Growers paradise & no imports to cloud skies

22 January 1999

Growers paradise & no imports to cloud skies

In his lifetime quest to

escape the British festive

season, last year

James Evans fetched up in

Aphrodites island – Cyprus

THE eastern Mediterranean isle of Cyprus is blessed with rich soils, a balmy climate and a rich cultural heritage. Its history lies in layers, literally under your feet – ancient Minoan excavations, right through to wonderfully preserved Roman mosaics.

The island has been split in two for the past 25 years and the capital, Nicosia, is currently the only divided city in the world, with a UN buffer zone keeping Greek and Turk apart.

One spin-off for fruit and vegetable growers in the southern, Greek side, is a complete veto on imported produce. In a marketing scenario to make their British counterparts drool with envy, Greek Cypriot producers have the run of the field.

The supermarkets and stores bulge with high-quality cauliflowers, onions, cabbages, aubergines and peppers while in the south-westerly coastal regions, bananas ripen gently in extensive plantations.

Orange groves and vines occupy tracts of the central regions and because of the Middle Eastern climate, the latter can be seen growing as high as 3000ft above sea level.

You dont have to ask for local fruit and vegetables in the Cypriot travernas – thats what youll get.

One superb dish that seems to typify Cyprus cuisine is the mezze, a range of small dishes that come from the kitchen successively. A great favourite in the better seafood tavernas, is fish mezze. For a few pounds, you will be served up to 24 small fish dishes, typically starting with a fish soup, followed by taramasolata, octopus in ink, sardines, anchovies, stuffed quid, small red mullet, bream, small roast crabs, king prawns, shrimps and more.

No trip to Cyprus would be complete without an outing to the Troodhos mountains, up to 6000ft high in the centre of the island. At the time of our visit you could crunch through several inches of snow, watch skiers at play and an hours drive later be sitting in an orange grove enjoying sub-tropical warmth.

Unfortunately, Cyprus takes Christmas a little too seriously to make the festive escape a total success. There were worryingly ubiquitous plastic santas, reindeer and manger scenes in shops, hotels and restaurants. But in my book, fish mezze has to be 100% improvement on oven-ready turkey, overcooked sprouts and family squabbles.

Left: High snow-capped mountains crown fertile plains leading down to temperate coastal strips where bananas grow happily through the winter.

Below: Cyprus has a magnificent archaeological heritage with scores of well maintained sites to be visited.

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