Author TERRY WALKER | Read time 5 MINS | Ref AS2102051015
After the successful opening of the Paphos Beach Hotel in Cyprus, Grafton partner Geoff Walkden and I were contacted by Colonel Richard (Dick) Richards, at one time the youngest colonel in the British Army. He had put his savings and pension into a hotel, in the Troodos Mountains. Just below the peak of Mount Olympus and well into the snow line, it was ideally located for winter ski holidays and summer spa breaks.
Geoff and I flew out from London on a late-running afternoon flight to meet the colonel and inspect his hotel. Previously, when working on the Paphos Beach Hotel marketing, the client had insisted we stayed overnight at the fabulous Ledra Palace Hotel in Nicosia. Then we would be taken to Pathos the next morning in a shiny Mercedes 600 limo – John Lennon, George Harrison and Elvis Presley owned 600s, but then so did Pot Pol, Idi Amin and Fidel Castro.
On this occasion we had agreed dinner that evening with the colonel at his Pinewood Valley Hotel, so we collected a hire car at the airport and drove off towards the Troodos Mountains. The main roads were not good, but we spotted the landmark trout farm and the correct turnoff as per the colonel’s telephoned directions. Soon it was dusk and we were deep in an uncharted forest with fallen leaves beneath the tyres instead of hard tarmac.
Spa hotel for wealthy Arabs
It was pitch-black when Geoff and I eventually found a proper road running through the forested valleys. There were few real landmarks or road signs and the occasional village was dark and forbidding. More by good luck than judgement we arrived at the hotel, an hour or so later than originally arranged.
After a swift wash and brush-up we had whisky sours in hand and were being seated in the dining room. Bottles of Othello red and Aphrodite white wines were conveniently positioned.
Colonel Dick wanted to refurbish the place and turn it into an upmarket spa hotel, catering for wealthy Arabs from war-torn neighbouring countries like Lebanon. That idea needed more research, including into transport links and facilities at Nicosia Airport for private jets.
After an excellent meal, we arranged a tour of the hotel and the surrounding area for the next morning and decided to call it a night due to our extended long journey. At that point, the chef walked in to take our thanks for the great food and our apologies for our late arrival and delaying the meal. “Not a problem. I have re-arranged things with colleagues who will be here soon to collect me.”
Gleam of gun barrels in the jeep
I noticed he had changed his chef’s whites for drab camo as we walked with him to the main door of the hotel. The night air was chilly, so I imagined he and his colleagues were up for some darts, backgammon or cribbage in a local taverna.
There were headlights approaching fast up the road to the hotel and soon a jeep-like vehicle came through the gate and skidded to a halt in front of our group. There were four men in military gear, one of whom presented a mock salute to Colonel Dick. He didn’t return it, but said to his chef: “Have a good night. Stay out of trouble. See you in the morning.”
As the chef leaped into the jeep I noticed what might have been the gleam of gun barrels among the occupants. The “colleagues” shot off down the road and the headlights soon disappeared from view.
Later, as a precaution, I jammed a chair to the handle of my bedroom door – as I had seen in a recent Hollywood movie.
During our visit to Cyprus to meet Colonel Dick Richards, there were demonstrations in the main towns, leading to a strike that closed down the island’s power services. We had candlelit meals and learned to hand pump petrol into our hire car – whenever we found a garage with fuel.
There was a lot of tension among the normally happy-go-lucky Greek Cypriots. Geoff Walkden and I mixed with the Turkish Cypriots in their restaurants and coffee houses and found no animosity against the British. They said they felt pressured by Greek Cypriots, some of whom were their neighbours.
We decided things didn’t look too hopeful for our proposed marketing agreement for the Pinewood Valley Hotel. It transpired that we were correct as tourism in Cyprus was closed down for many years after the balloon went up.
On 20 July 1974, the Turkish army launched a full-scale invasion. Turkey’s excuse for invading the island was the coup engineered by the Greek military junta, which toppled the democratically elected Cypriot president, Archbishop Makarios III. A few days later, the coup collapsed and democratic rule in Cyprus was re-established. Turkey had other plans and invasion was top of the list.
Cyprus had gained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1960 following a four-year struggle between the terrorist organisation, EOKA, backed by the Church of Cyprus and British forces. Long periods of unrest between the Turkish Cypriots and the majority of Greek Cypriots continued after independence.
Turkey has never recognised the Republic of Cyprus as an independent state and following the invasion, the so-called “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,” has never been internationally unrecognised by the UN and other bodies. The border between the two was opened in 2003, but closed again in 2019 due to the covid-19 pandemic.