Perched 668m high at the peak of Stavrovouni (literally ‘Mountain of the Cross’), this monastery is revered as the oldest on the island and is said to hold a piece of the Holy Cross, brought here by St Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine the Great, upon her return from Jerusalem in AD 327. Today this fragment from the Holy Land is preserved in an ornate 1.2m solid silver cross inside the church.
Ironically, nowadays St Helena herself could not view the cross, as the monastery grounds are closed to women. The site is still well worth the trip, though, for its uninterrupted views of the Mesaoria (Mesarya) plain. On a clear day you can see Famagusta to the east, Troödos Mountains to the northwest, all the way around to Larnaka and the salt lake, and as far as the clear blue Mediterranean.
Once inside the monastery you can take a seat in the sun-filled courtyard entrance to the church, admire the bell tower and ponder monastic life. While male visitors are freely exploring the many icons and arched hallways, female travellers can spend their time at the smaller Church of All Saints just outside the monastery. All can meet in the souvenir and bookshop, with a grand array of Bibles, hymn books and icons for sale. There are also handmade prayer bracelets (€4), which make wonderful souvenirs.
Stavrovouni is a working religious community with a score of monks dedicated to life-long ascetic principles. Pilgrims and visitors are welcome, and can take confession by request, but should arrive during visiting hours only. Photography is prohibited inside the monastery, so leave your camera behind. If you are a dedicated pilgrim (and male) you may be invited, by the monks, to sleep the night, meditate and dine with them on organically grown produce.
The monastery is located 17km from Larnaka, off the Nicosia–Lemesos motorway (A1).