Sunny Cyprus is not renowned for its festive markets but the new Christmas Villages are encouraging visitors to head into mountains, try their hand at traditional crafts and enjoy mouth-watering local foods. Kathryn Liston dons her Christmas jumper and joins in the Christmas carols and festive fun at four of the markets.
A Christmas market in Cyprus? Incredulity greets me every time I tell friends where I am going. But here I am sipping mulled win, tucking into rich, creamy pumpkin soup and browsing candles scented with Christmas spices.
I’m standing in the town square of Deryneia, 10km from Ayia Napa, on the opening night of one of seven Christmas villages. It’s filled with families and visitors enjoying the music, flamboyant decorations and twinkly lights. The sweet smell of bourek – ricotta dusted with cinnamon sugar – perfumes the air.
Watching artisans at work in Deryneia
The Swiss-Style wooden chalets are doing brisk business selling candied nuts, candy floss (they call it old lady hair here) and lace and handicrafts. I pop into the Open Air museum, whose courses keep traditional crafts alive, and watch artisans at work – tailor, shoemaker and carpenter. Andys Karayianni, who has been a wood carver since he was 14 years old, is one of them. His wood-carved pictures of horses, butterflies and birds are exquisite.
Women dressed in black sit in a circle rolling mitsides, traditional Cypriot macaroni, through their fingers for supper later on. A horse-drawn cart transports visitors around the village.
Savvas Perdios, deputy minister of tourism, launched the Cyprus Christmas Villages after seeing how successful Christmas markets in France were at attracting visitors during winter months. “Tonight we are celebrating a new beginning in Cyprus,” he told Silver Travel Advisor. “We aim to show that Cyprus is the only place in the Mediterranean that can pull off Christmas villages.”
He wants visitors to explore the island’s villages and discover its traditional crafts and foods. Electric buses and holiday operator tours are planned for next winter.
So, with my Christmas jumper on and reindeer antlers aloft, I head into the mountain villages to see what’s in store for silver travellers this winter.
Making Christmas decorations in Fikardou
If you only visit one Christmas village, it’s got to be picturesque Fikardou. Only five people live in the former wine-producing village nowadays. Steep climbs and hairpin bends up to the village are slow going but the 1.5 hour drive from Larnaca is worth it for the stunning views alone.
I am taking part in a Christmas ornaments workshop led by primary school teacher, Marianna. She shows me how to roll out the clay to the right thickness, cut out a shape using a stencil and add a pattern using material. It’s wonderfully therapeutic and I am delighted with my angel, Christmas trees, heart and star which are ready for the kiln.
Afterwards I drink coffee with my excellent guide, Andri, at a kafeneio in a cobbled lane. We then visit a restored house, now a museum, where we discover how the residents lived in the 18th century. Lunch at the characterful Taverna Giannakos, where quirky gourds hang over the terrace, is a feast of Cypriot delights including snails and spicy sausages. It’s worth a pit stop here.
As dusk falls, the bishop blesses the market, a fire eater and drumming Santas entertain the gathering crowds, an orchestra strikes up and we join in the Christmas carols. Trees are ablaze with lights, cabins do great business selling soushoukos, dried fruits, buttery kourabiedies and honeyed melomakarona. They’re so good, we take a box of them away with us.
As we walk back to the car, the melodic sound of Silent Night drifts through the peaceful mountains, and village lights twinkle in the distance. The experience is quite magical.
Getting tied up in knots in Agros
A mini train ride is a highlight at the rose village of Agros, located at 1,100 metres in the Troodos Mountains. We find plenty of rose-scented products at the Christmas market, including those of the Tsolakis family, who have been planting Rosa Damascena here since 1948. They produce all manner of rose-infused products at the Rose Factory nearby, including marmalade, chocolate and toothpaste.
The village is also famous for cured meats such as lountza and traditional sweets and jams which you can see being made at the Niki Sweet factory. She produces 90 varieties in all. Bitter orange is a British favourite, Niki tells me.
A knot binding workshop is today’s activity. Making a bracelet is far more difficult and frustrating than it looks, and the instructor far from patient. You can’t win them all!
Making music at the Christmas village in Kyperounta
The views as we leave Agros for Kyperounta village, famous for its apple orchards, are stunning. The market here is busy. It’s too late for the mosaics and zivania-making workshops so we tap our feet to the lively tunes being played by two fabulous musicians.
I buy a soy candle decorated with orange segments and spices and enjoy a delicious Michelin-star worthy mushroom soup as the stars shine brightly above us. It’s the perfect ending to our festive tour.
- Visit Cyprus Christmas Villages take place from mid end November to mid-January. Check out the website for 2023 dates and participating villages.
- If you can’t wait until Christmas to take part in a free handicraft workshop or activity, check out the Cyprus tourist office Heartland of Legends website.
- British Airways, easyJet, TUI, Wizzair and Ryanair fly from the UK to Cyprus.
Call our Silver Travel Advisors to book your next trip to Cyprus: 0800 412 5678.