Once nothing more than a sleepy fishing village, it was a raging storm that changed the fate of Cyprus’s largest port city. Richard the Lionheart took refuge in Limassol’s harbour in 1191, and went on to conquer the entire island.
Exploring the old town’s streets is like peeling back the layers of its embattled history. Beneath Kepir Mosque are the ruins of medieval and byzantine churches, whilst 150 metres away, imposing Limassol Castle sits atop a 5th century Christian basilica. Romans, Franks, Turks and the British ruled here, and what a legacy they’ve left. There are balconied neoclassical townhouses, Ottoman cemeteries, ornate Greek orthodox churches and minarets as tall as the neighbourhood’s swaying palms.
Lording over the city’s storied harbour on old town’s southern border is its crusader castle, ringed by medieval industrial mills, where the country’s carob, known as “black gold” was refined. Have a good mooch around the renovated complex’s museum and microbrewery, saving your carob honey souvenirs for Saripolou’s arcaded market. Built in 1917, the listed landmark creaks with other Cypriot delicacies like loukoumia (a Greek “Turkish delight”) and olive oil, as well as reed baskets and leather sandals.
On adjoining Saripolou Square, gnarled ficus trees shade rickety-seated tavernas where long Mediterranean lunches are de rigueur. Come twilight, its 30 bars reel in the university crowd. You’ll find Cypro-Lebanese eateries, 24-hour bakeries and working men’s mayirios tucked into nearby alleys, where rembetika (the Greek urban blues) sounds out. Spilling out onto the sidewalks are traditional lace wares known as lefkaritika – a thriving cottage industry in the city. Getting lost in this neighbourhood can lead to some artistic awakenings, with colourful doorways opening up to secret courtyards where leathersmiths and mosaicists live and work. Old town is flushed with 25 or so of these artisan workshop-cum-galleries. Back on the main drag, Agiou Andreou, there are scores of pavement cafes to fuel your Cypriot coffee habit, before getting wonderfully lost all over again.
Asian otters, flamingos, kangaroos, Cyprus oxen, capuchin monkeys, rare Pygmy hippos and some 300 birds call this spotlessly maintained zoo home. It’s nestled in the eucalyptus-scented Municipal Gardens, which host the city’s 10-day wine festival every September.
Vyronos Avenue, Limassol 3105, +357 25 588345
An eight-minute cycle (city bike rental, nextbike.com)
Katie Sabry Artist’s Studio
Ailurophiles, sun worshippers and art lovers will all enjoy this cheerful open studio-gallery, which doubles as Anglo-Cypriot painter Katie Sabry’s home. Its century-old walls are lined with watercolours depicting Cyprus’s bountiful nature, from the rugged Akamas Peninsula to its swollen pomegranate trees. Step into the suntrap courtyard, adorned with Katie’s mosaics (and several snoozing moggies) upcycled from marble offcuts, broken china tea sets and discarded pottery. Prices range from US$16 for fine art prints to $900 for larger paintings, with mosaics starting at $22.
9 Georgiou Malekidi Street, Limassol 3040, +357 99 571139
A ten-minute cycle
Old Port Sea Sponges Exhibition Centre
Harvesting sea sponges is a maritime industry that’s been going since antiquity in the Med, and kitschy décor aside, this is the best place to rummage for all-natural ones in every shape and size. Even Homer and Aristotle eulogized them. Shop for other homegrown souvenirs like olive oil cosmetics, loofah slippers, $2 pumice stones, and donkey milk soap that promises skin like Cleopatra’s.
Old Port roundabout 3, Limassol 3733, +357 25 871656, apacy.com
A three-minute walk
A crusader castle with nine lives, the city’s most iconic landmark has survived earthquakes, fires and pirate raids over the course of its turbulent 800-year history. Its also served time as a prison, police station, WWII British Army headquarters and Ottoman fortress. Start in its echoing subterranean crypts, working your way up to it prison-cells-turned-galleries, displaying everything from 13th century jewellery to sacred utensils and Venetian tombstones. Then come up for air on its breezy battlements, which boast 360° views of the city and beyond, from its superyacht marina to the Troodos Mountains.
Castle Square, old town, +357 25 305419
A seven-minute cycle (docking station on nearby Pavlou Mela street)
Constantino’s Ceramic Creations
Constantinos’s stoneware vessels are the next best thing to coming home with an ancient piece of Cypriot pottery. Don’t be surprised if you find the museum-exhibited ceramicist firing up the kiln or mixing glazes from local seashells in his annexed workshop.
36 Megalou Alexandrou street, Limassol 3041, +357 99 363402
A six-minute walk
This Ifigeneias street bar was made for balmy spring evenings. The backdrop: a weathered Havana-esque façade, is an abandoned mansion that belonged to one of the island’s wealthiest men. Strung with twinkling fairy lights, its bamboo-jasmine gardens now hum with conversation and the clink of balloon glass G&Ts. There are some 70 gins to pore over and exotic cocktails like their Written in the Stars, made with pineapple liqueur, gin, coconut syrup and pink grapefruit. Pair with a crispy Margherita or cheese-charcuterie platter from the no-nonsense snack menu, whipped up by its sister bar over the road.
23 Ifigeneias street, Limassol 3036, +357 96 108877, librarybar.com.cy
A four-minute taxi
For Cypriot fare with a contemporary twist, this handsome manor house on the fringes of old town is hard to beat. Dine al fresco beneath the boughs of age-old olive trees or the vaulted arches of its honey-stoned dining room. Tables groan with orzo risotto, open sheep burgers and kleftiko; slow-cooked lamb raised on founder Yiannis Antoniades’s own farm. Everything is homemade, down to the mayo. Raise a glass of Maratheftiko (a velvety local red) to Cyprus’ 6,000-year winemaking history and Dinonysus, the Greek god of wine.
16th June Street, Nr. 5, Limassol 3022, +357 25 222210, facebook.com/dionysusmansion
A six-minute taxi
Sir Paul Hotel
Named after owner Natali Martini’s knighted great grandfather, the former lives of this neoclassical beauty include a bank, town hall, gentlemen’s club and stables. History lives on in its sweeping marble staircase and stone-arched courtyard, now a weekender’s favourite brunch spot. One floor up, the minimalist-makeover takes shape across its 22 high-ceilinged rooms, clad in unfinished Cypriot stone, cypress floors and local bronze. Sleep rituals are taken very seriously too, with menus for pillows and mattresses. Despite being set just one block back from the seafront boulevard, you’ll need to check into room 103 to catch a glimpse of the sparkling Med from your private balcony.
5 Ifigeneias Street, Limassol 3036, +357 25 755454, sirpaulhotel.com