Cyprus: an island of sun, heritage, good food…and really good wine

//Cyprus: an island of sun, heritage, good food…and really good wine

Cyprus: an island of sun, heritage, good food…and really good wine

By | 2014-10-25T19:26:15+00:00 October 25th, 2014|Entertainment|0 Comments

What our trip showed, though, is that Cyprus is not just a safe option for the unadventurous, but an island committed to seriously good food and historic and cultural legacy. And to producing a range of excellent wine.

First, though, let’s meet our principal guide for our stay: step forward George Kassianos, Manchester United season ticket holder, oenophile extraordinaire, past president of the Cyprus Sommelier Association, and senior manager at the five-star Annabelle Hotel in Paphos, the base for our stay on the west of the island.

This is a man born to entertain: with stories, ideally over a glass of something, about his time in the UK (hence the Old Trafford link), but more typically about the virtues of Cyprus and, especially, its wine industry.

Through George we are shown round two thriving businesses: the Tsangarides Winery at Lemona, and the Vouni Panayia Winery near Latchi. Both are family-run and the owners’ pride in their product – entirely justified – is palpably shared by our guide.

We sampled literally dozens of varieties, purely in the name of journalistic investigation, and can report back that the quality was hugely impressive. (For clarity, these two trips were done on separate days…)

But, as George advises, wine is best served as an accompaniment to food. So, to round off one evening in style, he laid on a seven-course banquet, prepared by the Annabelle’s executive chef Nikos Kimonos, with different bottles chosen by him to compliment each dish.

The menu was Asian-Med fusion, making creative use of locally-caught sea bass, red mullet and tiger prawns, adding in some Black Angus beef and imaginative confectionery in a dessert selection. Oh, and more wine glasses (and cutlery) than we’re used to at a normal dinner service. Sumptuous.

If that sounds simply sybaritic, it was. But for self-indulgence, it was topped – marginally – by a treatment the next day at the spa in the Almyra hotel, sister to the Annabelle which stands just along the beach. (The pair are owned by the Thanos Group, which also operates the upmarket, modern Anassa up the coast.)

Billed as a two-hour neroli immersion (no, not sure what that means, didn’t really care), it incorporated an exfoliating massage with olive oil, salt and poppy seeds. That’s followed by a soak in a bath of tuberose milk (still not caring), then a marma healing massage (see above) with orange blossom and jasmine.

Afterwards – perhaps even during – it’s impossible not to fall asleep, deeply relaxed and soothed.

For all that pleasure, there has to be some pain. Well, maybe not pain, but endurance. Unlike live music and theatre, opera has never been a personal favourite but, fortified by canapés (and more drinks), I was prepared to give it another go.

The setting was spectacular: the ruined castle at the harbour and the singers were no doubt technically accomplished in performing Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte as the climax of the 16th Paphos Aphrodite Festival.

But it was still opera, and this viewer can’t suspend disbelief for four hours while vocalists play out a storyline that could easily be boiled down to 45 minutes. Call me a philistine, and fetch me some more of that first-class Cypriot wine.

What the excursion did reveal, though, was that Paphos has been chosen to follow in Glasgow’s footsteps and share the title of European Capital of Culture in 2017 along with Aarhus in Denmark.

The Greek economic crash, and its backwash impact on Cyprus, means the budget for the year-long reign will be restricted, but there are some strong natural selling points.

First, as our opera visit underlined, the seashore at Paphos is the mythological birthplace of Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love, beauty and sensuality. Petra tou Romiou, or Aphrodite’s Rock, marks the site and is a place of pilgrimage for the entire Hellenic community.

But it doesn’t stop there:  the whole town is officially included on Unesco’s World Heritage List. For example, the castle location of our opera performance was originally a Byzantine fort built to protect the harbour and its history since is a microcosm of the various rulers of Cyprus over the centuries.

Nearby, the mosaics of Nea Paphos are extremely rare and rank among the best examples in the world. The architectural remains of villas, palaces, theatres, fortresses and rock-hewn tombs are also said to be of outstanding historic value, while a stone pillar where St Paul was bound and beaten for preaching Christianity is also highlighted.

A short journey from Paphos into the hills lies the Chrysorrogiatissa Monastery,  founded in the 12th century.  Another fascinating location and, guess what: its old winery produces more excellent wine and its vaults contain some of the old equipment used over the decades.

So, wrapped up in one: heritage and a burgeoning local wine industry. Very appealing to the palate.

Classic Collection Holidays (0800 294 9315; classic-collection.co.uk) offers 7 nights at Annabelle, Paphos, Cyprus from £993 per person in October. Price based on 2 adults sharing a twin or double room on a BB basis, and incudes return flights from London Gatwick (other UK departure airports available) to Paphos and private transfers.