A CITY FULL OF FEELINGS A CITY FULL OF FEELINGS


A talk with the 78-year-old man from Limassol, who found the secret to eternal youth in Platres!

* NOTE: All the tributes of All About Limassol (as the Official Guide of Limassol) aim to ONLY highlight the special aspects of this wonderful city, so that everyone can be aware of the exceptional options they offer. Under no circumstances do they have any promotional or nominal value, and they do not serve the interests of Companies, Municipalities, Organizations or Individuals.

Every morning, he wakes up early, takes his breakfast (which is usually light), and takes a long walk from one end of the village to the other, accompanied by the scents of the pinewood forest and the wind rustling the leaves, as he makes his way through the towering trees. In the summer, he will also do laps in the pool, while in the winter he skies across the snow-covered slopes of Troodos. Once in a while he will also participate in driving races. Heracles Skyrianides, who is nearing his 80th year, carries within him so much vivacity and love for life, that it is reflected in the many stories, memories and experiences which he has collected as the descendant of the family who first founded and elevated the legendary Forest Park Hotel in Platres.

Today, his life remains entwined with the trajectory of the hotel. Though its management has changed hands over the years, he continues to live there, as a living heirloom, alongside the photographs of distinguished Forest Park visitors (from kings and diplomats to artists and intellectuals), and alongside all that has remained untouched but also all that has advanced and changed in order for the hotel to continue to remain a beloved destination.

Heracles Skyrianides has all the makings of a man from a good family. He is always neat and well-kept, with a vintage fashion sense that may come as a surprise. Most importantly, however, he is always smiling and jolly, ready for a chat. This could be a result of the sociability he inherited from his mother, or of the many years he spent in the hospitality industry, or a possible combination of the two. The firstborn son of Georgios and Sophia Skyrianides, he was born in Limassol in January of 1941, followed by his 2 siblings, Antonis and Daphne.

Since 1936, Forest Park began welcoming a number of eminent guests. British officials (such as Palmer) were among the first to visit, but dozens of other renowned guests followed suit, including King Farouk of Egypt, Princess Mary of England, Princes Irene of Greece, Indira Gandhi, George Seferis, German Chancellor Willy Brandt, and many others. One of the more recent visitors was the former King Constantine of Greece, in 2015.

The Skyrianides family name is a familiar one, but for Heracles and his siblings, the concept of family had certain particularities. “We didn’t have much of a family life,” he confesses, “because everyone’s daily life revolved around the hotel’s activities in Platres.” His mother, Sophia, who was of Egyptian descent, continued to run her uncle’s hotel in Cairo for much of her life, while beyond the Forest Park, his father Georgios also ran the Ledra Palace Hotel in Nicosia. This meant that both parents were often away from the family home for prolonged periods of time.

“From the age of 8, I attended boarding school, and by 1951, I was at boarding school in England,” Heracles continues, recalling memories from his childhood. “During the time of the British occupation, education at British schools was considered to be the best, and whichever family had the financial capacity to offer it to their children did so,” he explains.

Heracles (at a young age, on the left) knows that besides the extroversion of his mother (at a rather advanced age, on the right), he also inherited her looks.

Despite the particularities of his family, Heracles speaks of his parents with admiration. Though professionally he may have succeeded his father for the management of Forest Park, he knows that he shares the most similarities with his mother. She had also grown up in a family of hoteliers, in the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Egypt’s Greek community, and as the manager of the ‘Victoria’ Hotel in Cairo, she had never lost touch with that world. 

The Victoria Hotel was located on a main road in Cairo, where many European residents of the city would frequent.

“She was a dynamic and highly extroverted woman,” says Heracles. “She passed way relatively early, at 67 years old. Just before her death, the hotel in Cairo was sold, as she was no longer able to travel,” he adds, with a distinct sadness to his voice.

The start: Grandpa Skyrianides and Limassol’s first beach bars

The grandfather after whom Heracles Skyrianides is named first began to dabble in the hospitality industry towards the end of the 19th century, at a time when even the word ‘tourism’ itself was unfamiliar in Limassol (and throughout Cyprus). Skyrianides’ bar, as it became known in the city, was located literally on the seafront (near the area of the Old Port), making it one of the first cosmopolitan entertainment venues (and a precursor of the particularly popular modern-day beach bars).

Skyrianides’ bar was one of the 2 venues that stood out on the coastal road of Limassol at the end of the 19th Century.

The arrival of the British on the island in 1878 was crucial to the way the image of Limassol and the countryside was shaped. Thanks to their particular needs and preferences, they set out to turn Limassol into a port. The British were also the first to establish Platres as a tourist resort – the first ever in Cyprus. At the time, Heracles Skyrianides, having been following the developments in this particular industry in which he was interested, seized the opportunity to extend his activities to the village. And so, in 1900, one of the first hotels in Platres, ‘Pausilipon,’ came into operation.

