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Mountain resorts drive rural tourism comeback

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Rural Cyprus is in for a serious upgrade as local communities seek to exploit growing investor interest in once-neglected mountain areas, especially post-pandemic.

From revamping abandoned hotels to investors looking for ‘glamourous camping sites’, the newest trend in rural tourism, Cyprus mountain resorts are attracting long overdue development.

“There is a serious increase in investor interest for our mountain areas, manifested with acquisitions of hotels, existing ones investing in refurbishing while some investors are looking for locations to set up glamping sites,” Commissioner for rural communities Costas Champiaouris told the Financial Mirror.

He argued that leading up to the coronavirus last year, a large amount of money was pumped into the local tourism infrastructure.

“This interest has not faded with the pandemic, on the contrary, it may have been given a boost from restrictive measures, as it seems to have pushed people to mountain areas for entertainment,” said Champiaouris.

He said with lockdown restricting people from heading to the shops or other weekend activities, more people turn to the mountains and nature paths, reviving a long-lost interest in Cyprus’ rural beauty.

The commissioner pointed to the recent sale of the nearly forgotten Berengaria hotel, abandoned for almost 4 decades, as a sign the tide was turning for rural tourism.

“The investor is looking to revive the hotel’s former glory, which will give back to the communities as it will attract more tourists to the mountains.”

The once-proud Berengaria Hotel, closed since 1984, was bought by Limassol-based Prime Property Group for a reported €2.2 mln in December with new owners confirming to the Financial Mirror plans to breathe new life into the property.

Talking to the Financial Mirror, general director of Prime Property Group Lefteris Constantinou confirmed it would revive the hotel’s former splendour. A project considered risky and challenging.

“When it comes to such properties, the investor has two options. One is to knock it down and build something new, and the other is to renovate it and reinstate it as a classic mountain-style resort. We have opted for the second,” Constantinou said.

The investors plan to make the most of the surrounding land with luxury villas and auxiliary buildings to facilitate the hotel’s operation.

The once-famous Berengaria covers an area of 26,520 sqm with the building itself covering 4,980 sq.m.

After a legacy of 85 years, the ‘jewel in the crown’ Forest Park, a famous Platres hotel, situated on the slopes of the Troodos Mountains, made a comeback in 2018 when it reopened after being closed for almost a year.

The owners of the hotel signed a five-year rental contract with NVG Smartways Management Ltd.

Varnavas Theodorou, Forest Park business and development manager, said the management company thinks big when it comes to the renovation project.

“Started in 2018, our renovations were recently completed to upgrade our services and attract as many tourists as we can to the rural areas,” said Theodorou.

Noting the Cyprus mountains have potential to boost tourism and broaden the seasonality of the island’s product, Theodorou said rural hotels have seen their customer base growing.

“We have seen our hotel fill up during the high season that follows the summer months while our occupancy was quite high over the weekends during the rest of the season.” 

Theodorou said mountain resorts attract mainly older people and those looking to enjoy good mountain cuisine or relax rather than engage in activities.

Spa’s the life

Casale Panayiotis, a hotel attracting agritourists to Kalopanayiotis, a village on the slopes of Troodos mountains, for over a decade now, is looking to upgrade its rating from three to four stars.

The hotel, part luxury spa, with its cleaned-up stone cottages blending within the old quarter, has a cluster of 50 or so buildings nestled below the more densely populated, newer settlement above.

“While trying to keep the village character of our resort, we are also upgrading services and feel of luxury for our guests,” said the hotel manager Patrick Dessy.

The hotel was fully renovated in 2017 but is working for an additional star.

“One of the projects involves our spa facilities with a new swimming pool, that will be partly outdoors, partly indoors, soon to be added to our hotel,” said Dessy.

He said mountain resorts attract mainly senior local tourists but in recent years the international market has picked up thanks to a good government marketing campaign.

“Cypriots love coming to the mountains…when people still had the opportunity to escape to the mountains, we saw an increase in visitors.” 

In 2019, Casale Panayiotis saw an increase of 14% in visitors.

“What needs to be done is for the Deputy Ministry of Tourism and other competent authorities to step up campaigns to promote Cyprus’ rural areas ahead of reopening.”

“We need more visibility,” Dessy argued, adding the ministry should organize familiarity trips for tour operators to get acquainted with the rural landscape.

The Commissioner for the rural communities said that authorities are working together to lay the groundwork for tourism in the rural areas to thrive.

“The national strategy has been designed to enhance the quality of life in rural areas. That includes setting up infrastructure for tourism and other enterprises to thrive.” 

He said the state would promote schemes to help local businesses while giving incentives to cottage industries.

“That is local farms, or producers of local products to open their gates and homes to tourists, offering them an authentic experience of life in Cyprus.

“They could rent out a room in their cottage, or even have tours exhibiting how local delicacies are made,” said Champiaouris.

Authorities are working to improving the road network leading to mountains resorts while drafting plans for local technical colleges.

“Our plans include a winery technical school and a school for biocultural farms which will go a long way to enhancing local tourism and the agriculture sector in the rural areas.”