My recent trip to Cyprus was booked on a whim, without any planning or proper research. I just booked the first online deal I found to a country that a) I hadn’t been to before (so I could count it towards my 30 before 30 challenge) and b) promised to be warmer than the UK.
I didn’t pre-plan any excursions or things I wanted to see or do while I was there, and I bought a little guide book of the island just the day before I flew out. Usually I would do a lot of research beforehand, make a list of “must-dos” and “must-sees” while I’m there, but in all honesty, given everything that’s happened recently and my move back down south, I didn’t have the mental strength to spend hours planning the trip, I just needed to escape reality. I needed to fly away…
Once I’d arrived and checked in to my hotel (the Kissos Hotel in Paphos), I began to relax and unwind. And then, continuing with the unplanned theme, my friend Emma messaged and asked if I’d like some company in Cyprus. “Of course,” I said. So she flew out and joined me for a few days – which was really good for me, both mentally and physically. I had someone to talk to about everything that had been happening with my ex-boyfriend, and I also had someone to share the massive meze platters with.
Staying in Paphos on the west coast, the beaches aren’t as sandy and the waters not as turquoise as those on the east coast (according to my trusty little guide book). So on Emma’s first day we hired a car and took a little road trip to Protaras, where we visited Fig Tree Bay.
After a few hours of lounging around on the shore, we thought we’d explore the area a bit more. Inspired by some gorgeous pics on Instagram, we decided to head to Profitis Ilias, a tiny church on the top of a steep cliff, which was a 10-minute walk from where we were.
Profitis Ilias, Protaras.
Just on the outskirts of the west of Protaras, set atop a rocky crag 115m above the rest of the town, is a tiny stone church – the Profitis Ilias.
Just how many steps there is up to the church is debated all over the internet, with some sources saying the ascend is 153 steps, with others say 158 and some report as few as 142. How many did we count? Emma got 138, while I was on about 162 by the time I lost count (and that was still a few feet from the top), so something wasn’t quite right here.
Anyway, folklore has it that if you count the same number of steps when you come down, then you’ll be lucky…
The steps up are steep, and at times very uneven, and there was no ramp for wheelchairs or buggies as far as we could see. So consider this before attempting the climb.
On the journey up, you’ll find some “wishing trees”. In the past, faithful church-goers would knot ribbons and handkerchiefs into the branches of the trees outside the chapel to strengthen their prayers. Nowadays tourists join in, leaving mementos of their visit. Some leave flowers, while others offer up trainers and bras. We left a couple of hair bobbles knotted together (so if you visit the church, be sure to look for them).
After we’d noticed the adorned trees at Profitis Ilias, we began to see trees with bits of ribbon tied in them everywhere we went on the island. It must be a Cypriot thing.
Once at the top, provided that you survive the climb, the views are simply magnificent. On a clear day you’ll be able to see right across to neighbouring town Famagusta – apparently you can see almost the entire south-eastern part of Cyprus in fact, including Varosha, a quarter in the city of Famagusta abandoned after the Turkish invasion.
But even on a cloudy day like we had, it was well worth the hike to the top. There are some amazing panoramic views of Protaras and the surrounding countryside.
And then on up to the church… The Profitis Ilias church that stands on the site today was rebuilt in the 1980s, but is a replica of the ancient Orthodox temple that stood here from the 14th Century.
The church is named after the prophet Elijah, who is mentioned in the Old Testament, as the prophet who is able to convince the Israelites to stop worshiping a false God called Baal. The church was built as a tribute to Elijah.
A lot of Cypriots are named after a saint like Michael, Peter, and some even Elias, after prophet Elijah (with derivatives like Elianna for girls). Every year there is a “naming day” when the church icon is carried outside so that people may pass under it to receive a blessing from the saint. It’s a time of celebration, and usually there is a traditional market in the streets below. The feast day of saint Elias falls on 20 July, so if you want to visit the Profitis Ilias church, this would be a great day to go.
You could even leave a little gift to the saint, on another “wishing tree” outside the chapel. This metal structure was covered with ribbons, bracelets, handkerchiefs and even some cards written to loved ones.
When we visited, at about 4.30pm, there was hardly anyone at the church, and the sun was beginning to set, which made the views spectacular. However, as there are not many attractions in Protaras, since it is just a small area in the Paralimni municipality, I can’t imagine a time when the church is ever really that busy.
The interior of the church is quite unique, with all the walls and ceiling decorated with vivid biblical images in a classic Orthodox-iconic style. The colours were rich and deep, and the wood dark and very shiny.
We didn’t spend too long at the church, it is only small and won’t take longer than 10 minutes to look around. Though with all the photos being snapped (and the rest we needed after climbing the steps), we were there for about 30 minutes in total.
I’d read online that at night the church is lit up – I bet that it looks really beautiful, but as darkness fell, and with a two-hour drive back to Paphos, we couldn’t hang around to see unfortunately.
It was well worth visiting Profitis Elias church for a chance to experience the spiritual, as well as historical, side of Protaras though. Even with all those steps up… Of which we both counted a different number coming down.