After the exertions of digging the car out of the Troodos snow, we realised that the only way to cope with the unexpected weather Cyprus was throwing at us was to relax. The problem with relaxing in wintry Cyprus is that the beaches, the normal route for holiday makers looking for somewhere to crash out, are far too cold and windswept to be comfortable, and the sea is distinctly Arctic. Cyprus does excel, though, in cosy little hotels with real fires, and as luck would have it we stumbled on a real gem in Kakopetria, a short drive north of Troodos on the Nicosia road.
Kakopetria means 'wicked rock pile' in Greek, and driving round the town's twisting one-way system is a good way to appreciate why. A river runs through the centre of town, chopping it into three steep-sided parts, with the old town perched precariously on a ridge between the two arms of the cold mountain stream; this gives the place a certain charm, especially when the nearby mountains are smothered in clouds and the wind whistles through the valleys as sharp as pine needles. Following the advice of our guidebook, we drove in ever-decreasing circles round the streets, eventually landing up at the Linos Inn, bang in the middle of the middle of the old part of town.
We instantly fell in love with the Linos. Being the only tourists mad enough to be exploring the Troodos Mountains at this time of year, we had the place to ourselves, and on booking in the manager gave us a choice of a room with a normal bath, a room with a one-person Jacuzzi, or a room with a two-person Jacuzzi. This was too good to be true; out here, in the middle of nowhere, we'd stumbled on somewhere that not only felt wonderfully toasty, it had Jacuzzis. Not surprisingly, we went for the latter, pushing the boat out at a respectable C£55 per night.
The rooms turned out to be full of antique furniture, from iron-framed four-poster beds to tables that turned out to be authentic Singer sewing machine tables, complete with foot pedals for operating the now-removed machines. From the balcony at the back of the room the warren of Kakopetria's old town lay sandwiched between the two rivers, and in the distance the mountains grumbled and the smell of wood smoke drifted in on the breeze. We might not have been able to hit the slopes that day, but that was no reason not to get stuck into a healthy dose of après-ski.
Kakopetria's old town is long and thin, following its main road (well, a one-car wide track) along the top of a ridge while the river tumbles away down a deep gorge to one side. It's a beautiful place that has been saved from the idiocies of the coastal developers by a preservation order, but like the vast majority of places in the south of Cyprus, the old town is littered with tumbledown buildings that have been left to rot, while the other buildings have obviously had serious amounts of investment lavished on them in an attempt to preserve the historical style of Cyprus's old settlements.
On closer inspection the crumbling buildings turn out to have dates and initials scribbled on the door frames, indicating that they are owned by Turkish Cypriots who were forced to flee their homes to escape to north Cyprus; the Cypriot government has ensured that Turkish-owned property is kept for them to return to once the political atmosphere is more conducive, a compliment that hasn't been repaid on the north, where Greek Cypriot property has simply been seized. It does mean, though, that places like Kakopetria can't fully restore their old quarters while Cyprus is split, a situation that unintentionally adds to the atmosphere.
Meanwhile some of the crumbling buildings are marked not with the details of their temporarily estranged owners, but with signs saying 'EOKA', the name of the pro-Greece terrorist movement that was so key in splitting up the island in the first place; I couldn't work out whether these buildings had housed EOKA members hiding from the authorities, or whether their current state of decay was down to past EOKA activity, but it added spice to an already delicious old town centre. Indeed, completing the picture, Kakopetria is full of concrete water cisterns emblazoned with 'ER 1955', evidence that the British, for whom the EOKA was a huge thorn in the side, did at least leave one useful legacy in Kakopetria – running water.
But although Kakopetria is a beautiful mountain town, and the history is visible all around, it was the Linos Inn that was the highlight. The downstairs restaurant, home to a lovely log fire and some wonderfully fresh trout from the trout farm down the road, was the perfect place1 to shelter from the howling February wind, and after a jug of village wine and a Jacuzzi, even the chilling weather of Troodos felt like a distant memory.
It quite put us in the mood for the morning's improvement in the weather, which opened up an opportunity for skiing on Mt Olympos after all. If only they could move the Linos Inn to Troodos, then Cyprus would have a skiing holiday experience to rival the best of the Alps. If you ignore the quality of the ski runs, that is...
1 Thanks to Karen H for sending me an update on the Linos Inn, though I'm sad to report that it's not exactly positive. 'After reading your report, we decided to have a meal at the Linos Taverna,' writes Karen. 'What a disappointment! We were virtually ignored and had the poorest service since our arrival in Cyprus. Our food was mediocre at best and we couldn't wait to depart.' She goes on to say that she and her husband stayed and ate at the Mill House Hotel during their visit to Kakopetria, where they felt 'pampered and welcome' in comparison. Here's hoping the Linos Inn manages to get back to the high standards of 2003; it really was a lovely place when we visited.