"From a Village in the Foothills"


VOUNI is situated in the foothills of the Troodos mountains, 35 kms north-west of Limassol. It has seen its population dwindle from 2,500 in 1969 to less than 100 in 2009. Only slowly has restoration taken place. Twelve new or converted houses have been sold or rented to foreigners, from Britain and the Nordic countries, five of whom live here full-time. Other properties have been restored by village families now living and working in Limassol or other towns, for weekends or holidays.

It is interesting to try and picture what it must have been like, a generation ago. We walk through the very quiet streets and look at decaying and derelict houses, some hardly recognisable as homes which echoed to babies’ cries, laughter and the sounds of sorrow. It is not easy to picture a small town bustling with life. There were eight coffee shops, several bakeries, four or more tavernas, grocery shops, a general store.   The school building which dominates the village, now  partially restored as a community centre but sadly little used, housed ten teachers and more than a hundred schoolchildren.

These days, only now and again, at Easter or Christmas, and during the summer holidays does it take on a semblance of the life it had, when children and grandchildren visit those elderly relatives who survive, or stay in the family home.. Encouragingly, here and there, someone has renewed doors and windows, given woodwork a coat of paint, pruned the vines overhanging the courtyard frame and tended flowers. And perhaps twenty-five houses are being well restored.   All is not lost.

From outside the village, a few landowners who have left the village, but still live in Cyprus come and tend their vines, even though they bring in but little income. Planted fair and square with each other, in spring they are pruned and the ground around them ploughed. Where a few neighbouring vineyards are similarly looked after it is easy to see how the landscape used to be. Across the undulating hills, down in steps into steep valley, ravines almost, there were hectare after hectare of patches small and large, separated by dry stone walls, all lovingly tended. Here there are enough remnants to see what life was – very hard indeed, where men and women laboured through the seasons to tend the vines and the grapes, always with patient, over-loaded, uncomplaining donkeys; hundreds and hundreds of them, doing every kind of fetching and carrying.

Vouni snuggles into a saucer in the side of the hill, the stone?built, tiled?roofed houses packed densely together, begging the question: why, when Vouniotis were reckoned to be among the more prosperous villagers? It is true that it is a less open village than most in Cyprus and the houses more sturdily built and interlocking, for reasons of security they say. Prosperous, maybe; independent, certainly; self?assertive and aggressive, very possibly: there were always people turning up to look for Vouniotis.

From the days of the Lusignans, through Venetians, Turks and British, came Tax collectors, the various arms of the law, as well as some private individuals bent on vengeance. To find anybody hiding in Vouni, where, from the back door of one house it was a hop, skip or a jump into the next?door yard, and pursuit was through narrow, winding streets, needed a strong nerve and a measure of luck.

When I am a tourist, I like to know a little bit about the history of the places I am visiting, especially in rural areas. The recent history of the village in which I live is fascinating. Vouni was prominent during the times when Cyprus was seeking its independence from Britain.

Like most of the villages in the hills, Vouni was an EOKA village in the 1950’s fight for independence from British rule. “It wasn’t that we disliked the British”, an old Vounioti will say, “We just wanted to be free”. The spirit runs deep in all of us, and today, 30 or more years on, the struggle is recalled in fact and remembered in the heart.  In the square outside the village school stand the busts of two 17-year old Vouni boys executed by the British as ‘terrorists’. Two villages away on the Limassol road is a garage with a taverna, where we buy our diesel and petrol and sometimes have a meal. It is called Angeliki’s.

Angeliki was the lady who ran the garage and taverna in the 1950’s and fearlessly sheltered and hid young men from the hill villages for whom the British were searching. Time and again her buildings were searched, but not once did the searches reveal the slightest incrimination; and in times when loyalties were too often stretched and there were networks of informers Angeliki was never betrayed. She lived until 1988. At a memorial site just off the road a few hundred metres from her taverna there is a single grave, in which she was buried. A few feet away is a bronze head of the lady on a stone obelisk. The face is turned to the hill villages where there are men in their fifties and sixties whose lives she helped to save. Her daughter and son?in?law run the garage and taverna today, serving the needs of countless tourists, the vast majority of them British. The taverna is lined with faded newspaper reports of EOKA fighters and of the young men who were captured or shot, often by young men of the same age, conscripts who had no idea why they were there. A grim reminder of man’s inhumanity to man.

