I look distractedly at the flags waving above me: alternating Greek and Cypriot – a repeating motif – what remains from the national anniversary. Days like these have more profound meaning in the countryside and are more heartfelt and substantial. While we wait for Anna to arrive, Panagiotis photographs an elderly woman who has just come out of the village grocery store clutching a warm loaf of fresh bread. He captures her as she strolls nonchalantly along the paved street. I find the silence around me odd. I am used to Droushia being otherwise. In recent years I have spent my summer holidays here. Come August, the village square buzzes. Even the Kouklos barbershop stays open until late at night for anyone wanting to freshen up. Anna’s car appears from the alley of Philippos’ taverna, spot-on at half-past nine as arranged. Her lively personality breaks the silence of this Saturday morning. Anna Tselepou is enthusiastic, gushing and willing to assist anyone who asks. Without a doubt, there is no more ideal person to turn to when it comes to Pafos.
Where Tradition Meets Innovation
We follow Anna to Maria’s creamery. Although we have been here before, this time was different. Stelios, Maria’s eldest son, works with her and is set to continue the family business. “My husband and I raised six children: he on the farm, I at the factory. Three sons already work for the creamery. The other three are too young,” says Maria. The small, family-run business produces robust-flavoured halloumi, Halitzi (soft, white goat cheese), yoghurt, Anari (mild whey cheese) and others for flaounes. It is Saturday, but everyone is working feverishly: Stelios, Maria’s son, her sister Charoula and Yiannakis, from India. Our breakfast is ready for us on arrival: fresh halloumi, halitzi, goat’s milk, Τeratsomelo (carob honey) and rusks made by Maria the day before. Besides fulfilling orders for acquaintances and friends, the creamery supplies many restaurants in Nicosia and Limassol. “In recent years, chefs in Cyprus have turned to local products to use in their recipes. It is rewarding and gratifying for such acclaimed, awarded professionals to show preference for our offerings,” Maria says. Charoula, Maria’s sister, momentarily interrupts the chat to serve the new product: a hard cheese of low maturation with homegrown chillis. It is an original and intriguing combination that easily compares with products abroad. As we are about to leave, a small van enters. Theodosis, a shepherd from the Lara area, has come to bring the extra milk they need. Maria checks its Baume hydrometer reading and approves the delivery. On leaving, we are gifted with smiles and a bag of homemade goodies.
Shortly before we descend to the village of Koili, Anna wants to take us to the Community Council in Droushia to see the new Akamas Rural Life Museum. Marianna is already waiting for us at the entrance. Panagiotis begins to photograph the impressive looms and various other traditional exhibits in the museum. Marianna explains that loom workshops and pumpkin carving are organised in collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism. We are both drawn to the representations of the traditional dwellings of the previous century. Marianna explains that most of the items are authentic, some from donations and others gathered after research to add to the collection. We stand at a period replica of a Stiathki, a traditional hut built by the shepherds of Akamas. If you happen to be in the area, you may still see some standing.
On the road to Koili, we pass by Kathikas. Philippos’ taverna dominates the main street. From the back spreads an expanse of vineyards. “The Tuscany of Cyprus,” Anna has coined it.
Trying Grandma’s Recipes
We see him from afar, beckoning. Panagiotis, 31, is a nurse. On weekends, he tends to the animals on the family farm and helps his grandmother with production in their creamery. He offers us coffee with halloumi and fresh bread. In the small, certified Traditional Dairy of Eleni, they work together to make halloumi, anari, yoghurt, Trahanas (a porridge of flour with yoghurt or sour milk) and other varieties of cheese. “I remember making all these with my grandmother from a very young age, so it wasn’t difficult for me to create a workshop. I didn’t want to let this thing fade away,” Panagiotis recounts. Mrs Eleni smiles. She is proud of him. She shows us the new logos for her creamery that bear her visage. Don’t forget to take some halloumi and anari before you go!
Sophia of Letymbou
We park the cars in the centre of the village. It is already noon, and people in the village square are enjoying the sun’s rays. Mr Andreas calls us into his café, a place overflowing with decades’ worth of objects and memorabilia. Once a butcher, he is a robust, direct and stalwart man. He pridefully shows us photographs of that period in his life. On leaving, we are given a Pomelo (closely related to grapefruit) for the road.
We pass by the old chapel of Saints Cyricus and Julitta and park the car on a sidestreet. The smells from the spit are intoxicating. The Makarouna family has gathered for lunch. They recognise Anna and invite us to eat with them, but we want to see the family winery first. Theodoros belongs to the new generation of winemakers who combine their love and knowledge of good wine with modern aesthetics. We are the first to try Promara (a white grape native to Cyprus) straight from the barrel, a fantastic variety that tastes like the epitome of vinification. A tourist couple on the verandah is pairing food with Vasilissa, a well known, dry white wine.
Mrs Sophia, who is always full-steam ahead of everyone else, runs over to greet us. She has known Anna for years and remembers Panagiotis from his last visit. She has already sliced halloumi and anari hot and fresh from the cauldron. Nearby, Sophia’s husband, Mr Andreas, checks on the baked bread, its aroma heady. Cheerily, Mrs Sophia declares, “This is the third batch today, and I’m getting ready for the fourth. Ninety loaves have already gone, and I’m making another thirty!” For lunch, the taverna is already full. Charoula and Popi, Sophia’s daughters, are ready for action. On the menu are ofto kleftiko, baked pasta, potatoes, roast chicken, and freshly-boiled halloumi. We leave Sophia to knead and head for her backyard, one that she has turned into a living folk museum. Feathery wedding embroidery, traditional Palaskas (cartridge belts), shepherd’s burkas and other heirlooms represent her family’s roots.
Between kneading and baking, Sophia fusses over our wellbeing. We reassure her that we are fine, but she is unconvinced. She serves us in her backyard with a platter full of the day’s menu. “You can’t leave here without eating nor dessert,” she quips, then disappears into her tiny kitchen to fry our Xerotigana (fried pastries) with honey. If paradise exists, it does so in Mrs Sophia’s backyard. We say our goodbyes with the promise that we will return in summer with an army of friends to feast. Before we leave, she calls her husband to fetch a loaf for each of us for the journey back.
As we get to the car, we notice an elderly couple in their yard enjoying the sunshine: Mr Dimitris and Mrs Andrianou. Panagiotis approaches them and asks to take their picture. Mr Dimitris goes inside and brings back an old photo from when they were young, saying, “This is how I want you to take me, then and now. The years flow by like water, my son. So live and do not squander them!”