Limassol (Lemessos) is the second biggest city in Cyprus, with all the associated pluses and minuses that you might expect. After negotiating kilometres of nondescript suburbs, albeit with some lovely sea views, you reach the old town. It’s classic Med: scooters roaring by, alleyways with ancient guys smoking and drinking at rickety tables, parrots and finches cheeping from upper story cages and souvenir shops spilling wares out onto the pavements.
Nothing about this pleasant amble prepared me for the fact that I was about to have my worst historic site visit for quite some time (and I’ve spent decades hanging around global historic sites.) Limassol Castle
squats appealing opposite a cluster of cafes and restaurants, and we were swiftly lured in. A steep climb with a stroller up the first of many lethal staircases brought us to the ticket office, where I apologised profusely for having to break a fifty for the €6.80 admission charge. Well, the woman (about my age) serving me went CRAZY. Shouting in Greek to her colleague, gesturing to me, shouting at me to ask if my husband had change. He didn’t, and I was about to offer to go to another store and come back with change, but she had already started banging through a cashbox right behind her with maximum aggression, all the while casting me filthy glances and cussing me to her impassive colleague. After very minimal hassle on her part (i.e; opening a box directly behind her chair with adequate money inside) she showed me five €10 notes. I looked bemused and she screamed “I’M KEEPING ONE OF THESE!” By now my kids were clustering anxiously next to me and I held out my hand firmly for the change she owed me. (“Clustering anxiously next to me” isn’t the vibe I seek out when globe-trotting with my little kids). After a bizarre staring contest, she snarled and threw some coins at me.
That whole experience was so signally unpleasant and unnecessary that I wasn’t terribly well-disposed to the castle. Even so, its combination of random bits of broken tombstones and pots, replica medieval armour and appalling, ugly, open staircases with narrow metal bannisters, which I couldn’t let my three year old anywhere near, added up to the worst castle visit ever. No doubt I’ve been spoilt by my recent visits to the spectacular and welcoming Haddon Hall
, but even so my tolerance for both stroppy service and dull monuments is normally sky high. Avoid, avoid, avoid. This place doesn’t deserve your custom and is unforgivably rude and dangerous and unwelcoming for children and adults alike.
As the icing on the cake, a life size pirate figure lured us into the Exhibition Centre next door, which turned out to be a politically incorrect storehouse peddling massive pieces of coral, shark jawbones and conch shells. I spotted some mesmerizingly ghastly baskets brimming with pitiful little puffer fish corpses, obscenely decorated with sombreros and googly eyes. We fled, dodged some heaving coaches, and breathed a sigh of relief at reaching a brilliant playground by the sea, boasting a fresh orange juice stand inside a giant model orange. I’d like to go back to Limassol to allow it to redeem itself further because I don’t doubt that, sadly, we failed to see its best side on our first visit.
Next up was a winding mountain drive to Lefkara
, an ancient, irresistibly pretty chocolate box village in the hills that has a serious reputation for lace-making.
There are plenty of women touting lace in Lefkara, asking if you’d like to see their work. There’s some interesting silverware up for sale, too. One persistent lace-maker engaged us in conversation and like nearly everyone we met in Cyprus, she had spent some time living in our London Borough of Barnet. We were enjoying the small talk about London and Cypriot comparative costs of living until she told us how much her teenagers hated it when she relocated them from Southgate back to Lefkara, and that she had to “bolt the doors and put chairs in the way to stop them getting out of the house”. We slowly and politely backed away.
It’s narrow and cramped but perfectly possible to drive through the whole village and admire its painted brickwork and overhanging balconies. Unfortunately, the local history museum was closed but the walk up to its locked doorway was rather pleasant, as was a latte overlooking the rolling scenery afterwards. I can imagine it having a very different feel when jammed with tourists and boiling hot, but in a quiet, cool dusk, it was magical. Development has inevitably eroded some of the history of Cyprus, but in Lefkara you would never know, and with any luck it can continue its blissful, timeless slumber for another few centuries.