36 Hours in Cyprus
Article from the “The New York Times” posted on the 6th of April 2017.
Recovered from its economic woes, the mythological birthplace of Aphrodite is solvent again and undergoing a rebirth of its own.
Welcome back, Cyprus. In 2013, the Greek-speaking part of the divided Mediterranean island teetered on the brink of financial collapse amid a banking crisis. But after four years and a painful European Union bailout, the mythological birthplace of the goddess Aphrodite is solvent again and undergoing a rebirth of its own. In the coastal city of Limassol, a vast new waterfront gleams with boutiques, art galleries and glassy modernist buildings full of stylish seafood emporiums. In the nation’s capital city, Nicosia — divided by barbed wire and sandbags since a 1974 Turkish invasion that seized the northern part of Cyprus — skyscrapers and squares by celebrity architects are sprouting alongside a new world-class museum, upstart restaurants and buzzing night life. All the while, the sun-soaked island’s ancient ruins, medieval fortresses, powerful wines and clear waters remain as alluring as ever.
1) 4 P.M. STORM THE CASTLE
Limassol has two faces. One lines the coast, where luxurious resorts and vast hotel complexes disgorge global travelers into pools, bars, buffets and beach beds. The other reveals itself in the Orthodox churches, ivy-draped stone houses, folkloric restaurants and open-air cafes of the old town. Limassol Castle, built mainly in the 16th century by the island’s former Ottoman rulers, is the neighborhood’s marquee historical attraction. The stony passages and vaulted chambers exhibit a range of items, including skeletons and amphorae, while the crenelated rooftop battlements offer views of the Troodos Mountains, home to the vineyards that make Commandaria, perhaps the world’s oldest continually produced wine. Admission, 4.50 euros (about $4.75).
2) 6 P.M. WALK ON THE MILD SIDE
Nothing moves fast along Limassol’s seafront promenade, a palm-fringed strip of manicured gardens, fountains and public art. Strollers linger over hot corn at small stands. Couples take selfies on wooden piers that jut into the sea. Container ships laze offshore. Beyond the promenade, the seafront gives way to the public beach (sun beds, 2.50 euros) and municipal gardens, home to an amphitheater and zoo (admission, 5 euros). The blue outdoor chairs, backgammon sets and local Keo beer (2 euros) at the beachside To Theatraki cafe make for an agreeable sunset.
3) 8 P.M. SALTWATER SUPPER
If it comes from the sea, it’s on the table at Pyxida, a stylish waterfront restaurant set among the clothing boutiques, art galleries and luxury yachts of the new marina. If 125 grams of Beluga caviar seems expensive at 1,250 euros, you can indulge on more affordable appetizers, from tiny crispy-sweet fried smelt to flavorful tomato-based fish soup with chunks of cod and golden-fried bread croutons. Wide-ranging mains include swordfish souvlaki, grilled octopus, and pasta with squid and shrimp, as well as catches of the day sold by weight. Recently, a fresh grilled red snapper (65 euros per kilogram) was filleted at the table and served with a light butter sauce. Orange cake with mastic ice cream provides a quintessential Cypriot dessert. Dinner for two, without wine, costs about 90 euros.
4) 10 P.M. LIMASSOL, LATE
The Old Port has never looked fresher, thanks to its futuristic new glass and metal restaurant-lounges. One is Gin Fish, where young professionals pack the white marble bar to order gin cocktails and wines that include Commandaria (6.50 euros) — a syrupy, caramel-color elixir tasting of honey and dried fruits — or a lush chardonnay (7 euros) from the Kyperounda winery. The alternative set, meanwhile, direct their 1970s reissue trainers to the tree-planted back garden of Sousami, a cabinlike hangout where D.J.s spin vinyl albums and bartenders serve Fix lager (3 euros) from Greece.
5) 11 A.M. HIGHER LEARNING
Multiple daily buses (5 euros) make the roughly 100-minute journey to Nicosia, whose main bus station is just outside the historical walled city center. Within, the 11th-floor observatory of the Shacolas Tower (2.50 euros) provides an overview, in every sense, of the divided city. Films, photographs and touch-screen displays delve into Nicosia history and architecture — including the periods of Crusader, Venetian, Ottoman and British control — while large windows reveal the contemporary metropolis. Look south to see postmodern Nicosia, including Eleftheria Square (undergoing a futuristic renovation devised by the late architect Zaha Hadid) and the pockmarked white Tower 25 (by the French architect Jean Nouvel). Look north to see the minarets and markets of the Turkish-occupied side.
6) NOON. TURF AND TURF
Meat with a side of meat? You’ll be converted when you order the mixed pork kebab at Evroulla’s Restaurant, a no-frills haven of rustic cooking in a covered passage off lively Lidras Street. Prepared by a husband-and-wife team, the daily menu might offer lemon chicken with orzo, meatballs with oven-baked potatoes or a succulent, fatty pork chop with delectably greasy fries. But carnivores shouldn’t miss the kebab, which pairs crispy-tender cubes of pig meat alongside sieftalies, minced pork wrapped in chargrilled stomach membrane. They’re crackly, plump and juicy in a single bite. Lunch for two costs about 30 euros.
