x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Limassol fuses local charm with lofty ambitions

My Kind of Place Limassol native Selina Denman gives the lowdown on this popular Cyprus town.

Columbia Beach Resort in Pissouri Bay is recognised as one of the best on the island.
Columbia Beach Resort in Pissouri Bay is recognised as one of the best on the island.

Why Limassol?

It is a mark of Cyprus's tumultuous past that many of its cities have different names. There are the English ones that everybody knows, the Turkish ones that few are familiar with, and the Greek ones that, in recent years, have become increasingly ubiquitous. So if you're looking for Limassol and find yourself in Lemesos, don't be alarmed.

The move towards Greek-sounding names may be a sign Cyprus is shaking off its colonial past, but in the case of Lemesos, it's also symbolic of a far greater transformation. The city is in the midst of a major rebranding exercise, shedding its rough-and-ready package-holiday persona to become a more sophisticated, well-rounded city worthy of its spot in the eurozone.

From Richard the Lionheart to Rome's Frederick the Second, Lemesos has long been a magnet for foreign visitors. More recently, its thriving shipping and financial services industries and its popularity with British tourists and expats has added to its inherent multiculturalism. At the same time, the city has become increasingly conscious of the need to preserve its Hellenic identity. Cyprus's coastal cities have often been guilty of distorting their Greekness in order to attract the tourist dollar, and Lemesos is one of the first to break the mould. The mock tavernas offering a full English for breakfast and a prawn cocktail and steak Diane combo for dinner have for the most part disappeared, making way for a more colourful fusion of Greek and international cuisine.

As with many European cities rediscovering their national identity, there has been a massive regeneration of the old part of town, which has brought restaurants, cafes, theatres and art galleries flooding in. Simultaneously, vast swathes of the seafront have been given a much-needed refresh. Beaches have been upgraded and three- and four-star hotels have been transformed into swanky sea-view apartments.

Emboldened by its newfound worldliness, Lemesos is currently embarking on one of its most ambitious projects to date. The US$570 million (Dh2.1 billion) Limassol Marina is the city's first Dubai-style mixed-use development, perhaps the most telling indicator of the city's lofty ambitions for the future.

A comfortable bed

The Londa Beach Hotel has been around for more than 25 years but became Lemesos's first boutique hotel after an extensive refurbishment in 2005 (www.londahotel.com; 00 357 25 865 555; double rooms for €250 [Dh1,315] per night). The family-run Blue Crane Hotel Apartments offers excellent value for money (www.bluecranehotel.com; 00 357 25 318 822; standard rooms from €50 [Dh263] per night). The five-star Columbia Beach Resort is located midway between Lemesos and Pafos and offers a more out-of-the-way experience. Nestled among white cliffs on the edge of Pissouri Bay, the resort is one of the island's best (www.columbia-hotels.com; 00 357 25 833 000; double rooms from €257 [Dh1,351] per night).

Find your feet

The old town is surprisingly pedestrian friendly, given that Cyprus is still a country obsessed with the car. Start at the Limassol Municipal Library, housed in the Pilavakis mansion, of the city's most striking examples of neoclassical architecture. Stay on St Andrews Street, which eventually becomes pedestrianised, to get a taste of the area's traditional architecture and old-school charm. Anchoring the old city is Limassol Castle, where Richard the Lionheart is rumoured to have married Berengaria in 1191.

Meet the locals

The cafe is a fundamental part of daily life in Lemesos. From the traditional kafenio, where throughout the ages Cypriot men have gathered to play backgammon, discuss politics, drink coffee and escape from their wives, to the ultra-modern establishments that spill onto pavements across the city, the cafe is a cornerstone of Cypriot culture. The Kanika area is brimming with the more modern kind. And remember, it's an exercise in seeing and being seen, so the closer you get to the road the better.

Book a table

Roddy Damalis is the closest thing that Cyprus has to a celebrity chef, and runs Ta Piatakia (www.tapiatakia.com; 00 357 25 745 017). Damalis's exuberant personality and experimental approach to local ingredients have revolutionised the city's culinary scene, turning the traditional meze on its head. Specialities include feta parcels drizzled in honey and crispy, deep-fried celery leaves. Prices range from €1 (Dh5) to €15 (Dh79) per dish. Fat Fish (00 357 25 828181) takes a similar approach, offering contemporary Mediterranean cuisine with a twist. Meze dishes start from €7.50 (Dh40). For a more low-key affair, visit Aristos and Kikis, one of the city's favourite street-side kebab houses, where you'll get a traditional souvlaki for around €5 (Dh26).

Shopper's paradise

Anexartissias is the main shopping street in Lemesos and offers quite a good mix of local and international brands. For a more traditional shopping experience, head to Lefkara, a small village hidden in the hills to the east of the city. The village is famous for its silverware and lacework, known as lefkaritiko.

What to avoid

Any restaurant that offers a three-course meal for less than €15 (Dh80) and karaoke bars that play endless reruns of Only Fools and Horses. There's still the odd remnant from the city's former life as a package holidaymaker's dream.

Don't miss

A beachfront promenade that runs the length of Lemesos's coastline is one of its greatest assets. The path hugs the coast and connects beaches, seafront cafes and restaurants. It is well lit in the evenings and dotted with benches, making it a firm favourite with the city's joggers and walkers. With the sound of lapping waves as a backdrop, it's a lovely setting for an evening stroll. It's a much-abused adage that in Cyprus you can go skiing in the morning and swimming in the afternoon. There's probably only a few days of the year when that's actually feasible, but it does highlight Lemesos's proximity to the Troodos mountains. Stop by the trout farm at Psilo Dendro on the way up and, after a spot of lunch, follow the walking trail to the Caledonian Falls.