Although brisk and modern, Kouklia was on the map in ancient times too discovers PAUL LAMBIS as he heads to the popular Paphos village
When it comes to diversity, the village of Kouklia in the Paphos district is at the top of the list. From ancient historical sites and religious monuments to traditional taverns, arts and crafts, a reptile park, and golf resorts, this little corner of the Mediterranean offers a plethora of activities for all ages, as well as an insight into the island’s most important ancient kingdoms and the most celebrated pilgrimage centres of the ancient Greek world.
The village of Kouklia is a fusion of old and new, and it served as a sanctuary for the island’s most famous resident, the ancient goddess of love and beauty Aphrodite. The remains of the goddess’ vast sanctuary are now housed in a Lusignan Manor, which sits impressively on a hill at the village’s entrance, overlooking the Mediterranean and the famous spot where Aphrodite herself rose from the sea.
Beyond the ancient ruins dating back to the 12th century BC, the winding streets lead visitors to a colourful village square surrounded by an arts and crafts centre featuring handmade creations, a traditional coffee shop, and taverns and traditional pubs serving a variety of local cuisines, some with a modern take on Cypriot cooking, but all with the same amount of love that goes into preparing the island’s culinary delights.
It is impossible not to fall in love with Kouklia. “The entire area of the community is an important archaeological region,” president of Kouklia community council Michalis Nicolaou said. “The modern houses are actually neighbouring with temples and places of worship that date back thousands of years.
“Because of its ancient religious significance and architecture, Kouklia was included in the Unesco World Heritage List along with Kato Paphos in 1980. Recent archaeology on the site has been ongoing since 2006, and remains of the ancient city and sanctuary can still be seen today.”
Although the original temple of Aphrodite, which dates to the Bronze Age, including the sarcophagus and the renowned mosaic depicting Leda and the swan are a few of the many attractions on display at Kouklia’s archaeological museum, the village of Kouklia itself also tells the story of the island’s path to Christianity and its deep faith, from its inception to the present day.
“The impressive monuments and ruins of religious devotion in the region attest to Cyprus’ sacred and humbling religious roots,” Nicolaou said.
Prior to its collapse due to an earthquake, the remarkable stone-built church of Panayia Odigitria was thought to have served as a pagan temple. According to Nicolaou, the church was built on the ruins of the temple in 1260 by locals using stone from Aphrodite’s temple. “The church’s interior is adorned with beautifully preserved Byzantine frescoes, a testament to Cyprus’ Christian heritage.”
Although the village square is dotted with taverns, the colourfully decorated restaurant opposite the Church of the Apostle Luke caught my eye. There are a few key factors that highlight Cyprus’ food culture, from the sheer variety of culinary influences to the social aspect that comes from sharing and being together. More importantly, visiting Taverna Ouzeri Efraim, where the multitasking owner-manager-cook-server Maria showcases the best of Cypriot cooking with a modern twist, is the best way to savour the region’s food made from locally sourced ingredients.
As the plentiful plates seemed to arrive faster than one can eat them, Maria added a twist to her halloumi dish, which is coated in a light batter, fried, and served with honey and cinnamon. Her homemade village bread is served with a large salad tucked inside a hollowed-out loaf and drizzled with olive oil and just enough vinegar.
A miniature reptile park housed in a private back garden can also be found in the village of Kouklia. Visitors should not expect a major attraction; however, the owner is enthusiastic about his collection and provides a detailed overview of Cyprus’ reptiles as well as advice on how to interact with them in the wild.
“Over the last two decades, Kouklia has become popular among golf enthusiasts, owing largely to the proximity of two of the island’s premier golf resorts,” Nicolaou told Living. “Both Aphrodite Hills and Secret Valley golf resorts are year-round vacation destinations capable of hosting international golf tournaments.” Although both resorts have affluent residential developments, Aphrodite Hills also has tennis courts, a retreat spa, horse riding club, five-star hotel, and a wide variety of restaurants and shops.
“Whichever way you look at it, Kouklia is the ideal village for both young and old to experience Cyprus’ history, religion, culture and sport,” Nicolaou said. “It is no surprise that this region of Paphos was a major historical and religious centre, once famous not only in Cyprus, but also throughout the Mediterranean.”