Saturday, 31 May 2014

Córdoba in May: Feria de Nuestra Señora de la Salud

With a range of events including the Festival of the Patios and the Cruces de Mayo, May is arguably the best month to visit the andaluz city of Córdoba. It's also the month when Córdoba holds its Feria de Nuestra Señora de la Salud, and it was for this reason I visited last weekend.

The portada is modelled on the city's most famous sight, the Mezquita

Although most ferias run from Wednesday to Sunday, Córdoba's starts at midnight on Friday and runs until the following Sunday. They must have some stamina, those cordobeses. Held at the recinto ferial on the north bank of the Guadalquivir River, the fair is easily accessed by bus (or on foot, for those who don't opt for ridiculously high heels). With 96 casetas, it's smaller in size than the famous Feria de Abril in Sevilla, but Córdoba's feria is more accessible in that all of its casetas are open to the public.

Arriving at around 11 on Friday night, the calle del infierno (fairground) was teeming with over-excited children and mock-reluctant adults. Not so the casetas: even after the rather midnight lacklustre fireworks display (there's a crisis on, don't you know), revellers were rather thin on the ground. Our guiri duo wandered the recinto taking in the variety of casetas: as it's a few years since I've been to a city feria, I was surprised to see how many smart, semi-permanent constructions there were. Of course, there were the usual marquees with a sandy albero floor, but there were also plenty of casetas that wouldn't have looked out of place in Ibiza, bouncers and touts included. Call me old-fashioned, but a wooden floor at a feria feels wrong: I want to trail home with that familiar yellow dust smeared all over my shoes and halfway up my leg. The prices were another shock: after a familiar €5 jug of rebujito (the traditional feria drink of sherry mixed with 7Up), we were surprised to be quoted €10 in another caseta, and accidentally forked out €12 the following day due to a momentary lapse in 'sherry money watch'.

View of the fairground from the big wheel

After a 2.30am spin on El Ratón Vacilón, we decided to conserve our energy for Saturday. Returning to the recinto post-lunch, the feria de día was in full swing: glamorous groups of girls in their trajes de gitana hurried off to their favourite casetashorses and carriages swept under the impressive portada and down the feria's main streets. Modelled on Córdoba's most famous sight, the portada's archways mimic those of the Mezquita, the Mosque-turned-cathedral that keeps the city firmly on the tour of Spain map. The aesthetic appeal of the Feria de Córdoba doesn't end here either: many of the casetas are sleek and stylish, and the recinto is kept pretty tidy, with litter bins at every turn.

Portada close-up
Drinking & riding: anything goes at #FeriaCordoba

The afternoon slipped away as quickly as the rebujito, with a spin on the noria (big wheel: this one proudly announced itself as 'the biggest itinerant wheel in Europe'), severe cases of dress envy, an ice cream, a wander in and out of a few casetas and catching a live performance in one, El Esparraguero. Another thing that struck me about Córdoba's feria was the amount of hen and stag parties in attendance: at times there were two or three in a caseta. Easily accessible by high-speed train (AVE) from both Madrid and Sevilla, it's understandably a popular option for those wishing to bid farewell to singledom in flamenca style, but for me it only added to the slightly commercial feel of the feria. Returning in the evening, the groups were even more in evidence with their matching T-shirts and stags-in-drag. Unlike in England, there was no apparent rowdiness, but their appearance jarred somewhat with the women in their elegantly accessorized trajes and men in smart shirts.

Yes, it was absolutely necessary to run after these lovely ladies to take this. And yes, I really want one.

The evening session took a while to warm up thanks to the Champions League Final clash between Real and Atlético Madrid (shown on screens in some casetas), but it quickly became apparent that those sensible cordobeses skip opening night in favour of Saturday: after all, when you've got 9 nights to choose from, you don't want to peak too soon. Within a few hours, the recinto was jumping, with touts enticing us in with drinks offers and queues forming at the caseta doors. Despite the seeming one-in, one-out policy and the security on the door, there are never any admission charges – thankfully. given the amount of outlay required for a humble jug of rebujito. By the early hours, the casetas were buzzing to the rhythm of Spanish pop and reggaeton, with not a sevillana-style hand twirl in sight. At 5am, things started to wind down (see what I mean about these cordobeses having stamina?), so we made like the locals and chomped down some churros con chocolate at a Hermanos Pernia stand and limped to the taxi queue. Those six-inch wedges which seemed such a good idea at 9pm were now the bane of my life and enough to attract a sympathetic snort (but not a ride home) from the local Police.

Although I had a great weekend at the Feria de Córdoba, I couldn't help but feel a bit saddened by the increasing commercialization of one of my favourite aspects of andaluz culture. Sure, it's a sign of the times, and given the current state of the Spanish economy, any opportunity to make money needs to be taken. But with all the stags, hens, touts, pricey drinks and bouncers, I couldn't help but stop to wonder where I was. Saturday night in Chorley? Nope,  Feria de Córdoba. Still, the  feria de día was more traditional, with the usual fashion parade of trajes, dancing of sevillanas and general exuberance. But I have a feeling I might prefer my ferias a bit more local: after all, it's much easier to familiarize yourself when you've only got 40 or fewer casetas to choose from, and it's easier to meet people in a smaller place. That said, I think Córdoba's feria is a great option for those looking for their first feria experience: sizeable without being overwhelming, accessible and visually appealing. Just lower those prices and chuck the wooden floors, and I'll be back.

Want to check out the feria de Córdoba? Here's some practical information.

  • Córdoba's feria is held in the last week of May every year. 
  • If you're planning to attend, download the free iFeria Córdoba app, which is packed with information about casetas, what's on when, offers, transport and weather. 
  • You can find a map of the fairground here.
  • For cheap rebujito head to Caseta Juan 23. For a traditional atmosphere, try El Esparraguero. For all-round good times, check out Caseta Ajetreo. For a bit of reggaeton in classy surroundings (what a paradox), try El Yunque.

Read more: For more information on what feria is and a glossary of terms used above, please see my Guiri's guide to feria post. For more about visiting Córdoba, see this post.

Photos taken from my Instagram feed @ohhellospain, which I regularly update with photos of Spain and travels around Europe.

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