‘Pausilipon’ was nothing more than the Skyrianides’ country home. Above, one of the few photographs that survive of the hotel, featuring the Michaelitsi family posing on the hotel balcony. 

“As a British colony, Cyprus was the closest destination on European ground for Europeans in Egypt,” explains the grandson and namesake of the family’s first hotelier. “So, instead of traveling to France or Switzerland for their holidays, they began coming here, and to Platres especially,” Heracles adds.

“Of course, my grandfather grumbled when it was suggested to him that he send his son for studies in hospitality in Lausanne. ‘What will he learn there?’ he would wonder.”

In order to ensure the continuation of the family’s involvement in the hotel business, external involvement became necessary. This was because grandfather Skyrianides, despite being able to easily recognize opportunities for a new investment, did not prove to be a man of very progressive ideas. Of course, due to the many tourists who visited the ‘Pausilipon’ hotel, grandfather Skyrianides had developed close ties with many Middle Eastern countries, and as such, became acquainted with the family of Sophia, who was to become the wife of his son, Georgios Skyrianides. Finally, Sophia’s family convinced grandfather Heracles to send his son to Lausanne, at the Ecole Hotelier.

“Before he left for his studies, my father worked for a short time as a bank employee. This was not something that satisfied him, however, so he soon left it. He was determined to follow his studies in the hospitality industry,” recalls grandson Heracles Skyrianides.

“Even when my father returned, with the knowledge and determination to develop the business, my grandfather refused to accept any sort of intervention in order to upgrade the hotel. ‘Pausilipon’ was nothing more than the family’s country home in the village, to which extra rooms were added in order to host holidaymakers. The rest of the facilities (bar, restaurant, lobby) were all located in a single space,” he points out.

“In fact, none of the rooms had private baths or bathrooms, just as no other hotels in the area did either.” 

“It was then that the idea for Forest Park was born, a hotel just as my father, Georgios Skyrianides, envisioned,” recalls grandson Heracles today.

Georgios Skyrianides, speaking in an event in Platres.

The changing of the guard: Georgios Skyrianides brings Forest Park to Platres

During his studies in Lausanne, Georgios Skyrianides worked in large hotels, and even traveled to London, where he gained even greater experiences. Everything that he saw and learned was translated into practice in Cyprus, where he proceeded to make some of the most innovative moves in the tourism industry. The creation of Forest Park, a hotel with European standards, was imminent, and the only way for him to create his own playing field.

Georgios Skyrianides continued to travel, even when he had already gained plenty of knowledge and experience, as he always wanted to keep up with the times. He was a visionary, and an active man with broad horizons. 

From its design alone, it was obvious that the hotel was going to be an innovative and modern creation. The characteristic semi-circular shape of the initial building is inspired by the Bauhaus trend, the architectural school which originated in Germany during the mid-20th century and continues to influence worldwide architecture to this day. Remarkable examples of Bauhaus designs can be seen in many other holiday villas of that time in Platres.

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In 1962, the first swimming pool in a Cypriot hotel was built in Platres. It was 23.5 meters long, and featured 12 changing rooms which even offered swimmers a special bag in which to place their clothing.

"My father had to make a decision: he would either create something modern, or we would turn the hotel into a monastery. After all, Trooditissa was right next door,” says his son, Heracles, bursting into laughter.

Georgios Skyrianides made the decision to take Forest Park into the new era, introducing an element which, in the mid-20th century, had proven to be an integral part for the relaxation and recreation of visitors in tourist resorts. Of course, there was no shortage of objections… from within.

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The Forest Park pool remains an impressive construction to this day, and is still in full use.

“My mother did not take too well to the decision for the construction of the pool. She considered it very provocative for visitors to walk about half naked, men and women together. Her bedroom was right next to the pool, and this caused her to react even more intensely.

The day the bulldozers came to begin digging, she wailed and cried from morning to night. 

"When the pool finally opened to the public, she had made her peace with it. She was quite conservative in such matters, and was even offended by the short skirts that were in fashion at the time” reveals Heracles today.

What came in handy for the undertaking of Georgios Skyrianides was the fact that the British had already made Platres their destination of choice. The great resonance the village had both on the island as well as on the international elite was a result of their preference for it from the start. This, however, did not mean that Forest Park did not suffer consequences from the autocratic policies of the British during times of crisis, for the army never hesitated to enlist its facilities for their use.

The hotel was first enlisted in 1941-1943, when it was converted into a military hospital to serve the needs of the Second World War.

The hotel was enlisted once again by the British during the period 1955-1958, when it served as an army base for the interception of the EOKA guerilla fighters, as well as for the planning of the Suez Canal attacks. During this period, the hotel suffered a great deal of abuse, and a large sum of money was required to renovate it.

