In the eastern part of the Troodos, the Machairas forest seemed less visited and quiet when Nike Werstroh and Jacint Mig followed a section of the E4 near the Machairas Monastery while they were exploring the trails for their Walking in Cyprus guidebook. The trail took them to the tiny village of Lazania, where a friendly local greeted them.
The narrow street was deserted, the shutters on most of the old houses tightly shut. But there was one man who was shovelling in a yard. He was busy with building work but as we passed his house he stopped, mopped some drops of sweat from his brow and nodded hello.
We reached the tiny, sleepy Lazania about an hour after leaving the grand Machairas Monastery.
People who want to visit the monastery, which is tucked away on the eastern side of the Troodos mountains, drive there on narrow, winding roads. However, the forested slopes have some great walking trails, some of them starting near the monastery, but we hardly met any walkers while exploring them. It might be something to do with the fact that the temperatures rose into the thirties on most of those late September days we spent on Cyprus.
The name ‘Machairas’ comes from the Greek word makhaira, which means knife. Legend has it that an icon of the Virgin Mary – believed to be painted by the Apostle Luke – was found in a cave in 1145 by two hermits. A knife was used to cut through thick bushes to reach it. A church was founded on the site in 1172 and was later expanded into a monastery.
During EOKA’s fights in the 1950s, Grigoris Afxentiou, their second in command, went into hiding in the monastery. He was later trapped and killed by the British in a hideout nearby in March 1957.
Afxentiou is regarded by the Cypriots as a national hero and a statue of him stands on the mountain close to the monastery.
The trail to Lazania
After wandering among the monastery’s buildings, we went to find the beginning of the trail, or more like the spot where we would join the E4 waymarked path. (The European long-distance path, the E4, runs through several European countries. The section in Cyprus was added in 2005. Some of the trails that we explored followed sections of the E4 trail).
The warm morning sun promised another hot day as we started a steep descent on a narrow path about 200m from the monastery. The vegetation was never too thick on the hillside, allowing us to enjoy some views of the surrounding slopes. As we made our way downhill on the other side of the valley, clinging to the mountainside, a small group of houses was almost always visible. The trail followed the hill-hugged dry streambed for a while, then it started to climb towards Lazania. The long, hot summer months left the landscape thirsty but nature presented its incredible palette; we trod on golden-brown, dry earth as the trail snaked between yellowish shrubs. Dusty green leaves rustled in the breeze but the distant pine-covered mountains seemed dark green under the deep blue sky.
The horizon was filled with mountains and for a while only the radar dome on the peak of Machairas in the distance and Lazania’s houses on the slope suggested human activity in the area.
Lazania’s handful of streets were very quiet, and apart from the man in his early forties working on a house, we didn't see a soul. It took only a few minutes to walk through the tiny settlement. Just before we left the last house behind, we passed a small tavern; a sign stated that it was open but the vacant chairs around the small square tables were patiently waiting as it was not yet lunchtime.
Leaving Lazania, we continued uphill for a while and enjoyed the views towards the Machairas peak, which was easy to recognise with its radar dome, and a bird’s eye view of the roofs of the houses we had just left accompanied us as we zigzagged uphill. A few years previously, the hillside above Lazania had suffered from a fire; new shrubs had already started to reconquer the hillside but small blackened trees dotted the perched slope. We then reached a small gap between two peaks from where we descended the gentle slope with views towards Morphou Bay.
Fikardou was described in the guidebooks as one of the most picturesque villages in Cyprus, therefore many people stroll through the old streets, and a small restaurant offers meals and refreshments. It was about lunchtime when we reached Fikardou and just to prove that it was livelier than the neighbouring, almost deserted, Lazania, a group of tourists chatted happily on the small restaurant’s terrace. We wandered among the 18th century, tightly built two-storey houses. Both storeys had an important role: the ground floor was used to make and store farm products such as wine, and the first floor was the living area for the family. In some yards there were outside ovens and in others huge clay ‘bowls’ stood to store wine. Some of the houses had been restored, and two of them turned into a small museum to present the 18th century way of village life in Cyprus.
The village received the Europa Nostra Award in 1987 for its efforts in heritage conservation.
After a pleasant stroll in the maze of narrow streets, we planned to return to the monastery on the same path.
The stranger’s house
The man was still working in his yard in the early afternoon when we arrived back in Lazania. And he was still the only person who we saw in the tiny village. As we approached his house he said hello again and stopped loading his wheelbarrow to have a chat with us. He asked friendly questions about our trip and when we told him that we were following different trails every day, shaking his head he told us that it was too hot for walking. We jokingly pointed out that it was probably too hot for building work as well.
The old house was inherited by his wife from her grandparents and he wanted to restore it and use it as a weekend house to escape from Nicosia city life. As we talked he offered to show us the inside of the house if we wanted to see it. So, we found ourselves in a friendly Cypriot’s house. The walls smelled of paint; there was a neat bed and an old table with some everyday items from the past, along with a brand-new TV opposite an armchair in the small, cool room. He proudly showed us the kitchen, and a balcony where he was planning to enjoy many sunsets with a cold beer. From his house, there were great views to the hills and we couldn’t help but feel a bit jealous.
As we learnt, very few people live in Lazania permanently and many of the houses are used only as weekend houses.
We didn’t want to hold him up in his work for too long so reluctantly we said our goodbyes.
Leaving the houses of Lazania behind, we descended to the streambed and then climbed back to the monastery. Looking across the valley there was a group of miniature houses on the mountainside. Somewhere among them there was a man working on his house, mopping sweat from his brow and thinking about the two crazy people who were climbing towards Machairas monastery instead of lying on the beach.
44 walks in the South and the North
Guidebook detailing 44 walks in Cyprus, covering both the south and north of the island. Taking in pine-clad slopes, olive groves, rugged coastline and dramatic gorges, the graded routes of 3 to 20km (2 to 12 miles) make use of waymarked nature trails and visit historical sites of interest, including ancient castles and Byzantine monasteries.