Miles of sandy beach, high-rise hotels, bright lights and bars are the hallmarks of Limassol or Lemesos, Cyprus's second-biggest city. Limassol is a lively resort, even more so in September during the resort's famous wine festival and the city has become the Cyprus island centre for wine and high spirits.
Much of the old city has disappeared, buried by earthquakes and ready-mix concrete. The tourist boom has brought major expansion and the city suburbs now extend for about 12km east along the coast.
Hurried, cheap and unplanned development is conspicuous everywhere and some will find the main tourist strip a disfigured mish-mash of bars, restaurants, traffic and ugly neon. But Limassol has some saving graces — the tiny old city centre is being revamped and gentrified while many restaurants and bars have extended their menus beyond the steak and chips mainstay of earlier times.
Limassol is still basically a package holiday tourist town for lovers of the cut-price 'luxuries' of all-inclusive holiday hotels — paddling pools and pool rooms, discos and dancing, cocktail bars and karaoke.
Dassoudi is the main town beach of Limassol. It's a very long and flat beach of dark, coarse sand and pebbles that stretches about 3km to the east, usually backed by small, well kept parks with plenty of shade, paths and benches.
There are all the usual facilities you expect of a major tourist resort beach, changing rooms, snack bars, restaurants, car parks and lots of watersports.
The name Governor's Beach derives from a former British governor who spent much of his time sunning himself here, such were the onerous demands of high office. The beach is about 30km east of Limassol and well beyond the city tourist strip, but it is still popular enough to get a daily bus service. The beach lies down some steps well off the main Nicosia/Limasol highway at the bottom of white cliffs, which are in sharp contrast to the dark sand below that gets very hot in high summer. It's a pleasant enough beach with a couple of restaurants and some small hotels. The outlook is spoiled by the presence of the huge Vasilikos power station some 3km towards Lemesos but it is easily enough ignored. There is a campsite here although most of the spaces seem to be filled with caravans rather than tents. The waters are shallow so it's fine for children and there is an area of spectacular white rocks for those who like snorkeling. There are also many good walks on nature trails in the hills nearby. There are several attractive villages within a short drive including Pentakomo, the interesting and newly discovered Neolithic site at Mesovouni and the monastery of Aghios Georgios Alamanos where the nuns will sell you flowers and plants. There are several small sandy bays here with tavernas above.
Named after the horse of a former governor who regularly rode his mare here, Lady's Mile is a 7km stretch of undeveloped flat sand that stretches down the east coast of the Akrotiri peninsular from Lemesos port to the RAF base. The beach is sandwiched between the sea and Akrotiri salt lake behind, a stopping off point for migratory birds and a winter home for thousands of flamingos. It is accessible to the public, although there are few buses. The beach is made up of a series of parallel sand ridges. There is very little vegetation because the surface is so close the salt water-table so you get very little in the way of shade. The port end of the beach is mostly pebble, but the other end is fine sand with a shallow incline into the water, making it suitable for toddlers and weak swimmers. There are half a dozen restaurants spaced along its length. Normally peaceful, the quiet can be broken by the sound of screaming RAF jets from the nearby base.
To the south of Lady's Mile is Button Beach where coastal sand dunes have grown up, pocked with scrub and some low vegetation. This is an unspoiled area that is more popular with Cypriots than tourists. On the edge of the salt lake nearby is the oddly named Holy Monastery of St Nicholas of the Cats, first built in 327 and so named after the many cats that were bred there to try and rid the area of snakes. The snakes have mostly gone but there are still plenty of cats to be seen and just a few nuns in residence. There is also, not surprisingly, now a cat sanctuary in nearby Akrotiri village.
The eastern side of the Akrotiri peninsular is mostly inaccessible cliffs until you reach the village of Episkopi and the beach and ruins at Kourion ot Curium, some 17km from Limassol. It's a long swathe of exposed sand and pebble within the British Sovereign Base Area and popular enough to get a daily bus service and three big beach tavernas provide facilities for visitors. The southern end of Kourion beach is unsafe for all but the strongest swimmers and prominent signs warn of the dangers but the northern end is much safer. Access is easy enough, with visitors driving their 4X4s onto the sands. The main attraction of this area though is the spectacular archaeological site, one of the best and most visited on the island and many combine a walk around the ruins with a day on the sands.
Heading west along the coast out of Limassol leads to several interesting sights. Drivers take the old B6 coast road or the A1 highway depending on their inclination and how quickly they want to reach the resorts. Some 16km west of Kourion beach is Avdimopu. It is wide and sandy and more protected than Kourion and much safer for swimming, but there is little in the way shade. Avdimou is mostly a huge expanse of sand with some stone hugging the shoreline and too big to ever get crowded, al though RAF squaddies favour the beach. The sea is shallow here and good for children. There is no bus service though, so a car is needed for a visit. A beach taverna opens in the summer with the usual basic menu.
Near to Avdimou and signposted from the main road is Melanda Beach, a small shelf of sand and pebble. It's biggest problem is the seaweed which heaps up on the shoreline at this rather exposed spot. A sandstone bluff at the western end offers some shelter and there is windsurfing and jet skis for the visiting squaddies to play around on. The beach is mostly shingle with some sand at the eastern end. The Melanda Beach restaurant provides facilities but it's mainly fish and chips for the troops.
The most popular beach along this stretch of coastline is Pissouri Bay, 10km west of Avdimou and midway between Limassol and Pafos. Package tour companies have set up here but it is still a pleasant enough beach. There are two distinct communities. Pissouri village is about 3km up the steep hillside and a working village with a mix of farmers and British ex-pats. Several bars and tavernas now hold popular Cyprus nights and recently the village has added a new theatre. The beach area is very much a tourist resort, with numbers swelling to more than 1,000 each summer. The centre of the beach is the busiest with a large array of sun-loungers serviced by a narrow paved walkway. The beach sweeps around the bay for a kilometre in both directions, flanked by low rock cliffs on both sides. It's mainly shingle and pebbles in the middle with sand elsewhere. There are the usual water sports and tavernas.
Pissouri is a popular winter holiday location too with tavernas open for the new year. Holiday villages and apartments are springing up everywhere and the area is in danger of over-development. At the moment though it is still a relatively tasteful resort.