I’ve decided I like goats.
Not in the same way I like dogs and not as pets. More as a metaphor for Cyprus as I remember it when I first starting visiting 16 years ago. Then goats sometimes jumped into our garden, which was on the edge of farmland and goats were herded between pastures near us. Goats and sometimes sheep were a common sight but less so now. The sound of their bells is a wonderful auditory memory.
“There are two goats in the garden!” I remember exclaiming, being quite startled and delighted at the same time.
The mountain sheep, called a Mouflon, is a protected animal that technically is a sub species of the wild sheep called Ovis Ories but looks more like a goat to me. It is the emblem of Vouni Winery, situated near the village of Panayia, which is our destination for the day of sightseeing with friends visiting from Switzerland. The Vouni Winery bottle labels all feature a distinctive image of the Moufflon.
Mouflon are important because they are an endangered species, rarely seen. The Cyprus Mouflon, also called Agrino, is found mainly in the Paphos Forest, which is an area adjacent to Panayia.
From Paphos on the southwest coast, the drive to Panayia is all-uphill as we climb the foothills of the Troodos Mountains to 1000 metres, increasingly among loosely woven pine forests so different to the seemingly impenetrable wall of west coast forests in British Columbia.
We decide to show our visiting friends a different perspective of Cyprus, away from the usual attractions of beaches and archeological remains, beautiful and interesting as they are.
Vouni Winery, a family run enterprise, makes both red and white wines including Alina, from Xynisteri grapes and a recent red wine discovery for us, Barba Yiannis, made from Maratheftiko red grapes. Both Xynisteri and Maratheftiko grapes are indigenous grape varieties. Vouni Winery makes wines from other indigenous grapes such as Promara and Spourtiko white varieties and Yiannoudi and Ntopio Mavro red varieties.
Together with several other Cyprus wineries, Vouni Winery is steadily gaining greater recognition for its wines, including winning several awards and the only gold medal for Cyprus wines at the Decanter Wines of the World 2016 competition.
Vouni Winery benefits from a unique high altitude terroir in the shadow of the Troodos Mountains. Xynisteri grapes seem particularly well suited to the high altitude and produce a white wine of floral and fruity aromas, minerality and enough acidity to make it refreshing. The Vouni Alina wine from Xynisteri is one of our favourite white wines in Cyprus. The Barba Yiannis red wine is made from Maratheftiko, which is generally regarded as the best red wine variety in Cyprus. This wine is another of our Cyprus wine favourites: a rich wine with soft tannins, so it’s easy to enjoy with its aromas of cherries and black chocolate. Something I particularly appreciate at Vouni Winery is that the back labels on the wine bottles provide all details of the wine production.
Leaving Vouni to drive into Panayia village, we see signs for the birthplace and childhood home of Archbishop Macharios (1913-1977), the first President of the independent Republic of Cyprus from 1960 until his death in 1977. The opportunity to visit these places is an added bonus of local history as we haven’t realized or maybe we have forgotten that Panayia was the birthplace of Archbishop Macharios.
We park the car and first enter the small museum to Archbishop Macharios and see a collection of many photographs and memorabilia of his remarkable life. Then, we walk around the corner and enter the small courtyard and the house where he was brought up as a young child. Evocatively furnished with simple furniture and pottery, the earthen floor and attached animal barn of the stone house speak to the humble early life of this man who rubbed shoulders with world leaders and took his prominent place in the history of Cyprus.
As a young person growing up in the United Kingdom in the 1960’s, I remember hearing Archbishop Marcharios’s name frequently in the news. Little did I imagine that one day I would visit his family home.
Wine tasting and learning about local history always seems to create an appetite!
We adjourn to the nearby Oniro restaurant, which we remember from a visit several years ago. Its early February, cool yet sunny. Perfect winter weather. Wearing sweaters, we sit on the patio and enjoy home made fresh lemonade: an Oniro specialty. We order a meze lunch, meaning a progression of local dishes which are presented as they are made: grilled halloumi, hummous, sun-ripened black olives, pita bread, fava beans in tomato sauce, arugula salad, feta with drizzled olive oil and oregano, aromatic sliced tomatoes, calamari…
Simple, nourishing, healthy: delicious.
At the end of our sightseeing day, we drive back to Paphos the long route, enjoying the seemingly remote countryside on our way. In one area that we pass, I hear that charismatic tinkling, jingling sound of small bells and know a shepherd with his goats and sheep is nearby.
Map of area: