Cruising in Cyrpus: Road Trip #1 to Lemesos (Limassol)
We are out exploring the island country of Cyprus today in a hire car and with 3 out of four of our daughters in tow. Our eldest, Charlie, is staying in bed in our Larnaka apartment to rest and recuperate after being diagnosed with consolidation in her lungs on Friday. And being able to leave her here while we explore parts of the island country of Cyprus today os one of the clear advantages of traveling with teenage children over younger ones – they’re a lot more independent and able to look after themselves when required, like this weekend.
The city of Lemesos is 65km away from Larnaka. Fortunately, it’s getting back into our usual flow of driving on the right side of the road in a left hand drive hire car. It doesn’t take the amount of focus and concentration required when Steve was back in Spain and Portugal and driving opposite to all of his natural responses. We love the cruise down the well signed A5 motorway that has both miles and kilometre speed signs erected on the side of the road and passing us, of course, are the many black Mercedes cars. I’m still interested to know what the fascination is, almost obsession, with this brand of car here in Cyprus.
We pass the Aqueduct that I walked to in the first week and point it out excitedly to the traveling teens in the back. But they use the opportunity of sitting in the back of the car to escape travel-with-parents reality and listen to their music blaring through into their ears. I enjoy watching the rugged and extremely dry landscape unfold before us – a very brown and dry environment of rolling hills with limited foliage covering them. In fact, the rolling hills on either side of us are a saturated mix of soil and white rock. There are parts of the rolling hills that seem to be gossans – oxidized, weathered, decomposing rock from mineral sources such as copper.
The city of Lemesos, the second largest in Cyprus, is also called Limassol and the two are often used interchangeably on maps and in conversation with locals. So it becomes quite confusing when a place is spoken about using two different names.
Lemesos commenced it’s tourism development pretty much post-1974 Turkish invasion. Previous to the invasion, Cyprus’ biggest tourist areas were Famagusta and Kyrenia, which attracted the largest numbers of tourists. After the Turkish occupation, which is commonly referred to the ‘Cyprus Problem’ in government and international relations circles, these high tourist areas of Cyprus became a part of the illegally occupied part of northern Cyprus self-proclaimed as Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. This forced the smaller southern townships to lift their tourist game and reinvent themselves. The southern Cypriot towns of Lemesos, Larnaka and Pathos did just that.
We park the car for a couple of euros and make our way to Lemesos marina. There’s plenty of construction work occurring in and around the marina but a walk out onto the pier is an amazing site of crystal clear water, palm tree lined roads and odd looking rectangular buildings jutting out to sea. A group of young men are playing a game of water polo.
Central to the city of Lemesos is the medieval castle which was built in the 13th Century on the ruins of a Byzantine castle. According to historical legend it’s the site where Richard the Lionheart married Berengaria of Navarre in 1191 crowning himself as King of Cyprus and she as Queen of England. Unfortunately, we all didn’t get to see the inside of the castle due to our family fighting and having some built up conflict amongst us! Steve walked into the compact castle on his own, while the three girls sat outside under the shade of the tree, and I steered clear of the drama unfolding and walked in and around the alleyways running parallel to the castle. But Steve says the castle was nice, but nothing like the castles and other medieval forts we have wandered through on our traveling journey.
I enjoyed exploring the alleyways in and around the castle while cooling off, taking photos of the old parts and the shops. One shop displays a large range of Greek evil eye talismans. The evil eye is a long held superstition in the Greek culture and is a curse believed to be cast by a malevolent glare, usually given to a person when they are unaware. Many cultures believe that receiving the evil eye will cause misfortune or injury. Talismans are created to protect against the evil eye are also frequently called “evil eyes”. Maybe Steve gave me the glare or I did to him and we are cursed now! Maybe I should buy the biggest evil eye matiasma I can find to ward away the evil curse and to bring magic powers and good luck our way. I keep walking…and we are reunited once again.
We regroup after the Lemesos Castle “glaring-evil-eye” incident and enjoy some proper Greek Cypriot pork and halloumi kebabs at a little restaurant run by an unhappy Russian woman. At least the food was amazing and the cafe was quaint and cute with music that was lovely to listen to while munching away at an outside table.
Back in the car and a drive to the southern peninsula tip around Akrotiri Bay. There are some amazing long stretches of beaches here, and we thought it was just too good a beach not to enjoy a dip. Ash and Billie choose to stay seated in the car (what the?) while Steve, Dacey and I head straight to the beach and lap up the gorgeous coastline views from the Mediterranean. Have I mentioned how clear this water is? I really can’t quite believe it. Due to being a Saturday there are beach going families at the beach in their numbers. We watch as two fighter jets appear from nowhere and zoom over the top of us and land nearby.
The drive down along the 5km of the unspoiled coastal stretch of Lady’s Mile Beach is beautiful. It’s one bumpy and dusty road leading to perfect spots to stop and have a swim or a visit to one of the traditional Cypriot cuisine restaurants. There are numerous beach restaurants scattered along this stretch of road that runs alongside the shoreline and are obviously quite popular based on the amount of cars parked out the front of them. Take note – having a car to get around Cyprus, especially down here, seems like the optimum way to visit these out of the way beaches as there is no train network in Cyprus. Some of the beach resorts and restaurants offer kids games and inflatable activities out on the water. It’s a child’s paradise. We avoid the hectic-ness and choose a quiet place to take a dip amongst the stark white boats bobbing out in the sea.
