By Cat Gaa
During 51 long weeks of the year, the lot just south of the Los Remedios neighborhood is dormant and hardly imaginable as the location of one of Seville’s biggest parties, the Feria de Abril. Held each year two weeks after Easter, it can only be characterized as a festival full of all things Andalusian – sherry, horses, and flamenco.
For locals, it’s highly anticipated. For travelers, it’s a chance to see Andalusian culture on display, despite being a largely private party.
Serious preparation is needed for the fair, from the garb, to the ride, to the groupies. Follow a local’s handy guide to preparing for the most wonderful time of the sevillano year!
Start learning Sevillanas: The traditional, four-part dance that is commonly seen and heard during the fair is called ‘sevillanas.’ It can be danced in groups of two, three or four, and you’ll feel local if you’ve learned the steps. Hook up with a class or even private lessons and get ready for the ‘piropos’ (compliments) to roll in!
Work your ‘enchufe’: The 1000+ tents on the fairgrounds, called ‘casetas,’ are owned privately by families, groups of friends, organizations, businesses, or even church brotherhoods. There is nearly always a doorman, so use your connections, called ‘enchufe,’ to get you in the door. Still, it’s rude to ask for an invitation. If you have friends who work in a large company or are members of a religious brotherhood, ask if they like Feria and suggest meeting up one afternoon for a drink or walk around the fairgrounds.
Attend SIMOF: Seville is famous in the design world for its ‘moda flamenca’ and elaborate flamenco dress designs. Called a ‘traje de gitana’ or gypsy dress, these garments are put on display during an annual fashion show called the Salon Internacional de Moda Flamenca, or SIMOF for short. Held over three days in late January or early February, more than 60 young designers will inspire you for your next step. For more: http://www.simof.es
Shop for a traje de gitana, or design one yourself: The dress code for the April Fair is strictly formal – men are expected to wear a suit and tie at night, and women must look classy.
Many women opt for either an ‘amazona’ or long riding dress, or the more traditional gypsy dress. These gowns can cost a fortune due to their elaborate design and the possibilities really are endless. In style currently are lace, one color, flowing skirts and sleeves that reach the elbows. The ‘traje’ favors just about any body type, but they’re hard to move in!
If you’re looking to buy your own that’s already been made, you can score a dress in any one of the specialty shops around Calle Francos in Seville’s city centers. The industrial parks on the outskirts of time will usually have them a bit cheaper if you’re willing to make the trek. Expect to pay 150€ – 350€ to buy off the rack.
If you’d prefer to have a ‘traje’ made so that it’s one-of-a-kind, meet with a designer or tailor a few months before the fair. This will be more costly, but you’ll have a dress that exactly to your liking, from the pattern to the fabric to all of the small details. Prices will start around 250€ and only go up from there.
Register your horse carriage for the paseos: Every day from 12pm until 8pm, horse carriages and buggies, as well as riders, are allowed to pass through the streets of the fairgrounds. If you’re considering bringing a horse and carriage, you’ll need to appeal for a license, known as a ‘matrícula.’ This must be done through the local government’s corresponding office six-eight weeks before the fair.
Just be forewarned – the licenses are pricey and the wait-lists could take years! Another option is hiring a carriage and driver for the day.
Try on your traje de gitana: If you’ve bought a dress, be sure to try it on every week before the Feria in case you need to have it brought in or taken out.
Buy your accessories for your traje de gitana: No good gypsy is complete without her accessories. Once you’ve bought a dress, take a small sample of its colors so that you can find earrings, a shawl and the flowers that complement your dress. Called ‘complementos,’ you can find these accessories at any of the stores in the city center near to where the dresses are sold. For a more economic option, try Don Regalón on Calle San Eloy.
The rule of thumb: the bigger the accessories, the more gypsy you’ll feel. Don’t be afraid to go big during this week!
Try on your traje de gitana…again: Just in case your splurging over Holy Week has caused you to put on a kilo or two! And take that dress to a tailor right away!
The Week before the Fair:
Iron your ‘volantes’ and ‘fleco’ portions for your dress: Air out your dress and make sure that the ruffles are ironed and starch and that the strings of your shawl haven’t gotten tangled up. If possible, hang it from a door and place a chair underneath so that the ruffles don’t get wrinkled.
Rest as much as possible: The seven nights of Feria are long, so take it easy on alcohol and be sure to rest the week before.
The week of Feria has finally arrived, beginning two weeks after Easter Sunday. These are seven days of stamina, both of your party-going and your wallet.
Sunday: The tents will open during this day, and if you want to get a taste of the fair without all of the horse carriages in the way or jump on the carnival rides, Sunday is a laid back day with no need to dress up.
Monday: The fair officially kicks off on the third Monday after Easter. The 9pm, the tent members, called ‘socios,’ eat a dinner of fried fish, known as the ‘pescaíto’. Later on, at midnight, the mayor officially lights the main gate and the thousands of paper lanterns. The party rages until 4am, even though most locals will not have the following day off.
Tuesday – Saturday: The fair continues throughout the week, with flamenco bands performing off and on, as well as a daily horse carriage parade (watch your step!). The fair is drastically different between the night and the day, so do your best to go to see both ambiences.
There are also daily bullfights in the Maestranza bullring.
If you’re worried about not having an invitation to a private tent, there are several that are open and free to the public. Stop by the tourist information for a map of the myriad of streets – all named for bullfighters – and ask where the free tents are.
Do remember to pace yourself with food and drink, and to bring plenty of cash. Provisions are more expensive at the fairgrounds than they are in a restaurant, but there is carnival food available on the Calle del Infierno where the carnival rides are located.
Typical food is fried fish and regional specialties like potato omelets, pork loin, stewed pig cheek and small sandwiches. You’ll see ‘sevillanos’ sipping on sherry and ‘rebujito,’ which is a mix of dry sherry and 7-Up. Refreshing, but deadly! If you’re looking to just enjoy the ambience, soft drinks and water are readily available, too.
Sunday: As the fair draws to a close, there’s a fireworks show at dusk on the Sunday of Feria. By that time, you’ll probably not even care.
Post-Feria: Start planning for other local fairs and pilgrimages, known as ‘romerías.’ The spring and summer in Andalusia have no shortage of parties. Check out the Feria del Caballo de Jerez or the Feria de El Puerto de Santa María in May.
Oh, and sleep. You’ll have ‘rebujito’ head for a day or two, and you won’t want to touch anything fried!
For more information on the fair’s origins, check out the local government’s guide, or download the map for your mobile phone.
Cat Gaa left the skyscrapers of Chicago for the olive groves of Southern Spain in 2007. A seasoned ‘feriante,’ she’ll undoubtedly be on Gitanillo de Triana street dancing until they kick her out of the ‘caseta.’ Follow her blog, Sunshine and Siestas, or catch her on twitter, @sunshinesiestas.