Back in 1988, Marisa Zürcher, from Männedorf in the canton of Zurich, had planned to spend her Christmas holidays in Tunisia. She ended up in Cyprus instead. Marisa, whose surname is now Potamitis, has lived on the island for several decades.

When, in 1988, Marisa and her sister decided to book their Christmas holidays, Cyprus was no more than a backup plan. "Actually, we wanted to go to Tunisia. We wanted to ride camels. But then everything was booked up," Marisa explains with a laugh. Their backup plan? A charming little holiday village on the southeast coast of Cyprus, not far from Larnaca.

Marisa was immediately drawn to the island of Cyprus, and to the village of Tochni in particular. The same can also be said of the owner of the holiday village: Sofronis Potamitis is from a family of hoteliers. After studying economics at the University of California in Berkley/USA, he returned to Cyprus in 1987 and began to rent traditional Cypriot stone-built houses in the village of Tochni to tourists. Sofronis was happy to show the island to the two young ladies from Switzerland. And then the inevitable happened: dental assistant Marisa returned to Switzerland very much in love!

Photos: Sandra Casalini

A slice of paradise for individual travellers

After a year of long-distance relationship, the young couple decided to put all their eggs in one basket. Since Sofronis had already set up his own business, and Marisa was not all that keen on her job anyway, there was little to debate: Marisa would emigrate to Cyprus. As much as Marisa liked Cyprus, the decision to leave Switzerland was not easy: "It was hard to leave my family and friends, and to start a new life in an unfamiliar place and culture." But, as Marisa says, she was welcomed with open arms, in the village as well as by the Potamitis family. "I still love that about the Cypriots. They are so relaxed and hospitable."

Marisa was eager to learn Greek —or rather Cypriot Greek which is a dialect in its own right— as quickly as possible. Together, Marisa and Sofronis expanded the "Cyprus Villages" in Tochni, and added a second holiday village in the adjacent area. Today, they rent out more than sixty holiday flats. Their guests are primarily individual tourists who are not looking for club or all-inclusive holidays, and for whom Tochni is an ideal location. Embedded in the hills, the village is just thirty minutes by car from the centre of Larnaca and ten minutes from the beach. Cyclists and hikers can enjoy riding and walking year round. Marisa und Sofronis also offer yoga packages, as well as individual excursions and other activities, including lemon-, orange-, tangerine- and olive-harvesting on the Potamitis’ own plantations. Or a trip to the hinterland to visit halloumi maker Lulla, whose cheese is so tasty people from all over the country go there. The Cyprus Villages are particularly well suited for families who like to be active: generously-sized, two-bedroom flats offer plenty of space. For those who don’t feel like going to the beach, there’s a swimming pool to splash and relax in.

Halloumi rather than raclette

Apropos family: Marisa and Sofronis Potamitis have three children. Two have left home and are currently studying in Scotland and England respectively. Their youngest son, now a teenager, is the only one still living at home. Up until a few years ago, the Potamitises actually lived in their holiday village. "But at some point we felt we needed a bit more privacy," Marisa explains. That is when they moved out to the country.

As Marisa admits, she is more Cypriot than Swiss now. "Of course I miss my family, the high mountains, the rivers and the waterfalls. But, for me, almost nothing compares with the beauty of Cyprus." And Cyprus has snow to offer in winter, too. Even skiing is possible on the famous Mount Olympus. "But, honestly, I can easily forgo snow. And so can my children." Apparently, her son tried snowboarding in Switzerland once, "and ended up hitting the only visible rock far and wide. He was injured. Ever since then, he has no ambitions in the snow and prefers to focus on waterborne activities." The Potamitises are not keen on Swiss culinary specialities either. "At most a potato gratin. Or a recipe from Tiptopf." Tiptopf is the classic Swiss cookbook used in schools which Marisa has not yet managed to part with. Apart from that, grilled halloumi is preferred to raclette or fondue in the Potamitis household.

"The only punctual Cypriot I know"

Initially, Marisa Potamitis would return to her hometown on Lake Zurich twice a year. But nowadays she only visits Switzerland every two years or so. "But my family come often and enjoy it here, especially my sister." Marisa finds it hard to imagine living in Switzerland again. "We Swiss are so organised and such perfectionists; everything is planned. Here, by contrast, we let things be and are generally more relaxed." But, she adds, when it comes to reliability and punctuality, she is still very Swiss: "If you work in the tourist industry, you cannot afford to be otherwise.” And, as Marisa points out, her husband and children "are the only punctual Cypriots I know." This is probably because Sofronis grew up in the hotel industry. His family owns a hotel on the seafront, now managed by his brother.

The Cyprus Villages are open all year round. Be it spring, summer, autumn or winter, the guests are primarily from The Netherlands, Germany and Italy. "We do not have many Swiss people staying here," Marisa laments. Their guests inquire about the best hiking routes, plan outings to the beaches of Larnaca, occasionally also to the tourist hotspot Ayia Napa which is only about an hour’s drive from Tochni. The evenings are enjoyed in the Cyprus Villages’ own taverna, savouring Souvlaki (meat skewers), Keftedes (meatballs) or Moussaka (gratin of minced meat, potatoes and eggplants) and sipping a glass of local wine.

The future of the family business is still uncertain

Whether Marisa and Sofronis‘ children —who speak fluent Swiss-German— will take over the family business one day, is still an open question. "Of course all three of them could work here if they want to. But at the moment, the only one showing any interest is our youngest son," Marisa explains with an air of regret. Since the two older children are studying abroad, the fear that they may end up working there too is not entirely unfounded. "Clearly, I cannot reproach them for something I did myself once." And, as is evident today, that "something" worked out extremely well for all concerned. Indeed, it is hard to imagine the outcome if Marisa’s original plan of a holiday in Tunisia had come to fruition. Back then, Cyprus was nothing more than a backup plan.

Cyprus Villages, Tochni Village, Tochni 7740, Cyprus


(Text: Sandra Casalini)