FOOD is a big deal in Cyprus, with the island’s famous squeaky cheese taking pride of place.
Halloumi is so important in its home country that many locals are named after the salty stuff, from Mr Hallumas to entire families of Hallumakis.
So first stop on my culinary island adventure had to be the tiny village of Letymbou, in rolling hills seven miles north from Paphos, to see how the locals make the fabulously fry-able sandwich filling.
Letymbou is home to Mrs Sofia, the “queen of halloumi”. She already had a pot of curds cooking by the time I arrived late in the afternoon.
Making halloumi involves several stages, from heating the milk and adding rennet, to separating the curds and reheating it, and then pressing and recooking it.
In Mrs Sofia’s expert hands, rounds of the salty, squeaky cheese soon formed. It looked simple enough, but I know my version would turn into a puddle of white goo.
Luckily for everyone, I was just there to taste the finished product – it is delicious fresh with runny honey or white sugar, but it is not hard to imagine how incredible it would be as fries or in a burger.
Halloumi is not the island’s only culinary offering — Cyprus is also known for its Mediterranean herbs.
You can find them in teas at Eleouthkia Park, or try them in delicious dishes at Polis Herb Garden restaurant.
I you are looking for an escape, I recommend Kypwell wellness club. It makes its own beauty products and tea from those local herbs.
Or for somewhere closer to Paphos, there is Ayii Anargyri Natural Healing Spa Resort where you can enjoy a herbal steam bath.
My digs were the adult-only Athena Royal Beach Hotel, which — if its three fresh water pools are not enough — is right next to a pristine stretch of sandy coastline.
It also has its own spa area where you can enjoy the sauna and steam room before dinner in one of its two restaurants.
As it happens, my short jaunt was blighted by some of the very few rainy days on the island. The wet weather meant I could not really take advantage of those postcard-ready beaches, or explore beauty spots like the Millomeris waterfall as planned.
Fortunately, the steady drizzle only made eating out more enjoyable — because what could be better than a cosy restaurant when it is raining cats and dogs outside?
In Omodos, a roaring fire made the tiny Makrinari Tavern all the more homely.
Of course, it helped that there were plenty of good Cypriot wines to wash down the enormous selection of mezzes.
At the New Kings of Aphrodites Tavern in Paphos, I enjoyed a huge feast of Cypriot dishes — featuring halloumi, of course.
Along with the other guests, we were treated to some energetic, daring performances by a couple of local boys at the same time.
There was even a bit of conga at the end of the night — I was on holiday after all!
And despite the rain, I managed to go horse riding at George’s Ranch in Peyia, explore the Kourion archaeological site, stroll through the cobbled streets of Omodos and venture inland to see the Troodos mountains.
It is only on my last day, while on the way to the airport, that the weather finally cleared up.
At last, I was able to step on to a beach and get a closer look at Cyprus’s most famous attraction, Aphrodite’s Rock, where the Greek goddess of love was supposedly born.
While basking under the warmth of the sun, I had a little time to reflect. I went to Cyprus looking for something out of a brochure, but what I found was something lovelier and more authentic.
GETTING THERE: Flights from the UK to Paphos are from £20.99 one way. See easyjet.com.
STAYING THERE: A night’s B&B at Athena Royal Beach Hotel in Paphos is from £65pp based on two sharing a sea-view Junior Suite. See athenaroyal-cbh.com.
MORE INFO: See visitcyprus.com
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