Owen Pearce discovers the delights of Pafos – from food to ancient treasures.
We have no menu, we will just bring the dishes, a meze. Just relax, and most important, take your time – these soothing words came from Benedict, our host at the one restaurant locals told us we must not miss.
Our earlier arrival by taxi at the Seven St Georges tavern had a slightly surreal air – from outside the place looked more like a Spaghetti Western set.
Not a bad thing: parched earth, lots of wood and stone; a change from the flat-roofed concrete which dominates the Pafos suburbs.
Plonked on our table was a loaf of home-baked bread, olives and a carafe of local organic red wine.
From 7pm to midnight my wife and I worked our way through tender belly pork, grilled goat, some sensational dips, feta and halloumi cheese, crunchily-flavoursome salads, fish and a further half carafe of white.
The skill of this place is emphasised by tiny portions of endless dishes, and there is no rushing. Come the end of this experience, Benedict smiled: “You have done very well” – obviously impressed by how much food we put away, and the fact we took the five hours to do so.
The Seven St Georges was just one of the memorable dining experiences in Pafos.
More of others later.
While eating food of freshness and quality adds much to a holiday, Pafos has the bonus of being more than just a sun-kissed resort.
Sure, the seafront has its tacky boutiques selling ‘I love Cyprus’ T-shirts, sea sponges and pens which last three postcards, but getting away from the tat is as easy as polishing off a ramekin of olives.
Walking around town is like a stroll in an open-air museum.
As I walked the streets I couldn’t help thinking what old coin, sword or amphora was just inches below my feet. Two large areas of the town’s past have been excavated, restored and preserved for future generations.
One is the misleadingly named Tombs of the Kings, and the other the Pafos Archaeological Park.
The former, out on the sun-baked western edge of the resort, is a collection of tombs dating back to the 4th century BC, carved out of the stone. No kings were interred here, merely high-ranking people. The necropolis is a Unesco World Heritage site, and best of all, one can peer deep into the tombs (all empty, the residents and their afterlife belongings long turned to dust or plundered), walk the cool passageways and touch the Doric columns and carvings. Well worth a couple of hours.
Here we were lucky enough to see an agama lizard, a prehistoric-looking fellow who perched in the warm sun as still as a statue before flicking home in a spiny bush.
The archaeological park is also in lower Pafos (or ‘Kato Pafos’) down by the harbour. A small entry fee gains access to a collection of excavated Roman villas, where suspended walkways allow viewers to see some of the finest floor mosaics in the Mediterranean.
The Houses of Dionysos, Theseus and Aion are joined by Pafos lighthouse, the Odeon Roman theatre, the ruins of the Forty Columns fort and a spectacular view of the deep blue Mediterranean.
Allow a good 2-3 hours. The ghostly-looking beached ship due west is the Demetrios II, which ran aground in 1998.
One of the highlights of any holiday is a southwestern edge of the island, delivers. The slow descent of the shimmering red disc over the Mediterranean is a sight to behold.
Back to matters culinary. They eat well here.
Typical dishes include refreshing dips like tzatziki, taramosalata (both sharper in taste than typically found in a UK supermarket), lean grilled meats, rabbit stifado, salads to die for and, of course, fish ranging from squid to swordfish and crispy whitebait with chunks of lemon. Wash it all down with a cold Cypriot Keo beer, or wine from the nearby Troodos mountains. We also tried a couple of unlabelled house or organic ‘village’ wines, and found the lower-end reds perfect for our meatbased evening meals. Not a hint of a headache later, either.
Prices are quite reasonable (50 euro for a filling meal for two with wine), but it pays to search out the best places to eat.
We encountered great food at acceptable prices in a number of tavernas – the key being walking the back streets and finding places packed with locals.
Picks of the lot included the Laona, in upper Pafos (‘Ktima’), close to the covered market. Go here for lunch, choose from the chalkboard and eat genuine home-cooking style fare. The oniony, peppery loveliness of the rabbit stifado really hit the spot.
For a warm and friendly ‘locals’ meal half a mile inland from the harbour, try Romeo’s, on Aganiporos, and for that whole night to throw away all those cares in your world, the Seven St Georges.
I mentioned the market – worth a browse, but a bit of a disappointment. Lots of AC Milan, Chelsea and Barcelona football shirts, wallets and a few fruit stalls, but not quite the racks of lamb and buckets of herby olives heaven I was expecting.
We stayed at the Louis King Jason Apartments, situated between Kato and Ktima.
It’s not often I rave about the staff at a hotel, but this place is different. We had a complaint on our first morning, the noise of a cement mixer at dawn, and the manager, Andreas, apologised and said he would sort it out. And sort it out he did.
The apartment was spotless, as were the pool, bar area and restaurant. A nearby supermarket with fresh meat counter and an excellent bakery which serves to-die-for baklava means eating in the apartment is easy, cheap and pleasurable. Above all, the warmth of Andreas and his staff really completed the holiday.
• Pafos is ideally located for full-day excursions to Limassol (Lemesos), the Troodos mountains, the monastery at Kykkos, and the Kourion archaelogical site.There are also fishing and glass-bottomed boat trips from the harbour.
• Cyprus is a sovereign state and part of the EU.The currency is the euro.The island is divided, the south and west being the Greek-speaking EU part, and to the north and east is the Republic of Northern Cyprus, occupied by Turkey.The island is separated by a UN-controlled buffer zone.
• Thomsonfly flies to Pafos International airport from Cardiff, the flight is roughly four and a half hours.
www.thomsonfly.com. Louis King Jason Apartments is at www.louishotels.com and follow the Cyprus links.