With just one road coming through Vouni it would not be easy to approach without being seen, but equally it would be very difficult to defend against a well-armed force. It was not British policy to attack villages, but to try and winkle out those they regarded as terrorists. They had some pretty silly rules, as well. The painting of houses or other buildings in “Greek Blue” and more understandably the flying of the Greek flag were forbidden. This may well account for the great use of blue paint on new and restored properties.

One day a British patrol arrived in Vouni and saw the Greek flag flying over the school. Instructions were given for it to be removed. No notice was taken, so the British mounted the outside steps of the Church with a machine gun, which they set up on the roof, pointing it at the school. The instruction for the flag to be struck was repeated and accepted reluctantly. The patrol came down from the roof and left the village. The flag was put up once more.

The after effect of the visit was not noticed until some years later. In moving themselves and their machine gun across the Church roof the soldiers had disturbed some tiles, causing a small leak. Water slowly permeated the walls and eventually caused severe damage to a number of old icons hanging on the church’s interior walls.

When, in the 1990s this was noticed, a furious debate ensued as to whether the damaged Icons should be restored or replaced by new ones. The replacement faction won the day to the intense chagrin of the restoration group who regard them as garish.

Today good-will prevails. There are five British families living in the village permanently, five others have holiday homes, and thousands of British visitors come every year to our donkey sanctuary and to enjoy the picturesque old streets, the buildings and the coffee shop and tavernas.

A Nicosia business executive, born in the village and with a house here, Yiannis, recalls house?to?house searches in Vouni during “the troubles”, when he was twelve. British soldiers, accompanied by a Greek?speaking Turkish Cypriot policeman came looking for hidden arms and ammunition and he was petrified because in his room he had a plastic model tommy?gun. Very soon he was mollified by the amusement of the searchers when his toy was revealed and as the soldiers left they gave him some sweets.

The probable base of the Turkish policeman would have been Koilani, our next village to the north, pronounced as in Irish but without rolling the “r”. It is less run-down than Vouni, fewer people having gone to seek work elsewhere. This is probably because it was a regional administrative centre in Ottoman times, with Police station and a Court. These features were retained during the period of British rule and even though independence saw their abandonment Kilani remains a lively little place, with an interesting Church museum.

It is ironic that, unwittingly, the British were partly the cause of the transformation of Vouni from a prosperous, lively place to a semi?deserted one, but in times of peace, not war. After independence, the British forces were confined within their three main Sovereign Base territories. Suez, of course, had gone as a base, Aden and the Gulf Emirates would do so, too. Cyprus became a vital staging post and strategic base for Britain, for NATO, with related importance to other Western, notably American interests. The bases were built up. Several thousand jobs were created for local people. The people who had been bearing arms against the British in the 1950’s were on their payroll from the 1960’s onwards. Vouni being half an hour due north of the Base at Episkopi, many hundreds bussed down every day and, eventually, moved nearer, building houses on family owned land at Souni and other villages.

It had been a difficult time for all sides. Even in the EOKA villages thousands of people had been working on the bases for the British and many went on doing so throughout the troubles. Independence brought rapprochement and it brought more changes, as the emerging tourism industry created thousands of jobs and villages like mine were denuded of young people. Ironically, the British “invader” returned, by the million, as the tourist bringing the revenue that had made Cyprus so prosperous.

Today this prosperity is reflected in the number of young people, whose families moved to the coast, now returning to renovate the family homes for weekend and holiday residence. There are two tavernas.   A few British and Scandinavians have come to live permanently, or have extended holidays.

Today there are regular visitors, not just to the Cyprus Donkey Sanctuary just outside the village, but to enjoy the quiet, pretty village streets, the old buildings, the coffee shops and eating places.

Vouni Village - general view    Vouni Village - general view in winter

A lovely village set into the foothills of the Troodos, Vouni dramatically changes with the seasons. Just a few weeks after deep mid-winter frosts and occasionally snow the almond trees are in glorious pink blossom.

Vouni - village view with church

In most villages the Church is prominent, geographically and in the cycle of rural life.

Vouni - Donkey Sanctuary   WELCOME!

Until very recently you could see the old ways, such as ploughing the vineyards with donkeys or oxen – the furrows, they say, are deeper than those of the small mechanical tractors which are now commonplace.

A Planting Has Been Arranged


This article was published in 1993, since when the number of vineyards in Cyprus has declined greatly. This is due to three main reasons: firstly, the unsuitability of the predominant native Cypriot grape, the Mavro, for the making of good quality red wine. Secondly, the move to the towns of many vineyard owner;, and, thirdly the poor financial return for grapes sold as a cash crop.


