“ Address: Platres 4820, Cyprus „
As a frequent visitor to Cyprus during the summer - my father-in-law has a modest beachfront property near Larnaka - we often head up to the Troodos Mountains mid-holiday for a few days to escape the heat. In the height of summer, the temperature is invariably a good 5° to 10° C cooler than on the coast, the air quality is fantastic (scented delightfully by the indigenous evergreen pine trees) and a few days away makes a lovely "break within a break".
A BIT ABOUT PLATRES
Our destination of choice is the popular winter resort town of Pano (Upper) Plátres, which is about a forty minute (about 40km) leisurely drive north from the outskirts of Limassol, and about an hour and a half from our base in Larnaka. It is on the southern slopes of the Troodos mountain range, which gives the place a charm lacking in other tourist hot spots, but also makes for some challenging walking (both uphill and down).
The town is well served by the usual amenities - it's chock full of taverna's and eateries of varying distinction, as well as craft shops, tat shops, a couple of local banks, a pharmacy, a tourist information office based at the town hall (useful for local excursions) and a police station. There are also a couple of small arcades, which have rides for toddlers and young children, air hockey, table football video games and other amusements.
INITIAL IMPRESSIONS OF THE PROPERTY
The excellent, family-run, Forest Park Hotel, the only four star property in Plátres, is on the outskirts of the town, and, after passing through an archway with the hotel name tastefully emblazoned on it, you drive up a winding, pine tree lined drive, past the pool complex on the right, until you reach the hotel entrance, which sits in front of a small, planted roundabout.
Your first impression is of tidiness with an understated hint of sophistication. This is unsurprising given its pedigree. Plátres gained a reputation as chic resort in the 1930's through the 1950's, and was popular with the upper crust, including most notably, the Princess Royal, Archbishop Markarios and King Farouk of Egypt.
The Brandy Sour cocktail, usually associated with Cyprus, was developed for King Farouk by the hotel staff. Daphne du Maurier also composed most of her acclaimed novel "Rebecca" while staying at the hotel.
Check-in, as always, was professionally and efficiently handled by the multilingual reception staff who speak impeccable English. We have noted over the years that Greek staff seem to have been supplanted by Russians and Poles, but service has not suffered (if anything, it has appreciably improved).
My father-in-law had made the booking, and as a native Cypriot, he managed to get us an "unadvertised" discount bed and breakfast rate. You get the feeling (unsubstantiated of course) that as newcomers to the EU party, the Cypriots haven't quite grasped that different rates for Cypriots and "xeno" (foreigners) might contravene a few discrimination laws - not that I was complaining!
The hotel has 137 rooms. We have stayed a number of times now, and without exception, our rooms have been excellent. Each room has a balcony (some with better views than others) accessed through large sliding doors. The balcony has a table and two chairs, and I have spent a few early mornings taking the mountain air, supping a Cyprus coffee while reading my latest holiday novel, and enjoying the peace and tranquillity. It makes a pleasant change from the beach life.
From a family point of view, it was pleasing to see that the bars that make up the railing are too close together to present a hazard for toddlers and small children, but needless to say, they should never be left unattended anyway. The rooms are all air conditioned, and the system is fairly modern, which makes it pretty quiet and unobtrusive.
There is also an automatic cut-out mechanism which turns the AC off if the balcony door is open. The bathrooms are sizeable (enough for two people to use comfortably at the same time) and come with standard bath/shower and the usual hotel toiletries. Bathrobes, washcloths (it still surprises me how many hotels don't do these) and (orange) pool towels are provided.
The bed is a good sized double, and comfortable for two reasonably proportioned adults. We also had a very good cot supplied when my daughter was an infant, and a roll-out bed for when she was a little older.
Discrete reading lights and switches to turn the room lights on and off from the bedside are a convenient addition and a nice touch. A Gideon's Bible is provided in one of the small bedside units. You are also provided with satellite TV, hairdryer, radio, telephone and minibar.
There is a wealth of information in the room about the hotel facilities, local amenities, walking trails and attractions, and whatever you can't find can be sourced from the staff at the reception desk.
We go on a bed and breakfast rate, which entitles us to use all of the facilities and allows us some flexibility for dinner (we usually have at least one meal at the hotel, which does a splendid buffet night on Wednesday's - but check this when booking in case it has changed). The property boasts two pools, but they are not open at the same time.
The freshwater indoor pool opens from October to May, and the outdoor pool (the one you pass on the way up the drive) is open May to October. We've always stayed at the hotel during the summer, so have never used the indoor pool.
The outdoor pool is "solar" heated - a fancy, slightly estate-agency way of saying the sun heats it up - and because of the cooler prevailing temperatures at the start (May) and end (September onwards) of the season, the water can be quite chilly - especially early morning and late in the day.
