My Socratic Travelogue; ...That's Socrates the Winemaker and His Countrymen Who Introduced Me to the Sublime Tastes of Cyprus

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), May 16, 2010 | Go to article overview

My Socratic Travelogue; ...That's Socrates the Winemaker and His Countrymen Who Introduced Me to the Sublime Tastes of Cyprus


Byline: Michelle Fleming

I'm eating dinner with Michel Panicos, hotel manager of the Alion Beach Hotel in Ayia Napa, Cyprus, who has steam coming out of his ears as he rages about how the raucous ravers and teenage party crowd who flock to the island's capital each year are giving the place a terrible reputation.

With my mouth full of mouth-watering, perfectly salted Haloumi cheese, and lifting a big glass of soothing red and fruity Zefania Cypriot wine, I agree wholeheartedly, nodding like a maniac, willing him on.

The reality is I could listen amiably to Mary Harney right now; indeed, would listen rapt to hours of musings on the finer points of German grammar, so long as I was allowed to slowly sink deeper into this warm tingling sensation, the closest thing to gastronomic heaven I've come to in all my 30 years.

Truth be known, most of my three days travelling along the southern coast of Cyprus, from Limassol on up over mountains and across haystackfilled fields eastwards towards Ayia Napa, which straddles the breathtaking Cape Greko to the east, are passed in this trance-like state.

Folk can say what they like about the seedy underbelly of Cyprus but for me, when it comes to what are indisputably the greatest pleasures in life - food, wine and great company - Cyprus ticks all the boxes.

Now, I'd rather chew my leg off than head off on a package holiday. The thought of lazing around like a sloth all day, surrounded by similarly slothy creatures and chewing on cardboard in a cardboard hotel, striking in nought but its inability to boast one truly characterful feature, leaves me cold despite what the weatherman tells me.

However, don't confuse me for those demented activitymad types who are up with the birds and overzealously marching around cities armed with maps and ski sticks.

Hedonism is more my thing. To my shame, I had put the type of hedonism Cyprus is renowned for in the 'to be avoided at all costs' bracket. How wrong I was.

Our first morning was a veritable taste orgy, starting out as we did in the 1,000-yearold cobble-stoned mountain village of Omodos, a timeless and quaint affair where elderly women crochet doilies on deckchairs in the narrow, sheltered streets or else peel oranges on their front steps to bubble up later in skillets for some exotic fruity preserve.

We reached it from our hotel in Elias Beach, 50km from Pafos Airport, by a minibus that negotiated winding hill roads passing through Agros village, where we whetted our appetites at the Rosewater Workshop which had everything from rose liqueur to traditional sweets to sample.

Next stop was the Zenon winery along the Platres to Omodos road, where three generations of Zenons, including Zenonos, the 67-year-old owner, welcomed us warmly with glasses of his shiraz mixes, cabernet fusions and zivania (a strong Cypriot spirit made from grape skins) produced from the acres of vineyards stretching behind the stonewalled house.

The highlight for me was a wonderfully intimate portrait of the family's wine-making history which was chronicled in a museum corner, complete with traditional wine press and clutch of time-worn family photographs; although it must be said the Mataro-Grenache red was unforgettable, too.

After our morning's ambling, we stumbled upon Socrates' Traditional House, and what a hidden treasure it is. …

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