Limassol Is Sunny and Sophisticated
Limassol, the seaside city in Cyprus that is the island’s second-largest after its divided capital of Nicosia, is located between the ancient sites of Amathous to the east and Kourion to the west. Called Lemesos in Greek, travelers will find much to discover in and around this bustling, historic port. Limassol like Cyprus as a whole has seen many empires and conquerors come and go, absorbing the cultures and flavors they brought with them to become one of the most cosmopolitan ports in the Mediterranean, and indeed the world, today. Turn on the radio in Limassol at any time of day or night and you’re likely to hear everything from Greek, Cypriot and Lebanese pop music to Israeli news and English DJs: this is very much a modern crossroads of the Eastern Mediterranean.
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Historic center and Limassol Marina
Limassol’s medieval castle was built by Guy de Lusignan in 1193 and the place where Richard the Lionheart married Berengaria of Navarre, the Cleopatra of her time (Cleopatra passed through Cyprus too, but that’s another story.) The pedestrian zone around Limassol’s castle is alive with restaurants and cafe terraces. There are traditional Greek Cypriot tavernas big on meze, along with sophisticated restaurants at the Limassol Marina, Lebanese grills and plenty of contemporary spots that pay homage to Cyprus’s unique island heritage. One such is Karatello Tavern, a converted carob mill next to the medieval stone castle (try the Karatello salad: a tasty mix of fried halloumi cheese, tomatoes and pomegranate in a carob syrup vinaigrette). The locals are proud to point out their city’s range of restaurants and cultural attractions and the British colonial architecture in the busy historic center is certainly alluring, but happily, there’s no getting around the fact that Limassol is also very much a beach town. The seafront is lined with beachside bars and a beautiful promenade invites strolling right next to the sea, with plenty of spots for a refreshing dip. In fact, you can walk along the promenade to the modern Limassol Marina, which tempts locals and visitors alike with even more great restaurants and upscale boutiques. Also, nearby are great beaches just a short taxi ride away; these include Lady’s Mile and Governor’s Beach. And history buffs may like to know that there’s another famous Crusader stronghold, Kolossi Castle, just nine miles west of the Limassol city center.
Kourion (Curium) was one of the most important city-states in Cyprus in antiquity, but a severe earthquake in 365 AD took it permanently out of commission, leaving evocative ruins behind. The site today actually sits within the borders of a British Sovereign Base Area (the United Kingdom maintains two bases on Cyprus). The iconic cliff-top Greco-Roman amphitheater of Kourion faces the Mediterranean and was built in the second century AD. An outdoor performance space extraordinaire, the amphitheater was historically used for gladiator matches and hunting games as well as theater—and it’s still in use as a theatrical venue today. East of the theater, you can explore the ruins and fifth-century mosaics of the House of Eustolios, which was originally a private villa but was transformed into a public bathhouse in the early Christian period. The Sanctuary of Apollo Hylates, an important pan-Cyprian sanctuary, is less than two kilometers away, while sun-worshippers delight in Kourion Beach which unfolds almost directly below the ancient amphitheater, just a short drive away.
Omodos and Troodos
In antiquity, red and white grapes indigenous to Cyprus were picked and sun-dried to make a libation that was said to be sipped by Cleopatra and eventually became known as Commandaria: a sweet red wine that was much favored by royalty in medieval Europe and one of the world’s oldest named wines. It got its name from the area in and around Limassol in the 12th century when the Knights of St. John ruled. Venture out for a drive along with one of the charming wine routes in the scenic foothills of the Limassol countryside, where the lovely wine village of Omodos beckons. Its flower-filled lanes and whitewashed walls are reminiscent of the Greek islands. The foothills behind Limassol continue to rise into the Troodos mountains, where temperatures are cooler even in summer, wild moufflons graze and Byzantine monasteries and churches stand the test of time. Greek Orthodox Cyprus retains a number of historic Painted Churches famous for their unique and colorful Byzantine and post-Byzantine frescoes. Ten of these dated from the 11th to the 17th century are located in the Troodos and are UNESCO-listed World Heritage Sites. The Solea route extends some 138 kilometers from Nikitari to Kakopetria and includes the Church of Panagia tis Asinou, Church of Panagia tis Forviotissa in Nikitari, the Churches of Panagia Podithou, Archangelou, Panagia and Agios Sozomenos Churches in Galata and the Church of Agios Nikolaos tis Stefis in Kakopetria.
The lair of the original goddess of love, Aphrodite, isn’t far from Limassol at all. Hopeless romantics will be pleased to know that about an hour-long drive north along the coast will take you to the beautiful white cliffs under which, according to legend, Aphrodite emerged from the sea foam at the boulder of Petra tou Romiou to start casting her romantic spells. The cult of Aphrodite flourished on the island beginning in the 12th century with the Mycenaean Greeks, and there is a Sanctuary of Aphrodite at Paleo Pafos, along the road to Pafos—the coastal city where later St. Paul would succeed in converting the Roman Proconsul Sergius Paulus to Christianity. In the lower part of town, called Kato Pafos, there is the blue sea on one side and a wide boardwalk and lively harbor with an Ottoman Turkish fort at one end. Not far from the harbor, you can explore the richly decorated fourth century A.D. Roman mosaics of the House of Aionon, which is the jewel of an outstanding UNESCO-listed Archaeological Park. The mosaics, which date from the island’s Roman period (58 BC to 330 AD) can be viewed from meticulously maintained elevated pathways. The archaeological park also includes the impressive underground Tombs of the Kings, which date from the Hellenistic period of Cyprus and are carved into solid rock. Expect to be wowed!