Childhood memories of dinners and celebrations. Flavors that sweetly blend with memories. The sound of glasses clinking. The deep red color of wine. The bliss that overwhelms you when you are amongst the people you love and you’re celebrating with them. I can’t remember the first time I tasted the famous Commandaria. But I remember the feeling of the sweetness hidden within –the warm sun of the Mediterranean– and the aromatic breeze of the slopes of Troodos. A taste so deep, rich and an aftertaste potent enough to initiate me into the world of wine.
From the mosaics to wine history
I always smile when I think how much more history we would learn if only we were taught about it... through eating and drinking! As I gradually entered the universe of wine, I was so enchanted discovering its presence in every part of Cyprus: in its mythology, its history, its economy. And then, I began to see –as if for the first time– pictures and testimonies of the island’s wine history. The famous mosaics of Pafos, featuring the god Dionysus, the ancient wine presses at Omodos and at Lania in Limassol, the huge urns and amphorae scattered across the island. Wood carved icons portraying ornate bunches of grapes, magical vines in Byzantine hagiographies. All of that testifying that the civilization, art, tradition and religion of Cyprus are directly intertwined with the vine and the wine.
Epigraphic testimonies of the classic Cypriot period, as well as texts by Homer, by the geographer Strabo and many other important personalities of the past, show that the cultivation of the vine and the production of wine have been known on the island since ancient times. And not only that, as archaeological research by the Italian archaeologist dr Maria Rosario Belgiorno revealed traces of tartaric acid, a basic ingredient of wine, in ancient pots, proving that Cypriots cultivated the vine for almost 5,500 years.
The King of Wines
The most famous of the Cypriot wines is the Commandaria wine, the well-known “Cypriot Nama”, named after the fief “La Grande Commanderie”, of the Knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, located at the Kolossi Castle, on the western outskirts of Limassol.
The Commandaria route runs north of Limassol and passes through its 14 beautiful villages, such as Kolossi, Ayios Mamas, Lania and Kapilio. After the first kilometers, the altitude rises gradually and the bushy vegetation mixes with the vineyards, while sparse forests with tall coniferous trees penetrate the frame. Important historical and archaeological sites will make you go out of your planned route. We do not miss the opportunity for a guided tour of the Kouris dam, which is the largest on the island and also an important wetland.
From the Diarizos valley, east of Pafos, and among the lush landscapes, the next route passes through, which although it may not be one of the most well-known breeding areas, it will still reward you. The beautiful vineyards, the two wineries, the 14 semi-mountainous villages, as well as the sense of authenticity that governs the inhabitants will bring you even closer to the sincerity of Cyprus.
In the wine villages of Limassol, on the southern slopes of Troodos, you will probably taste some of the most special local wines from a total of 23 varieties. You will combine the walks through the twenty –of traditional architecture– villages on the route, while you will definitely stop at some of the most famous taverns in Cyprus. Omodos, Kato Platres, Koilani and Erimi, where the Cypriot Wine Museum is located, are only some of the villages you will come across.
A journey towards the northwest coasts is promised by the route of Laona – Akamas, giving the opportunity to those who choose to taste wines that hide the sea breeze inside them. On this route you will stop in rustic villages with rich culture, in the four wineries of the area and you will also have the opportunity to spot amazing places with great views.
The route from Nicosia to Troodos offers a combination of ancient vinery history with the new modern image of industrial winemaking. The three wineries on the route, combined with the ten villages and the graphic museums and workshops, highlight the experience of exploration in midland Cyprus. In Lefkara you will admire the lace designs that the village is famous for, while in Fikardou you will see one of the oldest wine presses in the village.
The route with the richest and tastiest wines, but also filled with an intense traditional element, is that of Pitsilia. Eleven beautiful, neat villages between the slopes of the vineyards, such as Pelendri, Kiperounta, Dimes and Ayios Theodoros, give the mark, at the same time that the altitude, combined with the dryness and inclination of the soil, assists the proper development of the grapes, which are vinified in two of the most famous wineries.
A panoramic hike through the midlands, Vouni Panayias – Ambelitis, moves in the western part of the island, to the east of the Pafos mountainous area, at an altitude of 800 meters. Rich in varieties of vines but also full of pine forests, aromatic plants and a variety of mammals, amphibians, reptiles and birds, it will be the ideal route in order to taste some of the best wines of the endemic Black (red) variety thanks to the relatively high altitude and the mild climate. Cheers!