Without Cyprus, I’m not sure the Mediterranean would have much of a soul. The third-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, and its easternmost, Cyprus is at the crossroads of three continents—Europe, Africa and Asia. Putting it in New Age terms, you could almost say it’s a vortex, and it is all very, very old. Behind every story, there are a thousand more.
Those include a history of continuously alternating invasions and empires, in fact, from the Mycenaean Greeks who colonized it in 1400 B.C. to Alexander the Great and the Romans, who seized control of the island’s famous copper mines—to the crusaders and Venetians. The British too, of course, and finally, as in the very beginning, the Cypriots themselves. They are, by and large, a stubborn and somewhat inscrutable people, almost a reflection of the rugged, blue-rimmed landscape they call home.
The result is a kind of Levantine incandescence, where the weight of history (and it’s heavy) and promise of the future go after each other like shadow puppets under a sultry moonlit sky. Ancient relics like the cliffside Kourion amphitheater will leave an indelible impression, and the power of a random glance can accompany you years after you leave. Away from the beaches, there are mountains like Mount Olympus, at 6,404 feet the highest point of the pine-clad Troodos, where wild moufflon roam and Byzantine monasteries float across time. There are the vineyards of the Troodos foothills and the whole gamut of Mediterranean flora—olive trees and carob and almond trees too, and orange groves that make the sweetest oranges. The wine, including the world’s oldest named wine, Commandaria, and food are, of course, a given—too many meze, or small plates, to mention and frankly, one tastier than the next. To experience all of this properly, or even just a sliver of it, you have to go a bit against the grain and shun the boxy beach resorts, of which there is no shortage in Cyprus. Oh, you’ll find time for the beach on this island; everyone always does. But if you want to experience more of what sets Cyprus apart, step a couple short blocks back from the shore. Do so in Limassol, the bustling port-meets-resort city on the south coast, and you will literally fall backward in time while peering into a window of the future. Welcome to the Sir Paul Hotel.
This 18th-century former town hall, now totally renovated, is built around a peaceful courtyard replete with olive tree and framed by regal stone arches that transport you to a vanished world. But not entirely: the Willy Wonka-style glass elevator that whooshes above the original marble staircase in the lobby reminds you that this modern, 22-room hotel is as much a cosmopolitan place to meet and greet as it is to hide out from the world for a bit. Cyprus has always been a bit of both: just ask Nicolas Cage, who was shooting a movie elsewhere on the island during my sojourn. No doubt his off-set digs were nice, but they couldn’t have been as posh as mine (not that we Americans are competitive, or anything): My spacious room had stone arches, a walk-in spa shower, a heavenly Coco-Mat bed (the organic mattresses are handmade in Greece, which is in a way the mother country) and featured amenities by Zealots of Nature, another strong Greek brand. The color scheme featured lots of clean white, which is Madonna’s favorite look and mine, too. Comfortably ensconced in this restful setting, it would take the promise of a sophisticated (and included) breakfast to draw me out in the morning. Sir Paul’s restaurant is a local fave for brunch, and I have to tell you, while most iterations of pancakes outside the U.S. are a colossal failure, here I wolfed them down like a Roman emperor. Fortified thusly, you’ll be in a good position to go off and wander. You won’t need a car to do so (though thank God, the hotel has a small private parking lot—and remember, they drive on the left here), just a decent pair of walking shoes and a bottle of water because the summer heat can last well into October.
And what will you find? Maybe an ancient minaret. Or a hidden piazza lined with bustling cafés. A secret gelateria, or a medieval castle. Or, maybe I will just leave it up to you: drifting about the byways of Old Limassol without a plan has its own rewards. But I’d say one of the best is being able to call it a night—or three or four—at the Sir Paul Hotel. Visit sirpaulhotel.com.