While Cyprus has been a hugely popular tourist destination for many years, it’s not often that Limassol gets the limelight – the white sandy beaches and turquoise waters around favourites such as Ayia Napa and Protaras are classically more photogenic. However, the sea is just as clear around Limassol, but with an urban landscape and areas of (less Insta-worthy) soft black sand. A few of the large all-inclusive resorts do still remain just outside the city, but never judge a town by its tourist intake. For me Limassol truly is the best city (and district) on the island, filled with contradictions, beauty and real life.
My paternal grandparents both come from here, whilst my mother’s family are outside Nicosia. My family and I would spend summers driving here, there and everywhere around the island visiting relatives and monasteries. A day on the beach would often be followed by the hour-long drive up to the mountains for dinner in the evening, with my bapou (granddad) Taki stopping at one of the many roadside stalls for whatever fruit was in season (strawberries in the spring, watermelon and prickly pear in the summer).
I still go back and see my family every year, basing ourselves in our grandparents’ Limassol home, but now with a family of my own in tow. Our days are peppered with visiting older relatives and eating at new places, learning about traditions and discovering new areas. Some of my favourite days are simply spent in the city. A large university brings a cool, gritty edge to the old town, my favourite area, with quirky shops and a flurry of bars down pedestrianised cobbled streets. Saripolou Square is a favourite, where there is a bar for every music and drink type. And during the day it’s great with the kids. A short walk to the castle and you will find an equally vibey scene, with restaurants and bars in the converted Old Carob Mill. A stroll down the promenade with a scoop of triantaphyllo (rose) ice cream, a classic Cypriot flavour, is a must – it’s great for people-watching. This area has changed a lot over the years – growing up it was wild in parts – but you can still see old-school elements, including the occasional corn on the cob seller, sat by a little grill and light once the sun has gone down.
Despite spending almost every summer here, I still can’t bypass an evening at a taverna with live music and dancing. In years gone by my live Greek music fix would be gotten from the many weddings we’d have been invited to. Nowadays there aren’t so many, so a meze night is a must. Heading out of the city up into the hills is Taverna Agios Epiktitos, a typical family-run taverna with a great view overlooking the bay. For not many euros at all you will be presented with a stream of Greek-Cypriot dishes, all while listening to live music. Despite the fact there are more than 20 dishes on offer, I know to always save room for dessert, as the fresh bourekia are a real treat: little ravioli-shaped pastries filled with a sweetened cinnamon ricotta, deep-fried and dusted in icing sugar, just like my yiayia (grandma) Maroulla used to make. These treats are hard to come by outside of a Cypriot home.
Further north is my favourite drive, leaving the city and heading towards the Troodos mountains. The roads are better now, properly tarmacked. Growing up it was a hair-raising experience, playing chicken with any oncoming traffic, and God help you if you came face-to-face with a coach or bus. Back then pit stops were for fruit or a church, but nowadays we like to stop at villages such as Lofou and Omodos for a wander, frappe (iced Greek coffee) and halloumi lounza sandwich.
Lofou is a picturesque conservation village, with a range of good eateries and stylish places to stay. I also love popping into Herbs Are My World, a small shop that specialises in the ancient Cypriot trade of herbs and herbal infusions. Explain to owner George any ailments you have and he can recommend a brew. Our final stop would be in and around Platres, one of the less sleepy mountain villages, as it neighbours the beautiful Phini where my bapou Taki is from. You’ll find scenic walks in the local areas, tavernas frying and selling traditional loukoumades (spiced, honey-drenched doughnuts) and more old-boy coffee shops and backgammon sets than you can shake a stick at.
Pull over for more Greek coffee and hunt for locally made loukoumia. More commonly known as Turkish delight, loukoumia are made all over the island, but my favourite (called Ourania) is made in Phini, just down the road from our little mountain home. I may be biased, but it is soft and oozy, and laced with one of my favourite flavours, bergamot.
As a sleepy child I would be bundled into the back of the car and driven back home, back to the city. Now, I do the same to my kids, but with a stop at Zorbas on the way home. Zorbas is a popular 24-hour bakery found all over the island, and is the first place we stop when we arrive. I’ll stock up on fresh bread and pastries for the morning, to have with whatever fruit we picked up on our travels, ready to start another day of adventuring.