Cyprus, my latest digital nomad find with amazing vegan food
I’ve been traveling for the last 2 years (since March 2016!!) and have found more places I didn’t care for than winners. When I came to Cyprus I wasn’t expecting much and kept my expectations low. Better to be pleasantly surprised than disappointed right? I needed a place to work on a big project that required no distractions and needed to get out of the Schengen. That is what I got in Cyprus but I was won over in the short amount of time by the weather, peaceful vibes, and amazing vegan food. I wish I stayed longer to explore the whole island and definitely plan on going back in the winter (while most of Europe is freezing).
Cyprus is an island country in the Eastern Mediterranean (3rd largest after Sicily and Sardinia) southeast of Greece and south of Turkey. It has influences from both and the island is split up into two sides (Republic of Cyprus and Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus). They don’t get along and you have to show your passport to cross through a checkpoint to get in-between the two. I didn’t have time to go to the Turkish side of Cyprus so hope to explore that another time. It’s relatively unknown; I don’t see anyone talking about Cyprus in my travel groups on Facebook and it’s not known for it’s vegan food. When researching countries outside the Schengen, Cyprus fit the bill, but only a few people in the digital nomad groups were talking about it. You probably wouldn’t believe I had some of the best vegan meals of my life on this unique island.
My home base for two weeks in February was Larnaca in an comfortable Airbnb a 10-15 minute walk from the main center. I found a good deal on a private room at $20 a night (I asked for a discount for staying 2 weeks and he obliged). The man who owns the place who I shared the apartment with was very kind and helpful. He picked me up and dropped me off at the airport and was happy to go out for meals with me when I couldn’t stand being alone anymore. We couldn’t have been more opposite; he loved meat and regularly went hunting, he kept his poor hunting puppy on the roof of the apartment building and he drank a ton. But he loved salsa dancing and was chill and friendly so we got along fine. Larnaca is smaller than Limassol and Nicosia so it’s a chilled out place. If you want somewhere more lively definitely choose one of the bigger cities. It does have a great farmer’s market on Saturdays where you can score some unbelievable deals on produce.
I arrived in Cyprus at the perfect time. After freezing my ass off in Madrid I was happy to have mostly sunny skies and temperatures about 60-70F for February. Turns out the weather is like this most the year with the summer temps reaching 75F (24C) and one of the warmest winters in Europe. Talk about being a perfect year round place weather-wise! I haven’t found a place that perfect since living in Los Angeles. There isn’t a ton to do in Larnaca but I was surprised at how lovely the old town is and you could easily spend a day getting lost in the streets. Be sure to do the tourism board organized free walking tours to learn all about the history of each city. I did them in Larnaca and Nicosia and it was a good time.
A short drive from the center of town is a salt pond with flamingos (too far away for a photo). Sadly there is a cat overpopulation problem. I visited a church and the local mosque where there were hundreds and all seemed to have eye infections and other ailments. It seems that someone at least feeds them. They really need a TNR program and it’s surprising no one has started one yet.
The first weekend I was able to attend a monthly vegan potluck and make new friends. Also the holiday of Green Monday marked the start of fasting/lent for the Cypriots, which means people eat a (mostly) vegan diet during this time. The weird thing is vegetarian here on Cyprus means vegan but with seafood! So all the bakeries had nitisima pastries that were vegan. Many restaurants had meals that are typically full of dairy in a vegan version (like the wonderful Italian restaurant below). Even the Dominos had vegan pizza (it’s not tasty btw). So if you went to a restaurant there would be vegetarian symbols next to some dishes with seafood (face palm) but that meant there wasn’t any butter, cheese, milk, etc. in the dish. So strange.
Cyprus was my 41st country to visit so I was really shocked to have some of the best meals of my life there. And boy were the pastry selections at the bakery heavenly!! It’s a good thing I was super busy with my project and didn’t leave the house much because I could have easily put on ten pounds. Now let’s talk about my favorite eats in Cyprus. And excuse the photos; I mostly ate out at night. There are way more options then HappyCow would lead you to believe. Visit Stephanie’s blog for all the ins and outs of eating vegan in Cyprus.