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"My father was a peaceful man, with ‘British’ habits", his son, Heracles, recalls. "He followed a very strict schedule with specific meal times and a simple diet (despite having the financial comfort which would allow him to indulge). “He would always drink warm water with his food, because he supported that whatever enters our bodies must not be at a low temperature,” he adds. 

In addition to managing 2 hotels (Forest Park and Ledra Palace, which opened in Nicosia in the 1940s), he also dabbled in art. His paintings hang in the reception area of the hotel today. 

“The only bad habit which he never managed to completely break was smoking. He smoked until he was 90, at least 1 cigarette per day,” adds Heracles, who believes that his father’s longevity had much to do with the peaceful environment and fresh air of Platres, where he spent a large part of his life. “He passed away in his sleep one night, after we had taken our usual walk through the hotel corridors. Right up until his last day, his mind was completely sharp, and he could easily carry on a conversation with anyone. This was truly a blessing,” says Heracles, who appears to be following faithfully in his father’s footsteps.

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"This hotel is my own child..."

With hotelier parents and grandparents, it would have been hard for Heracles not to follow this path. “In England, I was determined to study hotel management. Of course, when I began my studies, I realized that everything I was learning during those first years were familiar to me, due to my daily contact with the hotel in Platres,” says Heracles.

“I always wanted to be able to speak with guests, and this is why the hotel expansion stopped at 140 rooms”, he explains.

He remembers moments when he was young, when he still had an auxiliary role in the running of the hotel: “When we had the big parties outside in the gardens, I would guard the perimeter to make sure no intruders would enter the hotel without paying the entrance fee. From 1962, upon his return from England, to this day, he has devoted his life to Forest Park. “I never had a family. I have this hotel as my child,” he admits.

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The small shed in the hotel parking area served as a car rental office. Today, it operates as a small skiing museum, hosting a large variety of skis, from the first bulky, wooden ones Georgios Skyrianides used, to the contemporary skis used today by the 78-year-old Heracles.

Alongside his father, he played an important role in a brilliant piece of history of the Cypriot hotel industry; a time when the names of hotels such as the Forest Park and the Berengaria were known across the Eastern Mediterranean and beyond. “Our greatest competitor at the time was the Berengeria, which operated in Prodromos,” he says.

According to Heracles Skyrianides, a disadvantage of the Berengaria was that, much like all the other hotels of its time, it only had communal bathrooms on each floor, instead of private bathrooms for each room. 

“That’s when we made the decision to invest the amount of 12,000 pounds to beat the competition by building baths and toilets for each room. We lost 18 rooms during the start of the 1960s, because they were used to create private bathrooms and toilets,” he adds.

“This was a large-scale project, which led to the hotel being taken completely apart, and this changed its image drastically. At the time, even the drivers of our visitors from Israel would not use shared bathrooms,” he explains.

“I wish that other hotels in the area would operate in order to accommodate larger numbers of visitors,” Heracles Skyrianides says today.

“Forest Park is often at 100% capacity, and people keep calling wanting to make a reservation and there are none available. If there were more hotels in the area, there would be more interest from tourist agencies to promote this region as a destination,” he says.

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Today, the hotel is under the management of a company that manages a number of other hotels in Cyprus and abroad. His face clouds over when the conversation turns to the current management of the hotel. For him, it was an enforced concession after many decades at the helm of the family business, in an effort to recover financially. Forest Park, having carved its own path and now closing in on one century of existence, had to adjust to some new and different circumstances. Kings, diplomats, and British aristocrats may no longer be its main guests, but it nevertheless remains a space with a unique identity, which carries the mark of the majesty of a different era, and of the rich history of the island.

Georgios Skyrianides during the 1980s, at the entrance of the Forest Park, with his two sons, Heracles (right) and Antonis (left), who served as an assistant manager of the Ledra Palace Hotel in Nicosia, and later the manager of the Miramare Hotel in Limassol.

After all, the dense pinewood forest, the distinct serenity and the rich cultural heritage all still attract visitors to Platres. Following a major renovation, which highlighted its initial beauty and improved the comforts that were in need of modernization, the hotel has begun a new chapter, and the fact that visitors still choose it to this day is reason enough for Heracles Skyrianides to smile, as well as for all who have met, loved, and been charmed by the magic of Platres.

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Though he spends a greater part of his life in Platres, Heracles sometimes visits his family home in Limassol, which was built on the Germasogeia beachside in 1946, at a time when there was nothing else in that area. His grandfather’s house, which is no more, was also located nearby. This beach is his favorite swimming spot today.

* NOTE: The tributes of the Project "History of Limassol" present information that has emerged from historical research thus far. Any new data is embedded into the tributes, once it has been confirmed.


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