When you first consider a city break, I’ll wager your first thought is not Limassol. Yet Cyprus’s second largest urban centre is one of its most diverting – a place steeped in fascinating history on the island’s sun-drenched southern coast. It has been voted the world’s third most up-and-coming destination, and with travellers flocking away from the crowd-clogged heavy hitters towards off-the-beaten-track gems, you can see why this charming coastal town is steadily climbing.
I visited back in September, in my second trip to the island, but my first to Limassol. Our draw was the area’s newest hotel- Amara. This new luxury hotel is just a 15-minute drive away from the historic town – a modern palace of elegant proportions with azure infinity pools seemingly cascading out into the med.
The afternoon we arrive, we immediately make our way down to Amara’s private beach, where you can indulge in waiter service as you recline on hotel loungers. The lights of Limassol blink in the distance and entice us over.
What to see
The Byzantine city is straddled by Ancient Greek cities Amathus and Kourion, the impressive ruins of both of which – from temple columns to a Greco-Roman theatre- are still here today and worth the trip. Limassol’s architecture divulges the layers of conquest and rule that the island has known; from medieval French, English and Venetian dominance, Ottoman rule and British colonisation. The old town in particular, shows glimpses of this colonial history, and is ideal for afternoon strolling through winding streets.
This sense of old-Britannia sits oddly, yet neatly alongside the two Ottoman and Frankish medieval castles; Kolossi and Limassol. The latter is a major draw for tourists and a must see. The history of the town is woven intricately into the crusades and the story of Richard the Lionheart. Limassol Castle was an essential player in the narrative – the reported location of his wedding- and strolling around its interiors, it is not only a welcome respite from the blistering heat, but a fascinating insight into a mysterious period.
One must-see, is the beautiful Ayia Napa Cathedral, confusingly not in the island’s actual Ayia Napa. This stunning church, rebuilt in 1906 on a Byzantine model, contains beautiful ornamentation and frescoes and is just a stroll away from Limassol castle. Other stand-out must-sees are slightly more than a walk away, like the Amathus and Kourion ruins.
The ruins of these Ancient Greek cities are seriously impressive and are considered some of the most important archaeological sites on the whole island so you would be a fool to miss out.
Where to eat
The idea way to break up a day of sightseeing, is a stop at Limassol’s bustling marina. Step down past the Old Harbour and you’ll find the seafront with its smattering of colourful pilings, great bars and restaurants and fantasy boat shopping. Seafood is, of course, the best option. Head to Pyxida for the finest. This upmarket fish tavern is situated right on the marina and boasts an ever-changing and always delicious menu of the freshest catches.
Gorging on fresh squid with a cool glass of white in the harbour’s sea breeze, is the perfect antidote to the midday heat.
You are also spoilt for choice when it comes to dining options at Amara. On our first day, ravenous from the flight and slightly tipsy from our aperitifs, we wolfed down the seminal Italian fare at the Cypriot outpost of Michelin-starred London restaurant Locatelli. The eponymous chef, Giorgio Locatelli, has lost none of his signature flavours in transit, and his lobster linguine, eaten al fresco at the hotel’s beachside location, was nothing short of perfect.
Our final night saw us dine at Japanese juggernaut Matsuhisa. The now cult NOBU blend of Japanese-Peruvian cuisine has lost none of its appeal and the black cod signature dish remains one of the most delicate and delicious things you may ever eat. Matsuhisa, is open to the public- and has clearly become a hot meeting spot for local Cypriots, which makes the atmosphere, much like most of the hotel, vibrant and yet never overbearing.
Where to drink
To catch the sunset that last night, we head up to the hotel’s rooftop bar which has unfettered sea views and an imaginative cocktail selection. Try their iteration on that jazz age classic, a Boulevardier, as you watch the Med turn a rosy, umber shade and Limassol shines on the horizon.
Limassol is no Mykonos, but it is well on its way and is – thankfully – clogged with half the people, and for half the price. There is a buzzy yet not chaotic nightlife. Sunset drinks in the bustling marina are a must, or head into the bowels of the old town for the party atmosphere of Dionysus Mansion – an al fresco, courtyard restaurant, perfect for late night food and cocktails.
As a base for a weekend away in a sunny climate, you could ask for no better. Amara could capture you for the whole trip, engulfing you in luxury, blue waters, cocktails and Michelin-grade food. Yet its proximity to Limassol, this captivating historical town means you are gifted with the very best of both worlds. Exploring this underestimated Mediterranean city is a perfectly delicious way to spend a weekend.