It’s that time of year again where people are talking about naughty and nice lists and while I’m never quite sure which one I want to find myself on, I feel like I must have done something right this year as my Christmas wish from 2017 is coming true! The Christmas markets and the big tree have returned to their rightful home in pride of place on the square in Vara de Rey, which means the nightly winter buzz has been restored to my home town and I have all the more reason to go nuts on tinsel, baubles and those cute mini-cups of red wine with sobrasada!
Let me explain. Last year, after the extensive renovations to Ibiza town’s main street, Vara de Rey, the powers that be decided they didn’t want to scuff the brand new pavement on the lovely new pedestrianised square with portable market cabins (or a giant Christmas tree) and so they were banished to a weird corner of Ibiza town that bordered on the main road leading up to Can Misses. The space was ample enough, sure. It just didn’t feel all that Christmassy, in the shadow of Can Misses hospital and the location wasn’t appealing to most Ibiza dwellers – walking up through the empty, desolate streets of the new town to be greeted by a crazy LED tree and a few sad little stalls and a churros truck. It just wasn’t a ‘destination’ if you know what I mean.
But order has been restored to the universe this year and for all those naysayers who thought the regeneration of Vara de Rey was destined to be a flop, I dare you NOT to have a good time on any given weeknight over Christmas! Right now, the squares are pulsating with life (and flashy Christmas lights), the restaurants are buzzing (and busy!) and the vibe is even better than it used to be. OK, so there were no celebrities flicking a big switch and the lights are more quaint than Carnaby Street, but this was always what I loved most about Christmas in Ibiza. It’s just the right amount of sparkle and not at all overly commercialised. It’s like a lovely little village Christmas, where friends and family can get together after dark and have a little stroll around as they catch up, followed by some nice food and wine before heading home at a very family-friendly time indeed.
Let’s start with Plaza del Parque – an area that was oft-neglected when it came to decorations at Christmas time, which really made no sense given that it’s a hub of activity on winter nights. Now, the whole square is glowing under the light of globes strung like a Maypole, and while parents are sipping mulled wine or cava in one of the many cafes and restaurants, their children are extra visible as they around the middle of the square. It’s here where you’ll also find most people heading for their last minute ‘stocking filler’ type shopping needs, as Natura is situated on the square and is open til 9 every night. Its windows are also strung with beautiful fairy lights in the spirit of the season and there are more fluffy Christmas socks and candles in stock than you could ever dream of.
Meanwhile, over in the bigger square, Vara de Rey, a double row of cute little market huts run down the centre of the plaza. Now – if you’re looking for a one-stop shopping location to tick off everyone on your ‘nice’ list, let me pre-warn you. The Ibiza Christmas markets are more about decorating your home for the holidays than filling stockings, though there are a few token stalls with typical hippy market-esque jewellery and leather goods if you need a last minute gift. You know the stuff: fringed and embossed leather handbags and purses, some rabbit fur vests (look away vegans!) and Indian-style jewellery sparkling with coloured gems or crystals. There’s also a very nice Italian man with an entire stall dedicated to Parmigiano Reggiano (aged 17 years and 25 years), which I must admit – I do not personally associate with Christmas! Italian friends – can you shed any light on this? He does look very out of place there with his little platters of cheese (but DAMN it tastes amazing) while everyone else around him is peddling Christmas decs. Ahhh yes, the Christmas decs. Anyone who knows me will tell you, I LOVE CHRISTMAS DECORATIONS!
Growing up, we always had amazing trees and then when I was old enough to have a part time job in a department store, I managed to score myself work in the Christmas section over the holidays. Ever since then, I have developed a keen eye for perfectly executed decoration layout and precision light placement and it’s something that has travelled with me to the other side of the globe. Here in Ibiza, my Christmas tree is my creative pride and joy. One year I kept it up until the end of March (defying the myth that you have a year of bad luck if you keep it up past January 6) because I loved looking at it so much. In case you were wondering, I’ve gone for a gold and red theme, interspersed with all the meaningful decorations I have from years gone by, with a quirky little pigtailed angel on top who one of my friends recently called deranged, but I thought looked like a whimsical Christmas fairy.
So where was I? Right, the Christmas markets. So within the 12 or so stalls you can shop from, you can get decorations – and also fake Christmas trees – within all budgets. There are the cheap-ish plastic ones complete with strings of brightly coloured tinsel, santa hats, reindeer ears headbands and felted stockings (and one of these stalls also donates a portion of their profits to charity); then you go up a level and can get glossy glass baubles, beautiful angels and metres and metres of fairy lights. And lastly, you can get creative, with one entire stall dedicated to custom wreaths, garlands, table centrepieces and decorations made by a professional florist with natural and rustic materials. The stalls that sell trees also offer a styling service, decorating the tree under your guidance, then packing it all up for you to take home as a bundle (the thought of this makes me shudder, but I also understand not everyone is a Christmas pro like me). The biggest novelty for me are the stalls selling all the individual parts to create your own nativity scene.
This is a big thing here in Spain and you can pick and choose your palm trees, sheep, mangers, wise men, donkeys, baby Jesuses and so on, and so forth. It’s such an interesting tradition – made even more interesting by the fact all Catalan nativities feature a caganer (which roughly translates to a pooping peasant). Apparently the little pooper has been making an appearance since the 18th century, found squatting behind the manger, although he’s been updated in more recent years to some very irreverent (and blasphemous) characters, including the pooping Queen, the pooping Pope, pooping Yoda, pooping David Beckham – you name the celeb, they make it. You simply pick your favourite pooper and add him to your set!
My favourite market stall this year is the man who hand-makes typically Ibicencan ceramic dioramas. He does have a few nativity-inspired sets (yes, with the caganer), but my favourites are the ones that are most representative of daily island life, like the Ibicenca making sobrasada, or the typical local bar serving hierbas or families at home in their fincas complete with all the details you’d expect to see in real life. They’re not cheap (upwards of 100 and 200€ for many) but for a true Ibiza lover, they’re an amazing gift and something you won’t find anywhere else in the world. Once you’ve had your fill of market browsing, it’s time to find a place to unwind and all the bars in the area are decked in Christmas lights and with toasty outdoor heaters to lure you in.
The Montesol is indeed the grandest, decked in thousands of fairy lights and presiding over the whole square; while Le Vrai entices with the offer of Raclette cheese and cold cuts with a glass of vin chaud. Back in Plaza del Paruqe, the oyster bar is also set to open on the corner of Hostal Parque later this month – serving up fresh oysters, prawns and champagne every night until January 6, 2019, which is when the Spanish typically celebrate Christmas and the arrival of the three kings. But that’s a story for another blog…