©One of the most interesting and enjoyable pastimes on Cyprus are wonderful journies of discovery. Drive in any direction for no more than a couple of hours, and you are exploring a picturesque village, seashore town, or nature trail running through a forest. Cyprus has it all, and I have to admit that while I am starting my third year of residence here, I have hardly seen anything.
I recently moved to a Paphos suburb and immediately struck up a friendship with one of my neighbors, Andros, who lives here for six months of the year. Although a Greek Cypriot, he spends the other six months in the UK. We got to talking about the island and in particular, the village where he was born, Kato Drys. After describing his old home, it was evident he had many happy memories of it before he moved away when he was fifteen years old. As I had been telling him that I had started taking photos for a photo stock company, he suggested we should revisit Kato Drys and promised I would fall in love with the place and return home with a hundred photos. That promised, I agreed and looked forward to the trip.
The name, Kato Drys, means ‘Lower Oak (trees),’ and this dates back to the Byzantine era. There are many locations here that begin with the word Kato – meaning lower. Kato Paphos is at sea level and so Kato. ‘Drys’ means trees. The second explanation on how the village got its name. There were originally two villages close to each other and between them stood a large Oak tree.
One and a half hours drive from Paphos, the village stands between southwest Larnaca, Limassol, and Nicosia. It is small and very picturesque with a population of 130. Like many villages on the island, it has experienced an immigration of the younger generation as they married and found work in Nicosia and the other big towns. In 1946 Kato Drys had a population of over 500. In the last few years, there has been an effort to improve the local industry, namely turning the once agricultural area into the more profitable business of wine and citrus fruit. A new winery has been built, and three new wines have been introduced in the last three years. Vineyards cover much of the hills and valleys in the area, and small orchards of Lemons, Oranges, Almonds, Olives and Carobs dot the area.
Many of the old cottages that have been vacated and left to disintegrate are being repaired in the traditional way and let for tourists spending a few days in the area. Gradually, a few new residents are making a home there.
I set out with Andros and drove along the A6, the main modern highway that runs the whole length of the island from Paphos to Famagusta. The drive winds its way through the mountainous and hilly terrain following the beautiful coastline across several bridges and through a tunnel. After turning off the highway, we drove up and into the hills until we reached a spot Andros had picked for me to see the whole village down in a valley. On the extreme left of the cluster of buildings, Andros pointed out a building where workers were repairing the roof. This was the house Andros grew up in as a boy, and his brother is still in residence. It had been several years since the two brothers had been together and I was really pleased to see them meet up again. Their mother had died several years ago and was buried in the local graveyard, which we visited later to pay respects.
On reaching his brother’s house, I left the two men having coffee and walked a short distance to view and photograph an abandoned cottage. There are quite a few but as I found out later, they are gradually being restored. There was something eerie about stepping into the back door and finding old wall cabinets and cupboards, some open, and the floor littered with wood and brick plaster. On one wall there was a small painted figure, and weeds were growing through open cracks in the walls of this small home that consisted of a kitchen, living room and one bedroom. After taking a few pictures, I joined Andros and his brother to find out more about the village activities, past and present.
Although a tiny community, Kato Drys has two churches, one ancient, Panagia Eleousa from the 15th century, and the other built in the early 19th century. A much larger church, the more modern is named after the village patron Saint, Agios Charalamros. Both churches welcome visitors, particularly during the summer months when visitors journey to Kato Drys to look around the museum and famous lace embroidery and silver filigree shops where the ancient art is still practiced by some villagers. Many bee hives can be seen too. Fresh local honey is produced along with homemade jams. However, the biggest attraction by far during the summer is the Fengaros music festival, a mixture of rock, jazz, and classical Greek music that attracts musicians from around the world. Around 2000 visitors fill the few guest houses and pitch tents for the long weekend in July. After each day of music, the taverns fill and musicians mix with the crowds and perform impromptu in the narrow streets.
It took a couple of hours walking around the streets and courtyards to see as much as I could. The buildings restored still capture that beautiful Medditeranian look and atmosphere. Wooden window frames and shutters are painted either brown or blue against sandstone brick. Potted plants adorn ledges and flights of stone steps everywhere. I could not help noticing how clean the courtyards and streets are. The locals are very proud of their village.
And of the people themselves - they are so warm. I stopped at one small guest house, and after petting their very affectionate dog, we were encouraged to let him take us for a walk to see the sights. An old lady opened her door as we passed by her house and spoke with Andros. This was a village where it is everyone’s business to know your business, and even though he had been away for some years, Andros was recognized.
Of course, no visit would be complete without taking a seat at the tavern, and our canine friend showed us the way. What a treat it was to sit on the veranda and sample some red wine. The landlord, I found, was a Scottish Cypriot and quite a character. As we sat chatting, I asked him where all the residents were. We had walked around but hardly seen anyone. He told me that during the winter months most stayed indoors while a few left for work in the mornings, leaving the village practically empty during the day. A bus service runs every two hours from Larnaca and Limassol but besides that, most men there drove a pick-up truck. That reminded me of my years in Washington where most men, and women, drive a truck.
I have to go back soon to take a lot more photos and to renew my friendship with Andros brother who is remodeling his house. His courtyard where we sat, overlooks the valley and a monastery in the distance. He has a fantastic collection of paintings which bring the main living room and bedrooms alive with brilliant color. His yard is full of scent from large lemon and grapefruit trees.
As we left, I couldn’t help feeling a little envious of the small community living in such a lovely peaceful location. Even on an island, the difference in lifestyles between the bigger towns, some with tourist areas, and the traditional village up in the hills is enormous. Kato Drys, like many other hill and valley communities, has an air of yesteryear about it and long may that continue.