Saturday, 12 November 2011

All the fun of the (Andalusian) fair

Here's my post for this month's Across the Cafe Table: where the Travel Belles ladies (and you, if you like) get together and discuss a travel-related topic over a virtual coffee. This month, the question we're discussing is 'What's your favourite shopping find?'

I'm not the best holiday shopper. A lack of patience and the fact I usually travel with carry-on luggage means that I generally return home from my travels with little more than a pair of earrings (one of which I will invariably lose within two weeks) or something as exciting as a pen. So, this month's topic left me stumped: until I glanced at my wall and saw this poster.

A souvenir from when I lived in Seville, this poster is a daily reminder of the whirl of colour, food, music and fun that is an Andalusian feria. Almost every town in southern Spain, no matter how tiny, has an annual fair: a celebration lasting several days (usually Wednesday to Sunday, but then there's the pre-feria: call it a week). During these days, which fall between April and October, most of the town decamps to the recinto ferial. For 51 weeks of the year, this is a nondescript plot of land on the outskirts. Come feria, it's the town itself: 'streets' are created, lined with marquees known as casetas, food stalls and fairground rides. From noon until the early hours of the morning, the streets fill with locals dressed in their best, enjoying a few days' holiday from work and getting together with friends and family over drinks, dancing and plenty of food.

Welcome to feria

A huge illuminated archway known as the portada marks the entrance to the recinto ferial. At Seville's Feria de Abril (April Fair), Andalusia's largest fair, the design of the portada changes each year, drawing on key elements of sevillano or andaluz culture. Past designs have included a flurry of open fans and a recreation of one of the city's landmarks, the costurero de la reina (Queen's sewing room) in 2008.

My first feria was about as far from the glamour and grandeur of the feria de abril as possible. Keen to introduce me to Andalusian life, the friends I made on my year abroad in Alcala de Guadaira took me to the first local fair of the calendar, in nearby Mairena de Alcor. In fact, they were so keen that they took me to the pre-feria, where just the main caseta is open for drinks and dancing, and the trademark farollilos (lanterns) that line the streets of feria-town hang unlit. This first taste was enough though: sipping the traditional rebujito (a mixture of fino sherry and 7Up that goes down far too easily) and dancing with my friends, I was an instant feria convert. Returning twice during the real feria, the deal was sealed. Feria is an escape; a chance to catch up with friends and family in an exuberant party atmosphere, sampling whatever food takes your fancy, trying out a couple of fairground rides (and regretting that battered fish), moving from caseta to caseta in search of the music that suits you - be it traditional sevillanas or the latest chart hits and dancing all night, before a breakfast of churros con chocolate as the sun comes up.

The warm-up


Better than a kebab at the end of a night out

This experience of feria was all about the feria de noche (night-time fair), where girls in their usual Saturday night attire rub shoulders with friends still wearing a traje de flamenca (flamenco dress). When I attended the feria de abril just a few weeks later, it wasn't just the scale of the event that changed but the atmosphere. The recinto ferial is the size of a small town: so vast that although its streets have names, you still need a map to navigate between the looming shadows of the portada and the noria (big wheel), hulking over the activity below. Traditional dress rules during the feria de dia: women in their finest flamenco dresses parade on the arms of men in their traje corto (suit with a short jacket topped with a hat, designed for horse-riding). The wealthy clip-clop past the less affluent on horseback or in carriages, waving to friends they spot in the streets. Revellers spill out from the private casetas into the streets, the young and old alike dance sevillanas (a form of flamenco - if you don't know at least the basic moves, introduce yourself to someone who does and they'll be more than happy to show you a few key steps). An air of exclusivity pervades the colourful whirl here: unlike most fairs, the feria de abril is dominated by private casetas organised by associations, which means you must be a member to secure access to their entertainment - and their bar. A few political parties and neighbourhood groups do run 'free' casetas, but the April Fair is very much about who you know and how much you have - it's also a chance to showcase your extensive wardrobe, with some girls estrenando a new traje (with matching accessories) every day of the week.

More than happy to pose for a photo

Perfect accessorzing comes naturally

Inside a caseta

Although I adore the splendour of the Seville fair, my favourite ferias are the small-town affairs. With almost all the casetas accessible, an easygoing yet exuberant atmosphere takes over, and it's easy to lose a whole week to the endless cycle of feria madness,  adjusting your body clock to its rhythms, coordinating your wardrobe to its styles. On my year abroad, I attended five different ferias, including my own town's June fair. The smallest feria I ever attended was when I lived in Seville in 2008: keen to convert my English friends to this key aspect of the andaluz social calendar, we hopped on a bus to nearby Camas, Sergio Ramos's home town (not that this fact was an incentive to visit or anything). The recinto ferial was tiny: just one street with no portada. Arriving in the early evening, we had hoped to see some of the fair's daytime characteristics before the party began. No such luck: we turned out to be the main attraction. This was no bad thing though; befriended by a group of workers from the Camas post office, a few hours later the girls had undergone a crash course in the sevillano accent and learned a few sevillanas steps. We may not have met Sergio Ramos, but Camas welcomed us with open arms.

Where is everyone?

Learning to dance

Still nobody here

 Every time I glance up at that poster, I'm transported back to the colour and craziness of feria. It has to be experienced to be believed, so make friends with an andaluz or two and work on your stamina: you'll be needing it come spring.

You can read the other Travel Belles' posts on the topic here.


  1. oh this fair sounds great! And i love that poster. I love buying things while traveling that can be hung up on a wall... such a great way to create a space that really feels like it is all you.

  2. What a fun place!! I love that poster. I've never even been to Spain but it still makes me smile and feel like twirling. :-)

  3. You should both definitely experience feria once in your lives. Let's go next year!

  4. Oh, I think that you had an amazing time, at least your photos speak about a really good time!

  5. The light show at the feria is exceptionally pretty. My fiance and I had a chance to see all the charms of Andalusia some years ago and had an amazing time. Glad you had fun as well!

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  7. Thanks for the comments! I'd definitely recommend going to a feria sometime if you haven't been.

  8. this seems a very interesting experience...i am currently in spain and enjoying it...i love the places we just visited in andalucia...lovely photos Kate...found ur blog in TBEx...

    about feria??i experience a different one back home...i am an expat too...

  9. Thanks for the comment, Ruby, and for stipping by! Spain is an amazing country, shame you weren't there when all the ferias are on.


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