Landing on the island has very fond memories for me, always in the blistering heat of summer, hitting 40°C (104°F), even through the night. Walking along the seafront taverns in any town, you soon understand how the island’s culture is synonymous with its food and is the best way to explore the nation’s identity. Once you sit down, don’t expect to leave early, as that’s when Cypriot hospitality only just begins, taking you through a journey of influences from Greek, Turkish and Middle Eastern history in its “meze” (numerous sharing plates), from the lemons, ubiquitous on the island, spices, fish, meats and sweet delights such as baklava and “glyko tou koutaliou” (fruit or vegetable preserves in syrup).
With four million visitors every year (pre pandemic), the island is a popular holiday tourist destination, famous for its white sandy beaches, crystal clear waters, long summers, pine and cedar forests nestled amongst the valleys of the Troodos Mountain range, ancient Greek artefacts (Aphrodite’s Island), and of course, Halloumi cheese.
However, maybe not as well-known, and quietly on the foothills of the Troodos Mountain range, a small transformation is happening to the island’s wineries. The Krasichoria (Greek for wine villages), have for centuries been making wine, importantly Commandaria, the world’s oldest named wine still in production. Despite this, today’s wineries are high tech, glitzy and well worth a visit if you fancy a couple of hours away from the beach.
Cyprus has seven official wine routes, all focused around or on the foothills of the dominating Troodos Mountain range in the centre of the island. These wine routes represent the 7 official appellations of the island, and can be followed from start to finish, getting a real flavour of each. Being based in either Paphos or Limassol allows you to get the best of both worlds, with luxurious beachside accommodation in the cities, allowing you to drive up to the wine region within 30 minutes or so. If you do decide to dig deeper though, staying within the villages of the Krasochoria within the Troodos mountain range will allow you to explore the cute and quaint villages that have for centuries been making wine, and importantly will prove to be a wise decision once you realise the cooler it gets at altitude, providing an almost natural form of air conditioning.
The pretty village of Omodos with it’s cobbled-stoned square and monastery is a great place to be based, located in the centre of the Limassol wine route, being very close to the Commandaria wine area and the 14 permitted grape-growing villages. You can wander around its wine shops and cafes, cute alleyways, but it’s almost impossible not to be reminded of the traditional wineries in the village, with their large amphoras present, laying there, a remnant of the traditions, not to be forgotten.
Within walking distance of Omodos (driving recommended), is Oenou-Yi Ktima Vassiliades winery, an impressive modern winery with an indoor pool, built recently (2017) by lawyer Christodoulos Vassiliades. Upon entering, there’s a scenic restaurant, terrace and vista overlooking the un-grafted vines just in front. Their wines are a mix of indigenous and international varieties, but what you must try without fail, is their Commandaria, which they in the hospitable Cypriot way, will force down you. Impressively, this winery grows all of its own fruit, owning 250ha, the largest on the island, with an aim to increase their indigenous grape variety offerings in the future. The restaurant (open Fri-Sun) is excellent, and well worth visiting too, if looking for something a bit different from the typical Cypriot fare.
On the other side of the Afamis valley, and a 20-minute drive away, is the winery of Vlassides. You may easily take a short detour to visit the medieval bridge of Milia before arriving here, but prepare to feel the juxtaposition after passing through the vines to reach the uber modern winery, which was chosen to represent the country for The EU award in contemporary architecture.
Heading further up the mountains, what awaits you, driving through this magical terrain of pine forests and honey hives, is Tsiakkas winery. Modern too, with a tasting view outside, overlooking the impeding valley of vines. The winery is slick, and experimental, built by Costas Tsiakkas in 1988, and lead by Oenologists Orestis Tsiakkas and Kostas Ntanos. They even make an orange wine, but have a great range of Indigenous and International varieties.
At the top in Pitsilia, is Kyperounda, the highest winery in Europe at 1400m high. The winery is gravity fed, and well worth a tour to see the different stages occurring from top to bottom. Tastings are available, and the Petritis white is well-noted amongst Decanter reviewers, but their international varieties are worth enjoying too.
A 40 minutes drive away, but worth a visit, is Santa Irene, located in the Farmakas village. Here, temperatures can reach -10C in the winter, but is set up well for visits, with a large restaurant serving excellent food, and what they also offer is a vine safari, which takes you through their 150-year-old treasure trove of vines. Prepare to be awed, either by the vines, or the passion in which Evangelos Bakalexis, head winemaker, talks you through it all.
On the other side of the island, 30 minutes’ drive from Paphos, is a winery that must be mentioned, more so for their sole aim in reviving the ancient rare grape varieties of Morokanella, Promara, Yiannoudi, Maratheftiko, Spourtiko and Vasilissa. Vouni Panayia in the Paphos wine region, can be visited everyday from 0900-1600, but like all these wineries, it’s best to call ahead.
It’s worth visiting Cyprus all year round, but generally March-May and September to November will be slightly cooler, but still beautifully sunny. Avoid the rain and cold in December through to February. The best places to stay would be in either the cities of Paphos or Limassol, where there’s a great range of accommodation and restaurants, and you’re only a 30 minutes’ drive away from the mountains and wineries. It is possible to be closer to the action, however, and Pedoula, Kakopetria and Omodos have great amenities, allowing you to dig deeper into the mountains with walking trails along waterfalls and ancient ruins worth exploring.
