Feria as a tourist

12 April 2018 0 Comments Category: Active Lifestyle, Cat Gaa

feria_de_abril

Begun as a cattle fair several centuries ago, the April Fair in Seville, the Feria de Abril, marks the first of Andalusia’s springtime fairs. It’s the largest, most popular, and the place to see and be seen.

During one glorious week of the springtime, makeshift stands/casetas are erected on a patch of land that is unused for 51 weeks of the year. This is called the Real de la Feria, and in the weeks leading up to the event, workers log in hours setting up the casetas, stringing up lights and building an enormous main gate, called a portada.

I am a dedicated feriante – I try on my flamenco dresses weeks before to ensure their fit and a sevillana was the third song played at my wedding.

But what if you’re a tourist, or passing though Seville during the April 2018 Fair? 

Know Before You Go

The party starts on the second Saturday following Resurrection Sunday with a members-only fried fish dinner, known at the pescaíto. At midnight, the mayor turns on the lights of the entire fairgrounds, and flamenco music immediately tumbles out of the tents. The Feria continues every day from about 1pm until the wee hours of the morning, officially shuttered on Sunday night with a fireworks display at dusk.

The casetas are owned by religious groups, social clubs, political parties and groups of wealthy friends. Around 90% of them are privately owned and run, so you’ll usually see security and asking for proof that you’re in association with someone on the inside.

Making the most of Seville’s most exclusive party

Feria is expensive – from the horse carriage rentals to the tent memberships to  the digs – but it’s free to attend, and gawking doesn’t cost a cent. But to truly enjoy it, you may have to lower your expectations.

There are two sides to the fair: Feria de Día, and Feria de Noche. Daytime fair is far more demure, as this is when most socios spend their time at the fairgrounds; at night it becomes borderline hedonistic, where tent flaps are drawn and flamenco music disappears.

Should you choose to go in the daytime, you’ll be treated to carriage parades and striking Andalusian horses until dusk – not to mention the daily bullfights happening in La Maestranza (check posters around town for times and prices), bringing in some of the biggest names in bullfighting. This is the fair at its purest, with flamenco music playing and castanets clapping. Be aware that this is also when it’s the most difficult to gain access to the private tents: once night falls, most of the older crowd has gone home, making it easier to pop in and out of the casetas.

Free Casetas 

The city operates a number of public access tents, which are larger and a bit more raucous than a traditional tent. Those also open to the general public are casetas belonging to political parties, labor unions and, in some cases, religious brotherhoods. There is an information booth just beneath the portada where you can ask for a map and addresses.

If you know someone who is in the local police force or works for a large, locally-based company like ABC, ask them if you can buy entrances from them. These sorts of places don’t operate using cash, but rather tickets in various denominations for food and beverage.

Dressing Up

This is an event where you’re to see and be seen. Even if you’re not planning on donning a pricey traje de gitana, women should wear a dress or dress trousers. I don’t know how, but heels are a must. Men, in many private casetas, are required to wear a suit and tie after 9pm, regardless of the heat.

Etiquette

On Seville’s biggest stage, you’ll notice that despite the abundance of alcohol and atmosphere, no one is outwardly drunk until nighttime.

If you receive an invitation to a private caseta, don’t bring 10 more of your friends without asking. It’s customary to buy the first round of drinks, though you’ll more than likely be turned down. If the tent is crowded, don’t take a seat, as those tables are reserved for paying members. Instead, make friends with the bartender – just don’t forget to pay your tab or overstay your welcome!

Spanish and Flamenco dancing

While dancing sevillanas, a lighter version of flamenco, is definitely my favorite part of the whole experience, you do not have to know this four-part dance. Sitting and watching is fun, and people will often break into the dance on the streets, as well.

As for knowing Spanish – it’s helpful. How else will you insist upon buying a whole round of montaditos de lomo for your generous hosts?

Fairground Tours 

if you’re a little freaked out for a first-timer, find the information booth just under the main gate on Antonio Bienvenida. The city’s tourism board offers tours around the fairgrounds, culminating in a drink in a public caseta. Let the rebujito flow!

My advice for a Feria first-timer

I was completely unprepared for my first Feria, from my lack of proper clothing to not saving enough money to truly enjoy it. If you’re visiting Seville for the first time, don’t let the Feria be your only plans – since the fairgrounds aren’t in the city center, you’ll find that it’s less intrusive than Semana Santa.

Take one day out to go to the Real after lunchtime and a siesta. Dress up nicely – long, dangly earrings and a shawl are fine, but don’t overdo it if you don’t have a traje de gitana, ladies. Walk across the Puente de San Telmo and the entire length of Calle Asuncion, which leads right to the main gate. Take a stroll around the Real to marvel at the horses and the elegant costumes before popping into a public caseta – the Fiestas Mayores (Costillares, 10) and Partido Popular (Pascual Márquez, 66) tents are a bit pricier for food and drink, but often have live music from 8pm or 10pm on.

If you can’t score a private tent invitation and sweet talking gets you nowhere, skip dinner and have hot chocolate and fried donuts on Calle Manolo Vázquez.

The date of the fair in 2018 is Saturday, April 14th to Sunday, April 22nd 2018. Take in the orange blossoms, the festive atmosphere and the most wonderful time of the year in Seville.

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