in search of kleftiko

Charlotte Roberts-Barr and her daughter, Amberley, escaped the grey of England and headed to Cyprus. Top of Charlotte’s list was making a trip to Militzis, a Greek taverna in Larnaca, that makes the best kleftiko for miles. 

I first visited Cyprus back in August 1984, just ten years after the Turkish conflict that led to their occupation of half of the island that remains today. This Mediterranean island captured my imagination with its amazing Greek hospitality, old architecture intertwined between beautiful beaches, mountain walks in the Troodos and, of course, the incredible food! Back then, Larnaca Airport then was no more than a tin building with a green and white façade, and stacks of Mercedes taxis waiting outside arrivals to whisk tourists to their destinations. 

Most summers, we would visit Cyprus and my favourite location remains Ayia Napa – then an almost two-hour drive from Larnaca along hilly stone roads; now, with the motorway in place, it takes just 45 minutes. My misty-eyed memories include playing with my family on the beaches and dining at our favourite restaurants year on year, but of course, much has changed over the past 36 years.

I booked my autumn break for half-term and knowing my husband would be busy on work projects, this year’s Cypriot adventure was strictly girls only. I considered, all of one minute, staying at a different hotel from our ‘normal’, or even trying a new destination, but Ayia Napa won as it always did with its guaranteed sun, luxury, pampering, amazing food and the all-important Militzis kleftiko! 

Normally, I fly from Heathrow, but the British Airways prices were extortionate and the best flight rate I found was flying from Stansted with Jet2, who hold an exceptional Trustpilot review. I am a firm believer in the holiday starting at the airport, and so our adventure began at Giraffe Restaurant at the main terminal, that offered both good service and good value. 

The flight itself was very smooth. We had pre-booked both seats and meals, the latter being tasty and better than expected; in fact, the whole inflight range of drinks and snacks was extensive. 

A seamless arrival into a now modern Larnaca Airport and before we knew it, we were on our way to Ayia Napa and the resort at the Grecian Bay Hotel. Ayia Napa has somewhat unfairly been tarred with a ‘clubbing holiday’ identity and being the haunt of many twenty something’s, drinking and clubbing the night away in Ayia Napa’a Square, located opposite the Monastery. However, as a whole, the resort is difficult to beat and is ideal for families and retired alike. 

The choice of hotels is plentiful; we favour the Grecian Bay Hotel that enjoys a beachside position and is just a 10-minute walk to Ayia Napa Harbour with its amazing traditional Greek and seafood restaurants. The hotel is hard to fault, with the staff very friendly and helpful. Amberley loves the pool, and sunbeds are booked for the duration of your holiday, and we were able to secure our favourite corner by the pool. The hotel’s facilities are endless, with a gym, spa, four restaurants, bar, and a pool bar and grill. Beautiful grounds meander around tennis courts and a children’s play area.

The view from our room was sublime, overlooking the whole of Pantachou Beach enabling me to watch the sun rise and set every day. The beaches in Ayia Napa are some of the best I have ever visited. Nissi Beach and Makronissos Beach, with their white sands and crystal turquoise waters, are breathtakingly beautiful. 

We stayed on a bed and breakfast basis as I favour savouring local Greek cuisine in the amazing authentic tavernas and, of course, the incredible sea food, although I must add that the hotel’s own Fisherman’s Hut restaurant offers the best sea bass. The breakfast is superb, with lots of hot and cold choices ranging from fresh fruits to fully cooked breakfast and everything in between – including champagne; why not! After all, we are on holiday. 

When dining out, we favoured the octopus and squid. It is so hard to obtain in England, and even harder to find super fresh and cooked to perfection. Most of the best seafood restaurants can be found around the harbour. Ayia Napa was very busy, and woe betide anyone who did not book a table as the best restaurants were full by 8pm. Our visits to Cyprus are the only times I see Amberley tuck into fresh salads with fervour; we love the traditional Greek salad, topped with chunky feta pieces crumbled among cucumber, olives, tomatoes, oregano, and lettuce, all lightly but perfectly dressed with olive oil, lemon, vinegar, salt, and pepper. This accompanied with grilled octopus – perfect! Our main courses were always preceded by halloumi with tzatziki or hummus.

A trip to Cyprus is never complete without the pilgrimage to Militzis in Larnaca. This Greek taverna specialises in very traditional Greek dishes and is situated next to the sea with open aired dining and further covered dining areas. My first dining experience here was back in 1984 and the kleftiko became something of a legend in our family; I challenge anyone to find better kleftiko! The lamb is cooked in clay ovens during the day with potatoes in olive oil and, by the time the diners arrive in the evening, the lamb is buttery soft and so flavoursome, it is impossible to emulate. This time, I didn’t have a hire car but found a taxi to take us to Militzis and back for €80; you may think this is excessive, but I would pay double to enjoy a Militzis kleftiko. The taverna hasn’t changed much over the years, apart from the beautiful bougainvillea reaching up to the top of the windmill at the front. Some of the original staff still work there and the menu is the same as it always has been – a wooden menu board hinged into a booklet with the same dishes and, quite possibly, the same prices! Our Militzis meals are always the best value in Cyprus. Naturally, we opted for lamb kleftiko with a Greek salad, cracked wheat, and local wine, with a fanta for Amberley! I say every time I visit, that the meal was the best I have had there, but genuinely, this time, it REALLY was the best I have ever had! 

As we chose our last night to dine here, it was the best dining experience of the holiday. Once back in hotel, we enjoyed a late-night drink on the balcony watching the lights of the harbour. We had a late flight home the next day and were given a late checkout at no cost, meaning we could enjoy a full day by the pool and that wonderful Cypriot hospitality before we headed back to England.  

This was the first holiday for as long as I could remember that left me feeling completely recharged. The combination of incredible weather, the vibrant atmosphere of Ayia Napa plus, of course, Militzis, meant that there were no unhappy faces as we sat outside the hotel by the fountain, waiting for our taxi to take us to the airport – not least as I had already booked a return holiday for July 2022. Yamas! 

The details
Flight: Stansted – Larnaca with Jet2, £411 return flights for two

Hotel: £801 B&B for six nights

Transfer: €60 transfer airport to hotel, €40 hotel to airport

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