The Limassol Wine festival has been traditionally held from the end of August up until the first week of September. In 2021 it was held from the 8th till the 17th of October.
My perfect day in Cyprus
I think you have to wake up by the sea whilst in Cyprus, around Paphos, with the Almyra hotel or Elysium providing great sea views. You’re in walking distance from the Tomb of the Kings and the Nea of Paphos. Archaeological sites which take you back to the island’s ancient history and civilization. Go before midday, when it will be simply unbearable in the sun.
Then it’s time for the wineries, heading towards the Troodos Mountains. The wineries are at most, a 30-minute drive away, and you notice the altitude increasing quite suddenly, with temperatures becoming far more bearable.
I’d start by visiting the Fikardos winery, which is a natural stop on your way to the top. After that, I’d head to the village of Pano Panayia, to visit Vouni Panayia’s winery. You’ll be greeted by Petros, one of Andrea’s three sons, the founder, who’ll take you through a tour of the winery and show you the indigenous varietal wines. There is a restaurant too, which would make a perfect place to stop for lunch, serving local Cypriot delicacies, but a reservation is needed.
From here, you have the perfect building blocks to drive into the Paphos forest, towards the most unique of valleys. The cedar valley, where you will be awed by these ancient, majestic trees nestled amongst the pine forest. You may hike some of the trails, which will get you ready for a dinner meze, smelling the wild thyme and oregano amongst the vegetation, but this is also an opportunity to see the Mouflon’s of Cyprus (Stavros tis Psokas), a wild sheep, endemic to the island and its largest mammal.
Your route back towards Paphos allows you to certainly fit in another winery, such as Kolios (+357 26 724090), but it’s worth heading back for a swim, or to simply catch the mesmerising sunset on Coral Bay beach, just outside the city of Paphos. Dinner can be at Vasileon 31 (+357 99 345086), which offers laid-back home cooked dishes, but if you fancy meze, then the only address is St Georges Tavern (+357 99 655824), with organic wine and a focus on seasonality.
My Cyprus address book: Where to stay, eat and shop
Four Seasons Hotel, Limassol
One of the most luxurious hotels on the island, right by the beach. This is the perfect place to relax by the pool, or beach, and enjoy some of the finest dining on the island by Michelin star awarded chef Mavrommatis.
The Mill Hotel and Spa, Kakopetria
A great place to be if exploring the wineries around the Troodos Mountains, Kakopetria is a tourist destination in its own right, and this 17th Century mill is right on the river where old Kakopetria village starts. The water feature and valley are right opposite, offering beautiful views of the mountains.
Amara Hotel, Limassol
High-end rooms, dining, and a beach front location. This is the new kid on the block, making waves and really pushing quality to a level never seen on the island before.
The Elysium Hotel and Spa, Paphos
Elysium, meaning paradise in the afterlife in Greek Mythology, is exactly what this place is. A paradise in its amenities, beach front location, numerous pools. It’s impossible not to relax here. You are also in walking distance to the Tomb of the Kings archaeological site.
Oenou-Yi Cottages, Omodos
These cottages are scattered all around the village of Omodos, whether you need just one beautifully designed room amongst lemon trees, or a large house opposite the famous Timios Stavros monastery, the choice is yours. All rooms come with complimentary wine from Oenou-Yi, as well as homemade plum jam, local honey, and baked cookies from George’s bakery.
+357 24 657198
There is possibly no better place in Cyprus to experience fish meze. This is an institution, serving locals and tourists for generations. If you are based on the other side of the island, it is really worth the trip. Try and find a Cypriot that does not know this place. An excellent Cypriot wine list too.
Old Zygi, Zygi
+357 24 332424
Zygi is a fishing village, famed for its fish meze restaurants. You are spoilt for choice here, having frequented these as a child. Quality is always high, and a fish meze is what to go for once again. Old Zygi has a slightly modern take on meze, serving a delicious seafood pasta.
An excellent choice when exploring the wine villages around Omodos. They offer all the classics, fish, meat, but a villagers favourite too of “Trahana”. A wheat yogurt soup with halloumi. A must try when on the island.
Ariadne Tavern, Vasa
+357 25 944064
Cypriot cuisine at its finest – village style. Get the meat meze, you will not be disappointed. Fresh, local cuisine designed to give you a bit of everything Cyprus has from keftedes to souvla to olives to tahini. A recommended stop if around the wine villages, 30 minutes from Limassol.
Things to do
A must see is the Kourion archaeological site with the Greco-Roman theatre as it’s showcase, with superb views of the sea. Concerts and theatre performances are still held here.
Cyprus Wine Museum near Limassol.
You’re taken through a journey of 5 centuries of Cypriot wine, through phylloxera free vineyards, to the history of Commandaria. There is also the opportunity to taste some great examples, and buy a bottle or two.
Located in Limassol, they have an excellent selection of wines from Cyprus with some top producers, however, also have a great international selection with classics from Burgundy to Champagne.
How to get to Cyprus
The two major airports are Larnaca (105km) and Paphos (50km). The nearest major city is Limassol (30 mins by car) and Paphos (40 mins by car).