Memories of Ferias Past
Sometimes here in cosmopolitan Madrid I feel like I am living in a completely different country than only a few years ago, when I was happy residing in Seville, a mid-sized city in southern Spain. I especially feel the difference this week, when much of Seville shuts down for the Fería de Abril, the Seville April Fair, which is nothing short of Seville's most beloved April celebration (unless of course Semana Santa also falls during April, then people would have a tough choice to make!).
When I lived in Seville I went to the Feria at least a few times each year, but since I was working in a small city nearby (Carmona) I didn't have the week off like most Sevillanos. Yet despite the fact that Seville's fair is so popular, I'll tell you a secret.
I'm not a fan of Seville's Feria.
You might be asking why I wouldn't enjoy sexy gorgeous flamenco dresses, crisp glasses of Manzanilla sherry, delicious fried seafood and hand carved jamón, and nights filled with music and dancing. Sounds amazing, right? Not quite.
Here we go:
I think that this is the number one reason I don't enjoy the Seville April Fair so much. Unlike other town fairs, in Seville the majority of the casetas (fair tents) are private. Families, businesses, and social groups pay dues throughout the year to be able to have the privilege of their own caseta come the Feria. Waiting lists are long for new groups, and a lot of times getting what you want is all about who you know.
So what do you do if you aren't a member of a tent?
Well, you make friends with people who are! In fact, this also bothered me, because it felt like those of us without a tent and without any close friends or family with a tent had to truly shmooze and suck up to other people to be invited into their caseta. For anyone who knows me, they know that this is really not my thing!
Sevillanas, Sevillanas, Sevillanas!
You also feel a bit out of place if you can't dance Sevillanas, the typical folk dance that almost any Sevillano knows the basics of. A people's version of flamenco, Sevillanas seems simple enough, but despite a few lessons I could never get the hang of it. Since the Feria in Seville plays little else than Sevillanas as far as music is concerned, you may find yourself sitting out of most dance numbers.
It depends on the day (weekends are the worst) but the Seville April Fair can get extremely crowded. I've been in some tents that were definitely far above capacity, with nowhere to sit and rest your feet, and with bathrooms that were beyond disgusting. Imagine the crowds and the heat that often plagues Seville at this time of year (yesterday it reached 86°F) and you'll understand how it can be truly unbearable.
Let's imagine the average Feria situation. Despite being a town fair (with origins as a cattle fair!), with dirt floors and horses crapping all over the place, people dress up. Men wear suits and nice shoes, and women wear flamenco dresses with an array of accessories. And an inexpensive flamenco dress will still run you around 250€, without the shoes and accessories. Most fair loving Sevillanas own at least two or three (and some have one for every day of the week-long Feria!). Add to this the inflated price of the food and drinks you consume (unless you shmooze really well, and are "invited" to snacks in each tent you visit), and you'll be running to the ATM before you know it. And if you would like to take a ride on a horse or take your kids to the amusement park area, you can just imagine how your expenses continue to climb.
Now, this being said, I have friends and (practically) family who adore the Feria. They love Sevillanas music, dance their hearts out, and down rebujitos (the typical Feria drink made with Manzanilla sherry and 7-Up) until the sun comes up. They finish their night with churros and chocolate, sleep a few hours, then do it all over again. I respect their passion for the fair, and almost envy it to a certain degree, but I also think it is important to recognize when something just isn't for me.
Honestly, if I had this week off I think I would prefer to travel outside of the city. It is such a gorgeous time of year all around Europe, I'd take advantage of some pre-season deals and offers.
Tip: I much prefer other town fairs in Andalusia that, while very similar, have a few key differences:
- Casetas are mostly public
- Music is a mix of Sevillanas, Spanish oldies, top 40, electronic, reggaeton, etc.
- Food and drink is more varied
- While many people do dress up, many don't and there isn't so much pressure to look like a doll!
The two fairs I would recommend as alternatives to Seville's are in Jerez and in El Puerto de Santa María. I've also heard amazing things about Cordoba's fair (and I'd love to check it out) but haven't yet been myself.
Sometimes tourists tell me that they are specifically going to Seville to attend the fair, and I really don't think this is wise. Unless you have a connection it will be very hard to get into a caseta, and the rest of the city is a bit "off" this week, with many businesses closed and large crowds for public transit.
That said, if you are a photographer you absolutely must go. It is a photographer's dream, as flamenco dressed women takes to the streets of already photogenic Seville, and the fair itself is a gorgeous backdrop for anyone to snap away.
Take a look from behind my (amateur) lens of 2010:
Now that I live here in Madrid, I really feel like the Feria de Sevilla is lightyears away. And although it was never my cup of tea, writing this does bring back a bit of nostalgia.
Have you ever been to the Seville April Fair? What were you impressions?
More great information about the Feria in Seville:
Looking for the best of food and tapas in Seville? Check out my best bites in Seville articleand try one of my food tours in Seville for the best intro to the amazing food Seville can offer! I’d love to have you along!