|Spoiler: This is how much I love feria|
Put simply, it's my favourite thing about Spain. Most common in the southern region of Andalucía, it's basically an annual excuse for a party. Although it literally translates as 'fair', feria is much more than an opportunity to bash your way round the dodgems and munch some candyfloss. The majority of towns in Andalucía hold their feria at the same time each year, often in honour of their patron saint. The first ferias were held in the 19th century, and began as livestock fairs. How you can make a party out of selling cattle I don't know, but the Spanish managed it – and I'm glad they did.
An event which lasts several days (usually from Wednesday to Sunday), feria revolves around drinking, dancing and having a good time. But this is nothing like clubbing in Ibiza: it's a traditional, family-friendly affair that's enjoyed by all ages. During the day, the recinto ferial (dedicated area of land used for feria) fills with party-goers decked out in their finest - and with horses. Either ridden by jinetes (male riders) or amazonas (women), or attached to carriages carrying exuberant passengers, equines are a key part of the feria de día. They obviously aren't allowed in the casetas (marquees) though, which is where all the dancing of sevillanas and drinking of rebujito goes on. Yes, even in the day. Come the evening, the horses clip-clop out of the recinto ferial and the music gradually switches over to Spanish pop and reggaeton. The party usually continues until around 4 or 5am, when the neon lights dim, the big wheel stops spinning and the fairground sleeps for a few hours.
|What do you mean I can't have a ride?|
When and where are they?
The feria season runs from April to September every year. The most famous feria is one of the earliest: Seville's Feria de Abril, which starts two weeks after Semana Santa (Holy Week). It's also the biggest and most exclusive: some locals and visitors alike have mixed feelings about this feria due to the invite-only policy of most of its casetas. There are still a fair few which open to the general public (usually run by political parties or neighbourhood associations), but many belong to associations and groups of friends, so it helps to have friends in the city. As it's the most famous, it's also the most popular with tourists, who most likely don't have well-connected sevillano acquaintances. Sevilla is the only feria with this door policy, so it can be a better idea to try one in a different city, such as Jerez's Feria del Caballo (mid-May) or the ferias in Córdoba (late May) and Málaga (August). Or go local: I personally love a small town feria, where it's much easier to meet people, be shown how to dance sevillanas and wander in and out of every single caseta. The drinks are also cheaper. Either way, you can find a list of ferias all over Andalucia here.
|A quiet moment inside a caseta at the Feria de Abril|
What exactly happens?
For andaluces, the local feria is a great opportunity to meet up (and party) with all of your friends. All casetas put on music (sometimes live) and serve drinks. Many also offer food at lunch and dinnertime, so there's no need to take a break (unless you want to change your outfit, of course). People often move from caseta to caseta, getting a feel for the different atmospheres and stopping for a chat, a drink and a dance. There are also over-priced rides and 'win a tacky prize' booths, common to fairs worldwide. For that Spanish touch, there are also plenty of churros vendors waiting to serve you an early breakfast before you stumble home.
How do I get the most out of my feria experience?
Once you've chosen your feria, you'll probably find that there's quite a bit of information about it online, especially if you're attending one in a city. Websites often feature maps of the recinto ferial, details about the casetas and public transport information (recintos are often on the edge of town). Bigger ferias such as Córdoba and Seville also offer apps which tell you what's on when, as well as offers, weather and transport information and more.
The best way to enjoy feria as a guiri (foreigner) is to try visiting both during the day and at night, wander round and soak it all up (both the atmosphere and the rebujito). Admire the elegant Andalucian horses, the girls dressed in their perfectly-accessorized trajes de gitana and the ability of all ages to know exactly when to spin around when dancing sevillanas.
What should I wear?
Ladies, let's get this one straight: nobody expects you to wear a traje de gitana (what we'd call a flamenco dress) as a foreigner. Especially not if you're making a one-off visit. Of course, you can if you really want to get into the spirit and make an investment, but although you might experience massive dress envy, you'll also find plenty of other women who are simply quite smartly dressed (or even in jeans). Wear what you feel comfortable in. As a foreigner, you might stand out anyway, so sticking a flower on the side of your head isn't necessarily going to help matters. If you fancy picking up a few complementos (accessories) to jazz up your outfit though, these can easily be picked up for a few euros locally. If you're going in the evening, up the glamour stakes: a dress always works, and this year in Cordoba, a palazzo pant worn with a vertiginous wedge was the look del día. Just don't blame me if your feet still hurt three days later (ahem). Also, be careful with sandals - your feet will get covered in albero (the dust that's used to make the recinto's surface), and you may even get your toenail bent backwards by a clumsy feriante. Not since I did a half-marathon have my toes known so much pain.
|Not compulsory wear. Honest.|
Always take tissues and hand sanitiser. One word: portaloo.
If you ever get the chance to experience feria, don't turn it down. Even though it's a key constituent of andaluz culture, I've never felt out of place there. As long as you're prepared to get involved and have a good time, you'll find that most people welcome guiris with open arms – and maybe a glass of rebujito.
|All of the lights|
The guiri's feria glossary
Here are some key feria terms to learn before you go.
albero – the dusty substance used to make the surface of the recinto ferial. Has a habit of ending up all over your shoes.
calle del infierno – a common name for the fairgorund part of the feria (literally 'hell street')
caseta – a tent or marquee run by an association or group of friends. They all have bars, and some serve food. The casetas are where the party happens during feria: all play music (sometimes live) and everyone has a drink and a dance.
feriante – feria-goer
farolillo – little paper lantern, a key part of the decor at feria
noria – the big wheel
portada – the big archway that serves as the entrance to the feria. Seville's changes design every year, but many stay the same
rebujito – a mix of sherry and 7Up, rebujito is the traditional drink at feria. Sounds odd, tastes delicious and goes down far too easily in the heat. Usually served in jugs (jarras) and decanted into tiny plastic cups.
sevillanas – the traditional dance, influenced by flamenco. Involves some artful hand-twirling and spinning. I am useless at it.
Have you ever been to a feria? What did you think of it?