GLARING at me across the dinner table, a lone sheftalia sausage sits unfinished.
It’s the sole survivor of another massive, yet magnificent, meze.
Plate after plate of Cypriot delights were fired at us from all directions.
But we conquered them all. The loukaniko (sausage) was polished off in seconds.
The chicken souvlakia? A goner. And the halloumi didn’t stand a chance.
Remnants from other dishes were strewn across the table in our little battle of the bulge.
Yet this one sheftalia — a big fat greek sausage the size of my fist — survived, goading me.
But I couldn’t take another bite . . . I was defeated.
It’s hard not to fall in love with the food in Cyprus.
Just like it was hard for me not to fall in love with my Greek-Cypriot girlfriend, who foolishly said “I do” at our wedding ten years ago.
So here we were in Paphos, a decade on to celebrate. And I’d tasked us with finding ten top tavernas for ten top years together.
Our base camp for this culinary challenge was the sprawling 4* Constantinou Athena Beach hotel.
The resort is huge, never-ending – just like a meze. There are five fantastic restaurants along with a beach bar that serves up tasty snacks.
Our six-year-old (we brought him to help with the food) spent most of his holiday perfecting cannonballs in one of the three pools or zooming down the flumes.
It’s the perfect resort for a family getaway, with mini golf, table tennis, a games room and tennis to be enjoyed while lapping up the sun (which is still a comfy 30C in the autumn months).
Our spacious room had a balcony to soak up gob-smacking views as well as tasty red wine.
Below us, an army of sunbeds stretched from the pools through to the exclusive beach yards away.
And a pontoon reached out into the ocean — a perfect runway to launch more cannonballs.
Every morning we were spoilt for choice at breakfast — multiple buffets overflowing with fresh fruit, yoghurts, olive pittas, and freshly-grilled halloumi. It was here we sat devising our battle plan:
WAFTS OF HEAVEN
Which taverna would we tackle today?
Our first stop was a 30-minute stroll down the beach to Hondros, which is Greek for “fat”.
Which is exactly how we felt after dinner.
We planned for a meze but the wafts of heaven coming from the spinning souvla made the choice easy.
Chunks of pork and chicken were devoured, followed by juicy wedges of karpouzi (watermelon).
Fettas taverna was another lovely spot, in the middle of the old town square.
Its glorious surroundings serve up a gentle ambience for a magnificent meze, the baked aubergine a highlight.
Our next adventure took us scoff, sorry, off the beaten track to the village of Letymbou, about a 25-minute drive from the Athena.
There the Ledinpou Tavern boasts a friendly welcome with an even more friendly spread.
Our diamond in the rough though was an exquisite feast in the hills of Homodous. Cobbled roads wound into tiny alleyways where Stou Kir Yianni is tucked away.
Its modern twist on the meze boasts the best halloumi in Cyprus — softly cooked, draped in honey and sprinkled with sesame seeds – amazing.
So too was their homemade Koumantaria sauce and the cleverly-presented roast pork.
All of this was washed down with an excellent bottle of local rose (their wine cellar next door is a must-visit).
Back at the Athena, we enjoyed dinner at the hotel’s Leda.
It offered fantastic swordfish, lovely salads and even spag bol (with grated halloumi, of course) for the lad.
Food was enjoyed by the pool along with live entertainment (there was something different every night, from Greek bouzouki playing to crooner classics).
There’s also the Zephyr restaurant, which sits yards from the beach and offers a stunning a la carte option.
If you fancy some alone time, the kids’ club is great while you catch up with a book.
Or, in my case, sneak off to the adults-only pool bar to guzzle a few Keos – without fearing the cries of “cannonbaaaaaall!”.
The Elixir spa is superb too, with a range of massages, a sauna, steam room and gym.
FAIR ON THE WALLET
Back on the taverna trail, Mandra, in Kato (lower) Paphos is the pick of the restaurants near the square. Highlights included the ridiculously tasty stifado (beef stew) while the smoked lountza (pork) blew my mind (as did the local spirit Zivania).
North of Paphos sits Viklari. The views are spectacular and worth the mountain-like dirt track you negotiate to get up there.
It only does souvla so once you’ve consumed the stunning setting, you can consume the gigantic portions of meat.
It’s incredibly fair on the wallet (15 euros per person), even if it’s not so kind on the waistband.
Nearby, the trendy Oniro By The Sea has fantastic feasts, like its seafood kritharoto — a risotto made with orzo pasta — with the astonishing backdrop of the Edro III shipwreck poking through the surf.
Another favourite required a drive across the island to Larnaca.
The bustling seafood restaurant of Zephyros sits on the port next to Mackenzie beach and offers up a gut-busting fish meze of fried calamari, sea bream, baby squid and whitebait with gigantic salads.
Afterwards, we took a traditional late-night stroll down the road for the best ice cream in Cyprus at Pahit Ice.
Back in Paphos, we saved the best until last. At 7 St George’s Tavern, we were warmly greeted and seated in the idyllic courtyard. There are no menus, just mezes.
The bread is freshly-baked and although the dishes look small, they fill you quickly.
“Just tell me when you want to stop,” says George’s son Ben. It’s like a challenge. A war cry. Let battle commence.
“With the kleftiko dispatched, I was done, at last victorious, until I heard . . .
“Ah, I see you’re ready for the sheftalia.”
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