Cyprus prepares for its upcoming tourist season

There are many places to see, including archaeological sites and historic churches. Take time to enjoy the local food and culture.

 A LUXURY YACHT in the Limassol marina. (photo credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)
A LUXURY YACHT in the Limassol marina.
(photo credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)

It’s about a 30-minute drive from Limassol to the small fishing village of Zygi. The road goes along the coast and then inland a bit. If you aren’t careful, you can miss the turnoff and end up heading along the highway into the mountains toward Nicosia. 

If you don’t make that mistake, or if you turn around and make your way back as we did, then you take the exit onto the E107 and the small road takes you down a flat plain toward the sea. This area is festooned with small farms and a series of shops that seem to sell plants for gardens.

Zygi itself has a small marina for sailboats and a series of fish restaurants. It’s a fisherman’s village. There are several historical buildings at the main crossroads of the small village. These seem to be from a bygone era. It was late March when we arrived. There were only a handful of foreigners around. It’s not yet tourist season. 

We went to the Hercules Fish tavern. The restaurant has a dozen tables and large windows so you can see the Mediterranean while you eat. The staff is friendly and it seems to be a family business. 

In the kitchen, there are fresh fish to choose from. There are cuttlefish, red snapper, sardines, red mullets, sea bream and others. They also have fried calamari. The cost for the fish is around $70 a kilo, but you wouldn’t order a kilo of fish for a meal, so that means the plates are a quarter of that price, and it’s best to order several things.

 THE OLD Town area of Limassol. (credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN) THE OLD Town area of Limassol. (credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)

Spend some time in Zygi

Zygi is just one of many pleasant places to spend your time in Cyprus. It gives a preview of the summer to come. The country will host millions of tourists this year. In 2022, around 1.6 million arrived by July, and millions more come as the months stretch into fall. 

I came to Cyprus by sailboat this year, my first time on the island, which is home to around 1.5 million people. We slept on the boat at the pleasant and modern marina in Limassol. Limassol itself is a medium-sized city of around 155,000. Most of the country can be accessed in a few hours driving, such as going up the coast to Larnaca or Ayia Napa, or over the mountains to Nicosia.

Like many countries in the Mediterranean, it has the usual role to play in the history here. Human inhabitation goes back thousands of years. Mycenaean Greeks settled the island beginning in 1400 BCE, and later it was taken over by Alexander the Great, and eventually by the Romans in 58 BCE. Rome had already come to what is now Israel in 63 BCE. 

There was a Jewish community on Cyprus that thrived in this period for hundreds of years. Cyprus eventually shifted to Byzantine control and was raided by the Crusaders, eventually coming under Venetian control and then the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century. 

Eventually the island came under British control. Here again it played a role in history related to Israel because many Jews were placed in internment camps there. Tens of thousands of Jews were detained in Cyprus, many wanting to come to what was then British Mandate Palestine. They were kept in numerous camps in Karaolos, Xylotymbou  and Dhekelia. 

Today there are several thousand Jews who live in Cyprus and there is a Chabad House in Limassol and at least one kosher restaurant where you can get dishes like shwarma. There is also a synagogue and a museum in Larnaca. I did not have the chance to visit any of these places but some of those traveling with me checked out the kosher restaurant in Limassol.

One afternoon on the island, we drove up to the picturesque mountain village of Lofou. The village is about a half hour from Limassol. It has a number of guesthouses and restaurants. One of the establishments was operated by a group called Truly Cyprus and another by Oinoessa, which runs traditional boutique guest houses in the town.

We had beer at a place called the Kamares Taverna and walked around the small streets. Most of this village looks like it hasn’t changed for 50 years or more. The water infrastructure, such as wells, all seem to date from 1953, but today there doesn’t seem to be much of a local population. 

As the last rays of the setting sun begin to sit on the mountains, the town takes on a medieval feel. Transported back in time we went to a local tavern called the Agrovino Lofou Tavern. Here the specialty is halloumi cheese and lamb. The succulent lamb called “Kleftiko slow cooked lamb in the oven” came on a platter and melted off the bone. It definitely ranked as one of the best lamb dishes I’ve had in a while. Tender and well prepared. The local wine was also nice and the tavern has seating in a room with a fireplace, which brings the whole feeling of being back in time into the room.

Back in Limassol on our second day there, I took time to walk around the town. There are modern chain restaurants like Caffè Nero and TGI Fridays and McDonald’s. There are also other local eateries with the usual fare you’d expect such as hamburgers or sushi. There is also a sign for an all-you-can-eat Chinese and sushi buffet for only $20. 

The old town of Limassol is a nice short walk and there are many people selling local clothing and other products. Overall it’s not that interesting and it’s preferable to rent a car and get out of the city. The promenade along the water is nice and there are large container ships at anchor. Down the coast there are also cruise ships plying their trade.

As Cyprus opens its doors for the summer tourist season the island is definitely worth a visit. Getting off the beaten path is worthwhile. There are many places to see, including archaeological sites and historic churches. Take time to enjoy the local food and culture.