There is no better way to get an understanding of the island’s culture than to visit a bustling village. PAUL LAMBIS visits one of the most picturesque
One of my favourite ways to explore Cyprus is to simply drive and let the road take you on a rural adventure. And although the island is small, there are innumerable villages that appear out of nowhere, each with its own distinct identity, narrative, gastronomy, wine, and places of interest.
The Limassol village of Arsos is without a doubt one of the most picturesque on the island, and among the first in Cyprus to receive the ministry of tourism’s Colourful Villages of Cyprus certification for the preservation of the village’s identity, natural wealth, and cultural heritage.
When it comes to wine, the locals make their own, focusing primarily on red wine from indigenous grape varieties, and the finished product is often stored in large earthenware jars. In fact, most houses keep their own winepress, including traditional alembics used to produce Zivania.
“Whether visiting in summer or winter, the emerald colour of the vineyards dominates the village,” president of the community council Andreas Psilos said. “This colour contrasts with the vibrant colours of the buildings, which contribute to the village’s aesthetic appeal.”
As in most rustic villages, the houses are stacked close to each other, and are built with impeccably hewn stones in a neo-classical style. The cleanliness of the houses and streets is impressive, with their wonderful, picturesque yards dominated by flowers and greenery in terracotta pots.
And if strolling through the streets at the right time enticing aromas waft from village homes. “The village housewives are famous for their dexterity in preparing different desserts made from the village grapes, such as palouzes, shoushoukos, and biscuits with epsima – a concentrated grape juice – as well as sweet preserves, pastries, and bread,” Psilos added.
Arsos’ location on the slopes of the Laona mountain in the Limassol district, with an open view of the Diarizos River and the coast of Paphos, provides a wonderful year-round climate that attracts hundreds of holidaymakers, particularly in the summer.
“Agrotourism works very well in the village, especially for people who prefer a traditional way of life,” Psilos told Living. “Old-style houses have been restored to provide a taste of tradition, as well as the opportunity to immerse oneself in nature and take long walks along the nature trails or in the vineyards.”
According to Psilos, the Colourful Villages of Cyprus label aims to develop a new culture in the village regarding the importance and value of preserving and enhancing its unique identity, natural wealth and cultural heritage, while also promoting a host of benefits for the local community. “We promote agrotourism activities and stays, as well as nature and culture tourism, by broadening the visitor’s range of activities through authentic and one-of-a-kind experiences and by revitalising the traditions that abound in the Cypriot countryside.”
The magnificent 12th century Byzantine church at the heart of Arsos illustrates the village’s religious heritage. The department of antiquities has designated the Church of the Apostle Philip as an ancient monument, and it is a true architectural marvel.
“The unique décor of the belfry, the doors, windows, stone-built domes, gothic arches, and the old iconostasis are particularly impressive elements, as well as the large icon of the Apostle Philip, a beautifully preserved piece of Byzantine art dating from the 13th century,” Psilos said.
The village of Arsos has many other chapels housing artefacts of historic religious significance, such as a 15th century crown believed to have been placed on the Apostle Philip’s head, an icon of Christ embroidered in gold, and a 19th century bell from Venice. There is also a small mediaeval church that once served as a Latin monastery. However, the community is hard at work building a new monastery dedicated to the Virgin Mary, which will be completed in 2023.
Arsos’ folk art museum provides an insight into traditional viticultural life and the past occupations of the village’s residents. “It is truly remarkable, and one of the best of its kind. The 19th century structure is an ancient monument itself, housing antique tools, furniture, and utensils.”
The Six Fountains nature trail along the river connects six mediaeval fountains in Arsos to highlight the village’s beautiful landscapes and strong open-air character. “You can see a treasure trove of varied fauna and flora while experiencing the sights, sounds, and smells of nature in all its vibrant glory by walking the cobbled pathways.”
If you enjoy nature, great food, mediaeval architecture, authentic experiences, and welcoming people, step away from the hotspots and enjoy the culture that Arsos village has to offer.