I had two standout meals at Solar Kitchen Bar, the one vegan restaurant in Larnaca. The first visit I had their moussaka which was filled with veggies and lentils, and served with a side salad. It was the most affordable meal I had in Cyprus at 8€ with tea. Then I tried their sprouted lentil and beet burger, picture above, which they serve as 2 burgers wrapped in a tortilla with a fresh salad. This was also delicious. Be sure to stop by here if you are in Cyprus to support vegan businesses! They also have yoga classes that I didn’t get to try unfortunately.
If you love meze/mezze (platters full of little samples of dips, falafel, and salads) Cyprus is the place. But beware if you try to do mezze alone! They bring you so much food. If you are 3 people order the mezze for 2 because it will be more than enough! I thought mezze would be kind of universally about the same with similar flavors they don’t really fluctuate. I was wrong! Three different places for mezze really blew my mind and tastebuds. A new dish I was introduced to is called Muhammara – a hot pepper dip with ground walnuts, breadcrumbs, garlic, salt, lemon juice, and olive oil. I practically licked the bowl of this tasty dip. I also fell in love with Fattoush salad. All the ingredients were so fresh and delicious.
Maqam Al Sultan has a mezze for one, which isn’t common. Of course, it was too much food for me to eat in one sitting so I got two meals out of it! The second place whose mezze blew me away was in Nicosia where I went on a day trip with a guy from Macedonia who checked into my Airbnb. We did a walking tour with another new friend I made at the potluck then he took us to Jenny’s for lunch. This was the biggest mezze I had ever seen but I couldn’t eat some of the things they brought out that had meat. This mezze for 2 was 28€ split between 3 people, making it an affordable choice. I was lucky that my dining guests covered mine but they did it twice as much as me 😉 The 3rd place was a French Restaurant down the street from my house called Chez Faina.
The next best meal I had was at 1900 Art Bar. When I was doing research for vegan meals I found Stephanie’s blog full of all the options in Larnaca. It was my mission to try them all before I left but how lucky I was that I met Stephanie and we went together. If you are ever traveling alone don’t be afraid to reach out to the local vegans. Stephanie was happy to meet up and we had such a great time getting to know each other and stuffing our faces with the most delicious meal. Even though it doesn’t look like much from the photo.
It was a special that they only had during Christmas time, but since it was fasting time in Cyprus you get more choices as a vegan. This dish was stuffed eggplant and zucchini with a béchamel sauce, served with roasted potatoes and veggies. It was heavenly. Like I was having a Harry Met Sally moment at the table, it was that good. With a glass of wine this set me back 20€.
It was here that she told me about the vegan pastries at the bakery and I had to see with my own eyes the next day. There was soooo many things! Since I’m a sweets gal I went for the almond croissant, the tahini pie (which is a traditional Cypriot pastry made of flakey dough but crunchy around the edges), and a pumpkin thing that I wasn’t fond of. But the other two were so tasty; I hadn’t had anything like it before.
For a quick and affordable meal visit Abu Dany on the main street. The owner is vegan himself and makes the best soups (always vegan I think) and fairly tasty falafel. He was kind of grumpy and not friendly though! I got a salad with falafel balls and they were just okay.
On my last night in Cyprus I went to Spaggeteria Italia on the recommendation of Stephanie. She said that many of the cream based dishes were actually vegan so I was super excited to try it. I honestly never eat Italian food because the good stuff is never vegan. When I looked over the menu it was really hard to choose but since tortellini is almost never vegan I had to go for that. It was filled with truffle mushrooms and covered in a creamy sauce. It was heavenly!
Another place I want to mention is Verde coffeeshop and the organic shop next door. My Airbnb was only a 10 minute walk from here so I went often to work on my computer. They are one of the only places I’ve ever found that had organic decaf espresso and they make the most delicious latte. Try the tahini pie, then stop by the store to grab some provisions.
One last thing I will say is it’s a myth that it’s cheaper here than other parts of Europe. I thought it was kind of average priced. Definitely less expensive than London but not as cheap as Budapest. Most my meals at restaurants were over 10€ so with the conversion I’m paying more. If you cook most your meals at home you can have an affordable time in Cyprus for sure but there are cheaper places as well.
Overall I would say that Cyprus is a solid place for vegans to visit, especially digital nomads looking for a place with lovely weather to escape the Schengen for a bit. There isn’t a ton of touristy type stuff to do but if you love chilling on the beach Larnaca fits the bill!
Have you been to Cyprus before?