Limassol, Cyprus: A New Mediterranean Hotspot
The island nation of Cyprus is up-and-coming. I’d like to tell myself that this is because we have become more map savvy; because to the far-off budding adventurer, the Greek speaking world now extends beyond the confines of Athens, Santorini and Mykonos; because people have gobbled up books on everything from Neolithic settlements to the struggles of British colonies for independence and subsequently thought that Cyprus is a must-see; because many are intrigued by Nicosia’s idiosyncratic standing as the only politically divided capital in Europe . As it is, we’ve also got great beaches. In any case, wars and political turmoil have seen tourist numbers plummet in the Middle East and North Africa, and by the same token Cyprus—an oasis of relaxation and stability— has been attracting greater and greater masses to its sunny shores. Hop on a plane to this charming country and perhaps you’ll see why.
I lived in Limassol, the southernmost and second biggest city on the island, for the first 18 years of my life. During that period, I witnessed its gradual but undeniable transformation from a small Mediterranean backwater to a highly dynamic and multicultural social hub. “Skyscrapers” and sushi have come along, foreign residents and visitors alike have proliferated, and English (and Russian for that matter) are now ubiquitous. Yet, far from diluting the city’s culture, this nascent cosmopolitanism has by and large strengthened it; Limassol’s charm lies in its embrace of other peoples and styles while retaining a fundamentally laid back attitude. Tourists become friendly with locals and Cypriot food is adored. Clichéd, yes, but it’s pretty accurate.
The understandably cautious reader could be confronted with distressful thoughts of Spain’s Benidorm, Crete’s Malia, and our very own Ayia Napa; generic hives of large impersonal hotels and drunken misadventures culturally, socially, and demographically incongruous with their own histories as well as the countries in which they find themselves. Laced with beautiful beaches, ancient history, and good taramosalata, Limassol has thankfully avoided a path into cultural wasteland (yay!). Breathe easy, cautious reader, and book your flights.
Then when you get to Limassol, go explore. Or relax. You could very possibly accommodate the two. The city’s small size makes it easy to find that ideal holiday equilibrium, as you’ll never have to drive more than 20 minutes to get anywhere from any one point.
A few things to do:
Take in the history
Taking your hometown for granted is a ridiculously easy feat, and one that I thankfully avoided in part due to my grandfather’s enthusiasm for archaeology. An avid philhellene, he made sure his three children grew up with an appreciation of history, and this sensitivity to one’s home culture was passed on to me and my brother. The impressive Roman ruins at Kourion—the highlight of which is an amphitheater located on a cliff overlooking the sea—were a frequently visited destination throughout my childhood. I occasionally go back there to watch the annual productions of Shakespeare plays that take place in the amphitheater. It’s too beautiful a site to pass up the chance to visit.
In the city centre, a recently renovated pedestrian area teeming with restaurants surrounds a medieval castle, where it is thought that Richard the Lionheart married Berengaria of Navarre (who was subsequently crowned Queen of England) in 1191. It’s all pretty special to walk around, though I will preach the obvious sermon on tourist traps: avoid, at all costs, restaurants where hosts try to lure you in with sweet talk, and where menus display large photos of each and every dish (even when they do overlook a medieval castle).
So, now that I’m on that most anticipated of subjects (food), I’ll say a few words. I already alluded to the westernization (easternization in the sushi case?) of Limassol’s food scene, and it’s true that you can find just about anything. Zen is great for sushi, Pizza Express has the best Italian food in town, and Puesta is famous for its oysters. As far as local cuisine—go for that, not pizza!— is concerned, you can do no wrong by going to The Old Neighborhood, a tiny taverna located in the old town. There, you’ll have the best octopus, and probably the best fries, that you’ve ever had in your life. Another traditional experience is eating a Cypriot meze, a decadent and never ending series of small meat, fish or vegetarian dishes that’ll leave you several kilos heavier by the end of the meal—try Forsos or Mbaxes.
Discover the cool spots
Guaba is one of the first names that pop into the head of any good millennial when thinking about Limassol, and in recent years it has made a name for itself in the big wide world. A beach café/bar/club of bright colours, palm trees, comfortable couches and backgammon boards, Guaba oozes coolness (it’s even dog-friendly). Sunday is the famous go-to day, when famous DJs like Martin Garrix and W&W do their thing in front of huge crowds of adoring teenagers and older folks alike.
Loud beats and short, repetitive melodies aren’t for everyone however, and Guaba really shines when it’s not host to one gigantic party. Moshpits make way for a more laid back atmosphere on weeknights, many of which are themed, with Reggae Mondays and Locorico Tuesdays particularly popular.
If you’re looking for an even more relaxed atmosphere, head out to Saripolou, a bar area in the old town. Check out the new marina as well, especially if you’re into big yachts and TGI Friday’s.
One of the best things you can do is just hang up your feet, order a frappe and stay on a beach all day doing absolutely nothing. Kourion beach, which lies below the ruins, is the most impressive in the city.
Admittedly, popular spots are overcrowded, and the water often too warm to be refreshing, in the peak summer months of July and August. I’ve always preferred June and September in Limassol because the water is always cleaner, the beaches quieter, and the temperatures more bearable. Avoid high season if you can, accept the fact that you’re still relaxing on a beach in the Mediterranean if you can’t.
Throughout your stay in Limassol, you’ll simultaneously feel caught up with the times and lost in a parallel universe where you could almost convince yourself that the real world and its problems don’t exist, and that 2017 was all just some big nightmare. Each day seamlessly transitions into the next as bar-hoppers and stargazers stay up well past midnight, well past dawn. Limassol isn’t perfect—too much garbage lies around, smoking laws should be a lot more strict, and the sea isn’t quite as stunning as it is on Greek islands like Kefalonia or Elafonisos—but it’s wonderful all the same, and I’m delighted to call it home. It may as well be its own happy, peaceful universe.