7) 1:30 P.M. VINTAGE SHOPPING
Thanks to improving cross-border relations, traveling from the Republic of Cyprus into the so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (officially recognized only by Turkey) became much simpler in 2015. After a passport check at the Lidras Street checkpoint, you find yourself amid a maze of pedestrian streets packed with stone buildings, small cafes, cheap clothing stores and — if you know where to look — wonderful vintage shops. Among the arcaded passageways and trinket sellers of the 16th-centry caravan hotel known as Buyuk Han, the musty shop of Ali Yapicioglu welcomes with used books, artwork, coins and stamps. Nearby, in the covered Belediye Pazari (municipal market), Redesign Antique sells decades-old albums, turntables, radios and televisions. Alongside the market, where a design-shop scene is emerging, Hippo sells well-chosen retro goods from gas masks to comic books.
8) 4 P.M. PARISIAN PLEASURES
A. G. Leventis Gallery, a modernist multilevel exhibition space that opened in 2014, is filled with world-class European paintings. Cypriot and Greek artists abound, but the crowd-pleaser is the Paris Collection, so named because the works once hung in the Paris apartment of the late Mr. Leventis, a Cypriot business magnate. In addition to a recreation of his opulent living room, the galleries showcase detailed 18th-century Venetian scenes by Canaletto, the darkly mysterious “St. Francis in Ecstasy” (late 1500s) by El Greco, the shimmering color bricks of Paul Signac’s “The Barge at Samois” (1901), the hallucinatory folk art of Chagall’s “Engaged Couple With Bouquet” (1954-63) as well as works by Renoir, Monet and other heavyweights. Entry, 5 euros.
9) 8 P.M. GET PUMPED
Part concept store, part cocktail lounge and part neo-Mediterranean restaurant, Thegym lets you exercise multiple pleasures under one double-height roof. Amid old stone walls and new industrial details, you can start your workout with appetizers like portobello mushroom in Commandaria wine glaze or finely chopped sea bass tartare with minutely diced cucumber and tomato: a pixelated pile of sea and earth. The routine continues with mains ranging from a thick slab of skin-on croaker with tabbouleh to a stringy-soft pork neck (cooked for 24 hours) in a sweet-sour wine reduction. Pump up further with yogurt panna cotta or tiramisù and towel off. A three-course dinner for two, without drinks, costs around 70 euros.
10) 10 P.M. NIC AT NIGHT
Nocturnal Nicosia is awash in bars. Shaded by fruit trees, the outdoor barrels-turned-tables of Silver Star attract a well-dressed crowd keen to soak up electro beats and some two dozen wines by the glass. (Tip: The Zambartas winery’s take on Xynisteri — a native Cypriot white grape — is a complex, full-bodied wine with hints of melon, honey and green apple.) For cocktails, track down Lost and Found Drinkery, a time-warp fun house with throwback pinball machines, uprooted cinema seats, oil-drum tables and bowtied bartenders serving martinis, Sezeracs (bourbon, brandy, anise bitters; 7.50 euros) and other concoctions.
11) 10:30 A.M. STEAM CLEANING
Get set to sweat. A classy detox awaits in the restored Hamam Omerye, a Turkish bath built in the 16th century. Equipped with towel, soap and loofah, you will be dispatched into the heated stone-vaulted chamber to lie on the central marble dais. As toxins pour from your pores, sunlight pours through tiny tubular windows grooved into the domed ceiling, instilling further tranquillity. Afterward, sip tea in one of the cushioned relaxation nooks ringing the central salon. Individuals, 30 euros; couples, 50 euros. Numerous massages and treatments are also available.
12) NOON. HELLENIC HEAVEN
You can’t leave Cyprus without plunging into antiquity. An archaeological wonderland open until 1 p.m. on Sunday, the aging Cyprus Museumhouses a dusty but engaging collection of legends from history and myth — Alexander the Great, Cleopatra, Apollo, Aphrodite, centaurs, minotaurs — rendered as statues, figurines, engravings and coins found in Cyprus’s various ancient ruins. Gold jewelry, Roman glassware, elaborate amphorae and funeral stones complete the collection. Admission, 4.50 euros.
Hotels near Limassol’s Old Port and Marina are rare. Curium Palace (11 Byron Street, Limassol, curiumpalacehotel.com.cy), a 15-minute walk away, is a dated but enduringly classy option with Roman villa overtones, pool and plush bar. Doubles from 110 euros.
In the heart of the Old Port neighborhood, Old Port Studios (7-9 Dimitriou Mitropoulou St., Limassol, studiosoldport.com) has spartan but clean white rooms with air-conditioning and Wi-Fi. Double rooms average 60 euros per night.
Royiatiko Hotel (27 Apollonos St., Nicosia; royiatikohotel.com.cy) is a modern midrange hotel with 32 rooms, a swimming pool and a prime location in Nicosia’s historical walled city. Doubles from 110 euros.