning the snow had stopped, but so had all activity. The police said that even four-wheel-drives were having problems getting up to the ski slopes, and we had to abandon our plans to go skiing, at least for a day or two, and with heavy hearts we decided to head downhill to Kakopetria, below the snow line. And at least our hire car entered into the spirit of things; smothered in deep drifts of snow that hid almost all signs of bodywork from view, I'm sure his headlights glinted a maniacally frozen Jack Nicholson grin as we dug him out with the hotel's shovel.
Or was that Christine..?