Motti Verses

Stairway To Heaven in Limassol

Being a home to some of the Mediterranean’s finest mosaics, Archaeological Parks and history, or featuring the Troodos Mountains that loom with pine and cedar trees, streams and waterfalls – Cyprus is best known for famous sun-soaked stretches of sand and beaches. Tourists arrive from European countries to enjoy the sapphire sea waters with endless beaches. Aiming to maintain 3.85 million tourists in 2024, this popular destination attracts in recent years visitors from Israel that flock to this neighboring island by the numbers. All Israeli air carriers are busy with the 40 minute flight almost on a daily basis, together with additional foreign airlines. Altogether 8 carriers compete for Israeli travelers on this desired route. The puzzling question remains – what is the Cyprus secret?

I made my way to the person that for my money knows best. Charming Louisa Varaclas, Director Cyprus Deputy Ministry of Tourism – Israel Office. With 26 years in her role, she clearly points at the reasons. “When I started, less than 30,000 Israelies visited Cyprus. In 2023 the number jumped to 410,000, not including those who arrive via cruise ships. The second largest market of the island”, she says. “I believe COVID was a pivotal point for the major change. Israel is a nation of travelers addicted to duty free shopping and touring a foreign country. Cyprus is the closest destination and it is always easy and not expensive to travel there and return home easily when an urgent need arises. COVID was alarming and wars as well. This trend is relevant even more in the last few months. This April, regardless of the ongoing Gaza war, the number showed 40,000. But an additional factor is that Israelis are finding out today that the Cypriots are true friends in any condition, unlike other countries that became risky travel destinations. Tourists from Israel are extremely popular in Cyprus as they will always stay in 4-5 stars hotels, spend money in the casino and hold extensive shopping”.

Tourist arrivals from the United Kingdom to Cyprus is the primary source of this country and Israelis trail behind. However, according to European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS),  British visitors’ daily spend in Cyprus is only a third of what tourists from Israel spend. Israeli travelers are a major market and their spending statistics impress. Around €145 daily in January 2023 and close to €120 daily January this year. Their contribution to the island’s tourism industry remains significant.

With this information in mind I arrived in Limassol, the second largest city, to understand better why the Leonardo brand launched this month its 7th active hotel in Cyprus and its first 5-star. Following an extensive renovation investment of around 20 million Euro, the GrandResort property near Limassol was inaugurated, boasting a level of luxury to guests.

The flight to Larnaca Airport was quick and smooth. We turned down a 70 Euro taxi ride offer and mounted the 10 Euro comfortable Limassol Express bus. 40 minutes later, we found ourselves at the doorstep of the hotel main entrance. “Is this the newly renovated Leonardo?´, I interrogated the veteran team member at the entrance. “No Sir, this is the GrandResort”, he replied proudly.

A pristine sandy beach, situated directly in front of the hotel – the GrandResort (photo: Motti Verses)
The Mediterranean relaxing view from the room balcony (photo: Motti Verses)
The large outdoor pool was great for swimming (photo: Motti Verses)

For a while I found the answer surprising. But at a later stage I understood that it reflected a true sense of heritage and tradition the worker felt, acknowledging with some difficulty a new era of hospitality with a sophisticated brand. Leonardo Hotels is the biggest and most renown brand of Israel’s Fattal hospitality group. They acquired the Limassol reputed GrandResort last year from the Cypriot owners that have managed the hotel since it opened in 1999. “The hotel is a legend among the locals here. All Cypriots above the age of 40 probably participated in a wedding in the Grand Ballroom here, as since it opened it was the only venue to host up to 5000 guests arriving for any festive family reception”, says Leonardo Regional General Manager for Cyprus, Radu Stefan-Mitroi. “Most past staying guests arrived from Russia and as the war in the Ukraine commenced this market vanished. We felt in 2023 it was the right time to bid for this 255 rooms resort. Now after the massive renovations we introduce a new product which Israeli families will find extremely attractive. The hotel has a private beach on the Mediterranean as well as state of the art restaurants and a kids activities floor filled with everything families need for a relaxing vacation”, he says.

The GrandResort Limassol is yet another cause for celebration for the Leonardo brand and Fattal Hotels. “It is one of the first hotels under our umbrella defined as a Limited Edition collection”, reveals Mitroi. The phrase collection, as far as hotels are concerned, created a global buzz in the last decade and almost all the leading brands are showcasing collection hotels. In most cases these are a collection of independent hotels that join a major brand’s platform and its loyalty program, while retaining their own names, characters, tradition and branding.

Regional General Manager for Cyprus, Radu Stefan-Mitroi: “The hotel is a legend among the locals here” (photo: Motti Verses)
A pampering comfortable renovated room with a balcony was home (photo: Motti Verses)
The totally renovated breakfast room, modern and contemporary (photo: Motti Verses)

Enjoying our pampering comfortable room with a balcony overlooking the sea, we were very impressed with the sprawling 4,500 sq.m gardens, adorned with 363 palm trees. The large outdoor pool was great for swimming and unwinding, however the pristine sandy beach, situated directly in front of the hotel was the highlight. The idyllic stretch of coastline provided a serene and picturesque environment for our relaxation and leisure. A well maintained and very pleasant boardwalk extended for several kilometers along the shore became our daily sports activity to unwind our minds. The beaches are endless and after each kilometer surprises await. An iron leiter from a rocky reef into the deep water was one of the magical sights. If 75 year old Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant was walking with us he would probably grab a guitar and sing ‘stairway to heaven’.

The renovated Grand also offers a state of the art Spa with professional treatments. The hour we spent there is still remembered. A variety of restaurants were enjoyable and dinner with great sushi combinations and other gastronomic delights at the Asian outlet was splendid.

The most impressive sight at the GrandResort that indicates luxury was the lavish dazzling flower arrangements, almost in every public area. As a veteran past hotelier I can safely say that a hotel that invests in fresh flowers presentations is indeed putting quality at first priority. Lithuania born Edgar Avkunas and his ‘Creative Florist’ shop deserves a pat on the shoulder, mastering this sight.

Limassol beaches – an iron leiter from a rocky reef into the deep water (photo: Motti Verses)
A splendid dinner with great sushi combinations is recommended at the Asian outlet (photo: Motti Verses)
Edgar Avkunas – lavish dazzling flower arrangements in public areas (photo: Motti Verses)

The sun-drenched city of Limassol went through impressive developments in recent years. Its Marina is famous for mooring yachts at sea and shore. The long Promenade is hugely popular with holidaymakers for its view of the sea and the palm-coated surroundings. Ayia Napa Cathedral dominates the old town, the heart of the city with its narrow streets, radiating out from the castle and old fishing harbor. Israelis are seen almost everywhere in Limassol, especially in the attractive mall and some say also in the casino. For a moment we forgot that we are in a foreign country.

Limassol Marina (photo courtesy: Cyprus Deputy Ministry of Tourism)
Limassol endless variety of sea products – Paella at Malindi beach Bar (photo: Motti Verses)
A well maintained boardwalk extended for several kilometers along the shore (photo: Motti Verses)

As all visitors we didn’t miss in Limassol the Cypriot gastronomy – Haloumi cheese, fresh vegetables salads and endless variety of sea products – a joyful experience. We felt at home almost in every corner we had visited. No wonder Leonardo hotels are constantly expanding their portfolio in Cyprus. Mitroi reveals that a kosher restaurant in the GrandResort is in a planning stage. Another incentive for Israelis to flock to Limassol this summer.

About the Author
The author is a hotel expert, traveler, writer, videographer and the former Head of Public Relations of Hilton Hotels and Resorts in Israel
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