We flew into Larnaca. Rhymes with Narnia and it was something like a fantasy world at first. From Lanaca on the East side of the island we travelled West to Kouklia where we were hosted by a charming couple who served as our tour guides to historical digs, museums, craft markets, the most wonderfully ’typical” restaurants and tavernas and wineries as well as beaches and sites of distinction.
Talking about wine, the volcanic nature of the soil here makes for some delicious drinking ( and beautiful black sand beaches!) from crisp whites, to pleasing roses to a spectrum of delightfully different and distinctive reds. Grapes that are typical to Cypriot wines include Maratheftiko, Mavro,and Commandaria for reds. For whites Xinisteri may be the most popular. Grand dads, for the most part, gather around a strong glass of OUZO , an aperitif made from the fennel plant.
In a wet spring, such as we experienced in March, the countryside explodes with a carpet of wildflowers….Cupid’s Dart, Nigella, Tulips, Chrysantheum, Cyclamen, Fennel, Rosemary , Thyme and a million different flowers I have no name for….all blooming freely and making the tastiest fodder for the local sheep, goats and cows. You can taste it in the cheeses, honey and yoghurt.
Cyprus is a bread basket, a self sustaining island that does not need to import much so, in fact, it offers beautiful and well priced meats, cereals, dairy, fruit and produce all from “right here.” There is an abundance of fresh and farmed fish, including sea bass and sea bream, calamari and octopus . We enjoyed these offerings in a variety of different preparations. Outdoor grilling is great fun and perfect for whole fish stuffed with lemon and herbs.
Because of the heat of the summer, bread, pastries and long cooked stews (like the famous Kleftiko) are often cooked outside of the home in clay ovens sometimes called Tandoors. Sometimes a special earthenware vessel , or tava, is used for long cooking. It’s a type of red ware.used since ancient times in Cyprus. As a historical aside, the name Kleftiko is rooted in the the word KLEPHT, which means stolen…the word kleptomaniac comes from this word. The mountain rebels from the Greek Revolution or Klephts often cooked their food underground to prevent it form either being stolen or lets the smoke and steam give away their strategic positions.
Pastries, too many to discuss here but were incredibly different and delicious, often made with their world famous Cypriot honey. Oranges also factor into the pastry lineup….we found one dessert made with phyllo dough, oranges and honey for the win! Citrus was growing everywhere and we even spend a day making a bitter orange marmalade.
Dairy: who knew that ice cream was a “thing” in Cyprus? Because of the sweltering summers, it has gotten to be incredibly popular over the last 100 years and unusually rich, a favorite with street vendors, of which there are many. Flavors can be unique too from feta/watermelon to mastic, which is a flavor made from a resin and gently reminiscent of spruce.
Textile arts are prevalent there with weavings and home made clothes abounding. Folkloric wood carved furnishings, sometimes painted or distressed continue being crafted today. Pottery making has been exalted since ancient times and continues to this day.
If you enjoy the abundance of a tropical garden, exuberantly fresh produce and walking into a grocery store smelling of hot, fresh breads and pastry, a visit to Cyprus may be for you. The food and wine is incredible, the people are lovely and if you can’t speak Greek, most everyone will speak English. Costs are relatively low and the weather is nice with two growing seasons. So much to see and do and Spring is the perfect time to do it.
I for one will be returning!
Cheers from Cyprus! Laura