It is reached by a set of steps from the side of the verandah, which can be a little tricky for younger residents, especially on the way back up (there's over 75 steps to negotiate). There is no lift, so we often drive down to the lower entrance (there is plenty of parking) to avoid the inevitable need to carry our toddler up the stairs on the way back.
The bonus of the outdoor pool, which is screened from the rest of the hotel by a stand of pine trees, is the poolside bar and drinks service. We've spent many an afternoon taking the sun, sipping fresh juice, enjoying iced coffee, and procuring copious amounts of ice cream for the little one.
A small gym, massage facilities, sauna and Jacuzzi are available for all residents, as well as a tennis court (racquets are available for hire) and a car and mountain bike rental facility.
FOOD & DRINK
Breakfast is buffet style and you can choose to eat inside, or as most people do, on the verandah. All of the usual breakfast stuff is present and correct, but the focus is more on Cypriot (halloumi, yoghurt and honey, local fresh fruit) and Continental (cereals, cold meats and cheeses). You can cobble together an English, but the sausages are more like hot dogs, the bacon tends to be underdone and fatty, and the scrambled eggs are definitely not a speciality of the chef.
That said, if you want a Full English, you are better served by the plethora of café's and bars catering solely to the English in Agia Napa and Limassol. Simply put, its not what you are here for, and minor quibbles about the vaguest of nods to the tastes of English tourists aside, breakfast is magnificent. Coffee and juice are freshly brewed and squeezed and table service is top notch.
The aforementioned buffet dinner is perfect for families. You are taken to your table, and once settled and your drinks ordered, you are given the freedom of the cold and hot food bars. There is a very eclectic and international range of food - everything from Cypriot favourites like moussaka, pagidakia (grilled lamb chops), afelia (pork in red wine) and pastitsio (pasta shapes with meat and cheese) to International dishes such as Chicken Kiev, Chicken Chasseur, veal escalopes and many many others.
The deserts are to die for, with the table creaking under the weight of mousses, flans, cheesecakes, gateau's of various description, and by far my favourite section of baklava, kadeyifi and semolina cakes swimming in rose-water flavoured syrup. There's also a large selection of fresh fruit (the figs are to die for) for the more waist-line or health conscious.
After dinner, there is often live entertainment (invariably light jazz interspersed with the usual bit of bouzouki) on the verandah where breakfast is served, and a full table service for drinks and coffees. Nibbles are also provided (pistachio nuts, dried and seasoned chick peas, and hand cooked potato crisps). I would recommend the fruit cocktails made with generous measures of ouzo - you will never be more grateful that your bed is a simple lift ride away!
The two friendly brothers who manage the property (Hercules and Anthony Skyrianides) are very much in evidence during meal times, and will often personally greet you and ask whether they can do anything to make you stay more comfortable. This added, genuine and un-forced touch of personal service is what makes the Forest Park so special.
Our room rate (you are charged per room, not per occupant) last time we went was 69 Euro per night, inclusive of breakfast. The buffet dinner was charged at 17 Euro per head, but my daughter, who was three at our last visit, ate for free. I think they pay half after they turn seven, but again, check on booking.
On top of that we enjoyed a bottle of my wife's favourite local wine (St Pantaleimon - a medium sweet white wine made by Keo - similar in sweetness to Liebfraumilch) for a very reasonable eight (8) Euro for the bottle. There were no other extras or charges, other than the English language Cyprus Mail newspaper I bought for 50 cents.
We paid for our drinks on the verandah at the time we ordered them (although there was the facility to charge it to the room) and it's a measure of the mellow, relaxing evening we had that I can't recall the cost - only that it wasn't memorably expensive.
The town of Troodos (not much of one really), near the top of Mt Olympus, is a short drive further up the mountain and is a jumping off point for some great nature walks. In winter, the ski runs on Olympus do brisk business and as such, Platres is an ideal base.
The Milomeri and Caledonian waterfalls are also a short drive (followed by long walk in the case of the latter) away. The famous Kykkos monastery is within easy reach, as are a number of picturesque mountain villages such as Omodos and Kakopetria, most of whom have festivals and markets during the summer months.
If you are looking for a great get away within a get away in the Cyprus mountains, and are looking for a brilliant, family friendly hotel experience at reasonable rates, you can do no better than the Forest Park Hotel.
As we are self-catering for the rest of our holiday, its nice to have a "hotel" experience for a couple of days when someone else is doing the cleaning, washing, cooking and tidying up. We have never had any issues on our many visits, which is why its such a no-brainer of a repeat destination for us. In a word? Exceptional.
© Hishyeness 2009 - Previously published on ciao.co.uk under the same user name.