We couldn’t have asked for a better guide than Helena, who told us when picking us up that a last-minute cancellation would result in a private tour for just the two of us.
Helena related a bit of her own life’s story as she drove us to our first destination of the day. Her family had to flee their home in northern Cyprus in August 1974 when Turkish elements annexed it. They became refugees in their own country and had to rebuild their lives.
They didn’t see that house again for decades, until the authorities allowed people in their situation to visit, and she gave a poignant account of being welcomed by the Turkish family who had been given their abandoned house.
She went on to graduate with a degree in tourism, and worked as a guide for a Texas-based private tour club that saw her visit more than 60 countries, including three trips to Australia in one month!
Covid forced that company into bankruptcy, and she has more recently been working with the newly established Cyprus Taste Tours, an outfit with which we are very impressed. Helena appears fortunate to have found Cyprus Taste Tours close to home, and the company is very fortunate to have secured the services of a Cypriot with such a vast background in tourism. It’s a good fit.
Helena picked us up at our hotel before 9 AM and dropped us after 6 PM, so we’ll summarize briefly what was a very full day - and one that left us with full stomachs.
Our first stop was a small dairy farm (sheep and goats) that produces the locally famous Halloumi cheese. We toured a fairly large Parmigiano Reggiano cheese making facility in Parma within the past couple of months, and it was fascinating to observe the similar steps in this one person operation, being carried out today by one of the farmers’ seven children.
We were treated to cheese, along with their own cucumbers and tomatoes, before departing.
A short drive allowed us to enjoy the scenery before our second stop of the day.
We arrived at Christoudia Winery, a fairly new operation that produces only 60,000 bottles annually.
First, Helena took us on a brief tour of the facility.
Then it was time for some serious tasting of three whites and three reds.
Our verdict? Decent and reasonably priced wine, not surprising in a country that has a winemaking history stretching back 5,000 years.
It was interesting to learn that the grapes are grown in bushes here, unlike the vineyards in many other parts of the world.
These bushes have already undergone their winter pruning.
As in France, no irrigation is allowed.
Washington State wineries often have resident dogs. This winery has a resident donkey, and we said hello to him before leaving.
Our next stop was, dare we say, unique, a bee and embroidery museum run by a charming older couple.
They are apiarists who claim also to run a “Bee and B” - get it?
It was time for lunch, and we feasted on a variety of Cypriot specialties at Maria’s, high in the Troodos hills.
We tried everything from grilled to slow-cooked foods. Maria, whom we met, must have thought a full tour group of seven was arriving to dine.
After that meal, we either had to walk or take a nap, and fortunately a stroll through Lefkara, a charming rural village, was next on our itinerary.
We took an obligatory look at their famous embroidery. It showcases great skill and effort, even if it’s not our style.
We enjoyed the views while walking off lunch.
It’s a charming spot.
You’d never guess the grand finale of our tour: a donkey farm! It wasn’t just any donkey farm, but Golden Donkeys Farm, the biggest donkey farm in Cyprus.
On the way in, we passed by one of the world’s oldest olive trees.
Donkey milk is used to produce a variety of products from a Bailey’s-like liqueur to soaps and cosmetics. The liqueur wasn’t bad, but Brian’s use of “Hee-Haw” in place of “Cheers” probably marred the occasion.
To make up for it, we fed the donkeys carob pods (more about carob later) and bought a bar of donkey milk soap for each of our children.
Actually, Kathy and Helena fed them and Brian took the photos.
From there it was about a 30-minute drive back to our hotel, and a fond farewell to Helena, who gave us in a few hours a great perspective of this marvelous little country of only a million people.
There will be no photos of dinner. We had already eaten more than enough for one day.