However, the move towards making good quality bottled wine in the hill wineries has meant planting new vineyards, or re-planting of old ones with either re-discovered Cypriot grape varieties of style and substance or international varieties like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon (white), and Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Mataro and Grenache (red). So, you can still see new plantings – some of these are made without ceremony by the new young winery owners, but others are privately owned and you might well come across an occasion like this…


If you are driving about in the hills at this time of year you may be lucky enough to see a group of villagers planting a new vineyard. You should stop and watch and the chances are you will be invited to join in.

The vineyard most probably will not be a new one. It is likely that the old vines were grubbed out two or three years ago, and by law, the plot has been lying fallow. Now it has been ploughed and weeded and rows have been marked out for new vines. It is quite a ritual. It involves teams of four people.

Vine Planting - 1- preparing the hole

Preparing the hole.


First of all a hole about 30 cms (12 inches) deep has to be made for the vine cutting. This is done by a home-made “Y”-shaped wooden implement, the bottom is capped with a pointed metal piece, and the two arms are held by the hole digger. He or she puts a foot in the centre and drives down the point. As he makes the hole he shouts “NERO” (“Water”). (Picture 2) A lady or gent then comes with a bucket and pours water into the hole. In turn, she or he, shouts “AMBELHI” (“Vine”). A third person then brings a vine cutting and puts into the watered hole.  A fourth comes along with a spade, fills in the hole and pats the soil down firmly.

Vine Planting - 3 - the vine cuttings are ready to plant

The vine cuttings are ready to plant.


The start will have been an early one, probably between 7.00 and 7.30 a.m., because there may have been six hundred or more vines to plant. They will almost certainly be what the Cypriots call “foreign varieties”. That is to say they will not be the indigenous grapes like Mavro (for red wine) or Xynisteri (white), but Cabernet Sauvignon, Mataro, Grenache or another red grape, or Chardonnay or Riesling (white). These varieties will have been approved by the Vine Products Commission, the government’s regulatory body, and provided by another government agency, the Viticultural and Vinicultural department in Limassol.

Vine Planting - 5 - refreshment break 1

Refreshment break.


By 9.00 a.m. probably half the work will have been done by the 16 – 20 people present, who will be family and friends. Time for a snack of fresh bread, halloumi cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers and olives. The men will have a draft of the local eau-de-vie, “Zivania”, which is distilled by many families in the villages. Of a cold morning, it is extremely warming.

The two cries: “NERO” and “AMBELHI” are far more than a request for water and a vine to put in the freshly-made hole. They have powerful religious overtones. “Nero” is an exhortation to God to provide the water, in the form of rain, to nourish the vine throughout its life. “Ambelhi” is a plea to make the vine strong and fruitful, bringing income and prosperity to its owner.

As the cries rend the air, there is cheerful banter, and the sound of happy children running about, but after some hundreds of vines have been planted, the women will return to the house of the vineyard owner to prepare lunch. At around mid-day, the menfolk, tired, but pleased with their work, will go home to wash and change. At around 1.00 everyone assembles for the meal, and it will be a magnificent spread, with many of the dishes that comprise the famous Cyprus “Mezze”.

Vine Planting - 7 -  celebratory lunch

Curiously, not many of the villagers will drink wine, often preferring beer and Cyprus brandy (“Koniaki”), of which every one will have his favourite brand. Wine is made in the villages, but much of it is distilled into Zivania, or used for marinating spicy sausages. For many decades the villages’ grapes have been sold as a cash crop to the big wineries in Limassol and Paphos. Only now, when more villages have modern commercial wine-making plants are the local tavernas serving, and selling bottled wine.

The vineyard owner has already had no income from his field for at least two years, and now he has it newly planted, he will have to work three more before he gets any grapes at all, and five before the vineyard is cropping well. In those years he has cause to pray for water, and for the health of his vines.

Vine Planting - 6 - Maria with vine cuttings

At the lunch a noted resident, Maria, and woman-beyond-reproach of the village church, sang and recited traditional poetry – throughout the planting she had been one of the women distributing the vine cuttings. Maria died in 2004 after an amazing life of work in and around the village. In the 12 years we knew her many was the time she brought the “Holy Bread” for the Church to bake in our oven. We helped her make her “Zivania” in an illicit still behind our house and bring in her grapes at harvest time. A lovely lady.

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