The salt lake in Lemesos also attracts the Flamingos and other migratory bird life that is in Larnaka. And sighting the fighter jets now makes sense as a large part of life in this corner of Cyprus is the United Kingdom’s sovereign base of Akrotiri. It is one of two UK bases that were negotiated and created in 1960 after Cyprus secured independence from Britain, the other being on the eastern coast called Dhekelia.
Combined, these bases amount to 3% of Cypriot land and are used for signals intelligence and of course being of very geo-political importance to the UK’s communication gathering and monitoring network in the Mediterranean and Middle East. Cyprus, we are beginning to understand, is certainly a carved up country:
- Republic of Cyprus – 60%
- Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus – 37%
- United Kingdom’s bases – 3%
- Plus there is a United Nations buffer zone (between north and south Cyprus) that accounts for 4% of the already counted landmass.
After swimming, we drive further down the bumpy and sandy until we reach bitumen road again and see the extensive range of wires that form the telecommunication equipment that spreads our over the flat land here near the salt lake. We know we’re here in the UK base area as there is plenty of cyclone fencing and do not enter signs.
The swim has reinvigorated half of us, but it’s clear the two teenagers in the back of the car with ear phones wedged firmly inside their ears are fairly disinterested in seeing or hearing anything about castles, bases, or beaches. It’s a hard slog with them today. On the one hand they can choose to participate, but on the other I’m thinking what’s the point sitting inside a car all day when there’s so much to see out here? Steve is gradually becoming more annoyed with the flagrant bad attitude of non-participation as the day goes on. So you can tell it’s really heading in one direction isn’t it – disaster (lol).
We drive out to the other side of Lemesos city through a streetscape of towering pine trees on either side of the road. It’s a contrasting sight after our almost desert safari driving tour down the Lady’s Mile Beach with no tree in sight. We plan to visit the 15th Century Kolossi Castle (probably not the best idea but that’s what we’re going past today) and the archaeological site of Kourion (another blow to the harmony that might exist right now in our family drive).
Steve and I walk in to experience the medieval castle of Kolossi. We pay the 2.50 euros entry to a man who is preoccupied with placing tiny cubes of historical mosaics together using tweezers under a very bright lamp. We say thanks and goodbye but he’s not present to us. This castle is one of the most significant monuments of medieval military architecture in Cyprus. We also enjoy the tranquil environment it offers for the 20-minutes we wander in and around it. We climb the stone spiral staircase and enjoy seeing the magnificently renovated castle rooms on the way up. Steve and I take the opportunity to talk “parenting tactics” and try and release some of the built up pressure from the unyielding teenager revolt. It assists us and as we walk back to the car I’m sure we’re both dreaming about the same thing – a holiday apart from our tribe!
Back down outside the courtyard is an old tree that is more than 150 years old known as Machaerium Tipu or Tipuana Tipu. It’s glorious and I’m more taken with the tree than the actual castle.
We leave and the girls seem to be in a more open mood. We continue our journey but get lost finding the Kourion archaeological site. Instead we stumble upon the rigged southern coastline and stop off at a short-shore of pebbles rather than sandy beach with a magnificent view of the rugged cliffs and setting sun. I sit on the pebbles just to say that I’ve actually done that very European thing of sitting on a pebble beach and watch Dacey frolic in the Mediterranean. There are some small waves at this location so she’s quite excited. As usual the other two sit in the car and listen to music and watch us walking along the beach.
We stop by the side of the road at a fruit stall to ask locals where Kourion can be found. We discover that we took an earlier left than required, so we back track a little and climb up the winding hill and purchase entrance tickets to enter the site located on top of the hills looking out to sea.
There’s really no one here – it’s a well-established tourist site but it’s empty this particular afternoon. The feeling is akin to that of the Griswold family who take their family to Wally’s World in National Lampoon’s Vacation, and yes we did get the best car parking spot!
We coax the girls out of the car for this one. It’s a large roof top structure covering the impressive mosaic floors of the archaeological site below and a well thought out walk way to view them from above. Again I’m just stunned at the nature of the tiles and baths discovered here at the House of Eustolius.
There is a magnificent Greco-Roman theatre as the site’s centrepiece which was built in the 2nd Century BC. Due to the intense earthquakes in the area, the theatre suffered from repeated damage which led to a series of restorations in the mid-1st, 2nd, and 3rd Century AD. The theatre has now been restored as a modern construction and is now used for open-air musical and theatrical performances that seat up to 3,000 people.
East of the theatre are the remains of a prominent building called the Eustolius House, which was originally a private villa that was turned into a public recreation centre during the Early Christian period. Although the villa was modest in size, it was well equipped and richly adorned. Its remains consist of four panels of beautiful, 5th century mosaic floors in the central room, and a bathing complex that is located on a higher level.
We enjoy walking around the site at sunset. But it’s time to make the great journey back to Larnaka so we can catch up with Charlie and get dinner underway.
I take the opportunity of a loo stop before departing to take a walk around the back of the open air car park and take some photos of the valley landscape behind and to the front the seascape.
We are all quiet on our journey back to Larnaka in the car and enjoy the view out of our windows.