THE CYPRUS WE LOVE – by Matthew Stowell Posted 1st October 2012


Matthew Stowell succeeded me as editor of the Cyprus Gourmet.  If I may say so, he is writing some lovely pieces each week in the Cyprus “Financial Mirror”, whose publisher Masis der Parthogh took over the running of the Cyprus Gourmet (“CG”) operation when I returned to the UK.  Matthew was born in Massachusetts, fifty-something years ago. He is widely travelled and a writer of breadth and experience, with a penchant for good food and wine. In his younger years he cooked in restaurants, waited on table, harvested grapes and worked in wineries. This he turned to good use with well established food and wine columns in American newspapers and magazines, to which he still contributes.

Among Matthew’s life-changing chapters was a period when he owned and ran a book store in New York. One day a Limassol-born lady, visiting the city from Canada where she had been living and working, came in to browse. Eyes met. Conversation flowed. Meetings arranged. Marriage followed. Horizons expanded as Matthew found Cyprus, liking what he saw during visits. The sojourns grew longer and in 2010 Matthew and Olga decided Limassol would be their permanent base.

“While I was in the States, thinking about my future in Cyprus”, Matthew says, “I made up my mind that an organisation making food and wine evaluations and awards, and publishing them in newspapers, magazines and on a website, was what Cyprus needed and what I wanted to do. I got here and found it was already in being”.  The rest, as they say is history – he is now the editorial arm of “CG”, an author and poet, film writer and contributor to numerous publications.    His weekly CG page in the Financial Mirror, will be posted here – which firms up the Mediterranean linkage of Eastward Ho!

The Cyprus We Love

Many frequent visitors to Cyprus are lately saying that the spirit of hospitality once seemingly ingrained among the island’s natives is waning. Disappearing from eateries are the complimentary glasses of wine or end-of-meal liqueurs, the endless supply of gratis bread, the on-the-house fresh fruit or glyka for dessert. In some hotels much trickery is afoot regarding items that are displayed in rooms as if they were gifts but when consumed (or not) are then charged to a deposited credit card at exorbitant rates. More and more small grocery stores are practicing the despicable custom of charging foreigners nearly double or more what they charge locals for the same (illegally unmarked) items. A large bottle of water: €2 to the foreigner, 50 cents to the Cypriot.

On a recent trip to Italy, I found that a majority of restaurants, whose windows displayed multiple credit card stickers, insisted on accepting only cash, claiming the card machine was broken. And lately the same thing is happening here, sometimes as a way to avoid credit card fees but mostly to avoid taxes. This forces the visitor to be constantly in search of bank machines that accept his card and to dangerously carry around wads of cash. I agree that things are not what they used to be.

But I believe that unless the economic crisis becomes so dire that large numbers of people resort to cannibalism for daily sustenance, it will be impossible to entirely eradicate certain altruistic qualities that are so ingrained in the Cypriot culture that they are permanently imprinted on the native DNA. And those qualities are: a genuine warmth of spirit, a generosity rivaled by none and a natural inclination toward (if not a pure devotion to) heartfelt hospitality. If you are at all skeptical about this, I suggest you immediately book a room at a small agro-touristic guest home in Kalavasos called Stratos House. Here, thank the gods, you will find all the charm and noble quality-of-life indulgences that you thought were in danger of disappearing from the Cypriot culture.

In a renovated village house built in 1700, you will find a most hospitable, in-love-with-life couple: hosts Elena (from Kalavasos) and husband Giorgos (from Greece). These two amicable, extremely pleasant people (along with Elena’s mother, Panayiota) do everything they can to keep their guests content. I am not exaggerating. Elena will tell you straight out that she loves to make people happy. She believes it to be her mission in this life. And she and Giorgos do an excellent job of it.

The first time I stayed at Stratos House, I was in a vile mood because of the relentless noise assaulting my Limassol digs, the result of a local soccer team winning a championship after not winning it for four decades. There were explosions, roving drunken gangs destroying everything in their paths, lines of cars honking horns for hours on end, and just general barbarian mayhem. I couldn’t work, I couldn’t sleep and I couldn’t think straight. I could barely remember my name and country of origin. In order to retain what little of my sanity remained, I started phoning hotels that were close to Limassol but far enough away to ensure quiet.

One of my favourite hotels, The Library in Kalavasos, was fully booked, but as I was searching the web, I saw a mention of Stratos House. The price was less than half of what the hotels charge and it was in the centre of the village, which I knew to be sleepy-time quiet, so I phoned them up and secured a room. I didn’t ask any questions about the room, all I needed to know was whether or not they had free wifi. They did. I left Limassol in such a hurry I only had time to grab my laptop, a change of clothing, a couple of small-gauge Montecristos, a good bottle of wine and an extra corkscrew—in case the first one broke.

Stratos House    Stratos House 2

Giorgos had given me directions, but I was so agitated from the cacophony of Limassol soccer louts I got lost in the labyrinth that comprises Kalavasos’ narrow lanes. I was in the general area though and Panayiota soon found me—she had been wandering the neighbourhood for just that purpose. As soon as I walked through the ancient wooden doors of Stratos house, my mood began to soften. First of all, you feel that you’ve entered a parallel universe, but one that is at least 100 years in the past and of a more genteel era and culture. All the furnishings are period pieces and they match the huge rough-hewn beams and stone arches of a bygone architecture. My room, or suite, was up a winding, narrow stairway and I was happy to be travelling light. Once inside the suite I was even more delighted to see so much space and such care given to the design and layout of the two rooms (large bedroom/sitting room and kitchen). Awaiting me was a complimentary bottle of wine, a bowl of mostly local fruit, and a large bottle of water. The cupboards were well stocked with coffee, tea, spices, oil, jams and a good supply of various glasses, cups, plates and cutlery. I hadn’t realized it would be completely set up for self-catering (breakfast is extra but it’s well worth it).

The bed was a beautiful canopied affair, high off the floor to help with cooling, the armoire and dresser were antiques worth more than my yearly salary, and there were plenty of chairs, a sofa, newish TV, sound system and DVD player. The bathroom had the sort of high-tech shower equipment usually found only in four- or five-star hotels. Throughout there were shuttered windows to let the mountain breezes in and, just outside the door, there was a generous plant-filled, trellised terrace with table and chairs. I wanted to move in and stay. When I stepped out onto my terrace with a bottle of chilled Einalia rosé from Vasilikon, a cigar and a Petros Markaris novel for some serious winding down, the lovely Elena appeared and offered me snacks to go with the wine. In fact, in two visits, every time I stepped outside to have a coffee or drink or smoke—or just sit in the healthy mountain air—she or Giorgos seemed to be there with an offering, usually a local product such as fruit or homemade pastry.

This is the real Cyprus, and this is why we live here and will not leave anytime soon.

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