Monday, 27 April 2015

Visiting Spain in Spring: Where to go, What to do


If you take one trip to Spain, take it in spring. From the confetti-like petals of almond blossom in early spring to the beach-ready temperatures towards the end of the season, spring can do almost no wrong in Spain. Not withstanding the odd April shower, we are often blessed with warm, bright days at this time of year. And as if that wasn't enough, there's also a packed calendar of festivities to keep you entertained.

Where to go in Spring

 

Welcome to La Malagueta, Malaga's city beach

 

In short, anywhere you like. Those chilly cities in Spain's heartland have shaken off their winter frosts and their trees spring back to life; interior cities like Madrid and Seville that broil in summer languish at almost ideal temperatures. If you prefer to escape the coastal crowds, it's a good time of year to hit the beaches of the Canary Islands, the Balearics, Málaga and around Valencia. Beach weather's not always guaranteed on the peninsula, and you may not be brave enough for a dip off the Costa Brava unless you like things icy. If you're planning on taking an active holiday involving walking, cycling or horse riding, spring's a great time to do it: generally warm enough to be pleasant, but little risk of sweating buckets.

The Costa Brava is a good choice for spring breaks


Although the whole country's a good bet in spring, a few areas in Spain stand out for their festivities, notably Córdoba in May (see below) and Andalucía in general for its Semana Santa celebrations closely followed by all the fun of the fair.


Spring fiestas

 
Falla ready to go up in flames

Spring is a fine time to shake off the winter slump with some Spanish-style festivities. One of the first is Las Fallas, Valencia's fire-cracking, sculpture burning festival which takes place from 15–19 March each year. Fallero groups construct huge multi-coloured papier-maché figures, nowadays often representing politicians or other contemporary figures of fun. For several days these are displayed around Valencia, as locals and visitors alike tuck into paella, enjoy street parties and gawp at fire works. On the final night of the fiesta, all but the winning falla is set alight. It's an intense festival I've yet to experience: the constant noise of firecrackers and the idea of burning these elaborate works of art has so far put me off.

Semana Santa usually falls after fallas. Holy Week is celebrated around the country, with particular fervour around Andalucia and in Toledo, Valladolid and Zamora. Visiting the Caminos de Pasion towns in 2014, I was surprised to find Semana Santa a much less religious affair than I'd imagined  for most capillitas and costaleros I encountered, the celebration was far more about culture and tradition than Christianity. Obviously this is not always the case, but it certainly makes Semana Santa more accessible for those who don't consider themselves religious.

Spring means feria time


After any Semana Santa solemnity is shaken off, feria season begins. The first of these huge Andaluz parties filled with flamenco frills, sleekly-groomed horses, jugs of rebujito and fairground rides is Seville's Feria de Abril. This is also the most exclusive, with most of its casetas (marquees providing food, drink & dancing opportunities) open to members only. It's worth a visit to marvel at its grand scale, but for guiris other ferias are more welcoming. Other notable spring fairs include the Feria del Caballo in Jerez de la Frontera and the Feria de Nuestra Señora del Salud in Córdoba, both in May.  I'm also a big fan of small-town affairs: they can often be less commercial and more welcoming. You can find a full calendar of ferias here.



If you're more into food than frills, you may be interested in checking out the pungent Feria Nacional del Queso in the Extremaduran town of Trujillo. Conveniently timed this year to fall over the May puente from 30 April–3 May, this event showcases producers from all over Spain and features tastings, workshops and more.

May is also a fantastic month to visit Córdoba: not only is the city at its best temperature-wise, but there's a calendar of events that makes the celebrity party circuit look dull. First up is Las Cruces de Mayo from 29 April3May, when normally nondescript crosses are dressed up in their flowery best by their hermandades (brotherhoods), hoping to win a prize. These eye-catching crosses aren't the only element of the fiesta, though – it's also an excuse to party (how unlike Spain). Brotherhoods set up bars serving drinks and tapas next to the crosses, and you'll hear live music from rock to flamenco. One floral fiesta leads to another: from 4–17 May,it's the turn of Los Patios de Córdoba. Courtyards all around the city spring into full bloom, get groomed and open to the public especially for the occasion. In true Spanish style, it's not just a visual event, but there's a programme of cultural activities and concerts to tie in with the horticultural aspect. The floral trend clearly hit Spain before the fashion world: Girona's Temps des Flors festival has now been running for 60 years. Held in  mid-May, this quintessential spring event sees city monuments decorated in floral fashion, restaurants offering menus with a horticultural twist and an all-round good time on offer. Back in Córdoba, May ends with all the fun of the fair: the city's feria is one of the biggest outside Seville, and lasts a mighty ten days. You can read about my experience of Córdoba's Feria de Nuestra Señora de la Salud here.

The portada at Cordoba's fair


Other May events include the celebrations in honour of Madrid's patron saint on May 15. San Isidro pales somewhat in comparison with feria, but you'll find madrileños of all ages wandering the streets in full chulapo garb for a few days. In addition to traditional costume wearing, there are concerts at Las Vistillas, parades around the centre and it's traditional to picnic on the Pradero de San Isidro.

What to do

 

If the packed fiesta calendar doesn't do it for you, spring's a great time for sporting activities. The Camino de Santiago starts to fill with pilgrims after the winter lull, so if you've ever fancied hiking part of St James's Way, this is your season. Routes extend over much of Spain, but the most popular sections are those closest to Santiago, the pilgrims' goal.  If you'd rather strike out alone, try the Sierra de Guadarrama outside Madrid or the Aragonese Pyranees. The mild temperatures also make for good cycling weather.

If your idea of being active involves jumping up and down to the sound of your favourite band, you're in luck. In late May, Barcelona plays host to Primavera Sound, one of Europe's biggest music festivals.

And if all that activity doesn't sound like your idea of a holiday, why not try some wine tasting? La Rioja is Spain's most famous wine producing region, and while a car's necessary to reach many vineyards, Logroño's Vinobus is the perfect solution for the vehicle-free (thanks Gee, Cassandra! for that tip!). The bus seems to only operate on Saturdays and sells out quickly, so book well in advance. If you've got your own wheels, go off the beaten track in Catalunya: well-curated site Catalunya Wine gives you the lowdown on the area's top vineyards.

Have you been to any spring fiestas? Where's your favourite place to visit in spring?

Fallas photo by Calafellvalo/Flickr.

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