Here in Cyprus, there are churches just about everywhere: tucked away in quiet village streets, standing proud in central squares, luring in the crowds on busy avenues…and the list goes on. But there are certain churches that are hidden away so very well, that even locals have little idea of their existence.
And the tiny Ayioi Saranta Cave Church stands as a prime example of this, undoubtedly one of the most magnificent on the island; shrouded in mystery and set away in a location so wild and rugged (yet also so very idyllic) that anyone who visits the area is quite simply lost for words.
It may be located in one of the most popular tourist areas of the island – Protaras – but it feels like a world away from it all, totally off the beaten track, with a raw appeal so very magnificent that it has been located by a number of curious intrepid travellers and recently featured in the ‘Travel News’ section of the UK’s MailOnline as one of the quirkiest churches to visit in the world.
Walk up the stairs which lead you to the brilliant blue door set against dazzling whitewashed stone, push it open, and you’ll be overwhelmed by a feeling of peace once you step inside (whether you are religious or not, there is a very special feel to the place).
Icons have been placed in whitewashed crevices of the stone and there are no glass windows; light simply shines through the opening above the door, and you’ll immediately look up at the natural skylight, with the bright sun’s rays beaming through a drum dome.
There is no official reference of when this church was first built, and as for the name of the church, it is believed that the word ‘Saranta’ which means ‘40’ in Greek is derived from forty stalagmites on the ceiling of the cave, linked to the 40 Martyrs of Sebaste.
How to get to this remote spot? As you’re travelling from Ayia Napa to Protaras, just after the turning for the Grecian Park Hotel (which is to your right), there is a sign to your left for the ‘Moonshine Ranch’. Turn left, pass the ranch, and continue on. After about 500 metres, you’ll soon be on a dirt road – this, however, is where it gets a little tricky as the church is not signposted. Keep on the left at most forks in the road and head towards the hills rather than the sea and the church will appear before you…and remember, getting a little lost before you get to the spot is half the fun! The total distance off the main road is approximately 3.6 kilometers.