By Cat Gaa
When the gold-laden floats and hooded tunics of Holy Week have been safely tucked away in dusty corners of chapels and closets, sevillano life turns from somber to cheerful. Just two weeks after Resurrection Sunday, the citizens of Seville put on a polka-dotted show during the annual Feria de Sevilla. Showcasing the best of Southern Spain – flamenco, sherry, and horses – the southwestern end of the city comes alive with faroles, colorful paper lanterns, and 1000 temporary tents known as casetas.
What began as a small livestock fair in 1846 has grown to a large celebration. Amid daily bullfights and the smell of sherry, sevillanos enjoy a few days’ holiday to head to the Real, a lot that is vacant for 51 long weeks of the year.
For a beginner, Feria is a dizzying hangover of rebujito, a sherry and 7-Up concoction, polka dots and horse carriages. For the rest of us, it becomes a marathon for both our feet and our wallets. Here are five tips to help you make the most out of the six nights of revelry. As the popular song encourages, ¡Vámanos a la Feria, cariño mío! (Come to the fair, my dear!)
1. When to Go
The Feria de Sevilla officially begins with the lighting of the main gate, la portada, which is the third Monday after Easter at midnight. All at once, the flamenco music begins and the smell of fried fish lingers. Partygoers are at the Real before lunch time, and most casetas shut down at 4am in the morning!
The fiesta continues until Sunday’s fireworks show, but the fair is worth seeing in the daytime for the horses and at night for the ambiance in the streets. Be aware that the Real is crowded during the weekends, so it’s best to try and get here during the week.
2. What to Wear
Feria is a blur of polka dots, volantes (ruffles), and big combs. Women spend upwards of 500€ to have a custom-made flamenco dress made, and then deck themselves out with combs (peinetas), enormous earrings, and chunky jewelry, done up with a flower set atop the head. The rule of thumb here is the bigger the accessories, the more beautiful you are. Do yourself a favor and at least pin a flower in your hair if you’re a girl and wear a nice shirt if you’re a chico.
3. What to See
Walking up and down the streets, all named for bullfighters, there’s plenty to see, from the horses to the gypsies who sell fried donuts late into the night. Pick up a map at the information stand at the portada and explore, being sure not to miss the amusement park, called Calle del Infierno, the plazas filled with vendors and the casetas blasting flamenco music while people dance a four-part dance called sevillanas.
4. Where to Eat
As a big party in Andalusia’s honor, all of Seville’s finest foods can be found. Each caseta has a bar that serves typical food and drink. One can order fried fish, Spanish omelet, croquettes, and the crowning glory of Feria foods, the montaíto de pringá, a small sandwich fill with different kinds of minced meat. Street vendors sell nuts, sweets, fresh coconut, etc.
Wash it all down with crisp rebujito, made with half a liter of fino sherry and two cans of 7-Up. If you’re looking to save a few euros, eat at one of the restaurants outside the fairground, and be sure to drink caldo, a broth made from stew, to help you last all night.
5. Where to Party
The streets of the Real are full of people drinking and dancing, but I have to say it: Feria is a big private party. The vast majority of the tents are private and getting in is tough without knowing someone. Still, the tents that are sponsored by different neighborhood and political parties are open to the public and provide competitive prices on food and drink. The information booth can help you locate these tents, which still have plenty of ambience.
Regardless of your tastes, Feria’s cobblestone streets and lively atmosphere are worth a trip to the fairgrounds. Grab your flower and your glass of rebujito and experience one of Southern Spain’s biggest parties.
Upon receiving an offer to work at a radio news broadcast center in Chicago, Cat Gaa turned it down and turned up at the Consulate of Spain. Five years and daily cravings for Cruzcampo later, she writes at Sunshine and Siestas about Sevilla and is counting down the days till she can live in her new flamenco dress at the Real.