ONE of the largest and most-loved fiestas in the whole of Spain happens around two weeks after the sombre but awe inspiring Easter week or Semana Santa as it’s known. Behold the Feria de Sevilla, which is in the capital of Andalucia – Sevilla. A city so steeped in tradition and beauty, it is the perfect place to get lost in Spanish culture and embrace the Feria in full flamenco style which is exactly what I did.
The beginning of La Feria sees the turning on of the lights on the specially designed 50-metre high gateway, which gets illuminated amidst hushed whispers in the darkness of the feria. Twenty-two thousand coloured light bulbs suddenly expose the enormous tented city beyond, as they are illuminated section by section, including a huge fairground at the far end.
With its origins in the mid-19th century, La Feria started as a simple cattle fair which developed over the years into a post-Lent party: a spectacular six-day extravaganza, where the entire city devotes itself to the pursuit of pleasure 24 hours a day.
The first thing that instantly hits you as you approach the fair is the special atmosphere, women of all ages dressed in beautiful specially designed flamenco dresses with perfectly matching flowers and accessories with the men equally stylish in smart suits. The garlanded streets are so full of the sweet scent of orange blossom and jasmine, and a frisson of excited anticipation, the sheer size of the April Fair’s spectacle is extraordinary. Horses, mules and carriages line every dirt street. It made me feel like I was in a world away from the reality of everyday life, back in some bygone romantic era.
From around midday until early evening, especially on Tuesday, the first official day – Sevilla society parades around the fairground in carriages or on horseback. There are also daily bullfights, generally considered the best of the season.
Families rent their own casetas, or marquees, beautifully decorated with bunting and lanterns and all featuring private bars and tapas restaurants. The casetas are exclusive so unless you know someone who has an invite or knows someone in the caseta then forget about walking straight in off the dusty street. Luckily I had a ticket to get in and passed their seemingly very strict dress code rules. People can still enjoy La Feria without that golden ticket invite as the partying and dancing spills out onto the streets of the fair. People of all ages dancing spontaneously and unselfconsciously: grandparents, adults, children, mothers and daughters, and girls together is a real eye-opener and captivating to behold.
If you like to dance but don’t know how to dance Sevillana be prepared to feel a little out of place as everyone knows how to dance at the feria! After pleading not to go to the dance floor, I give in on about the third attempt of trying to hang back at the bar. I feel awkwardly unable to pull off the stylish, dramatic moves that come so naturally to the Sevillanas, but everyone is so welcoming, enthusiastic and keen to teach me that I abandon my reticence. With my arms above my head, I clumsily twist and turn to the live band as my dance partner twirls me around. I love it even though I am obviously out of place; I promise myself I will learn flamenco Sevillana style one day. They make it look so easy!
The drink of choice at feria is a mild concoction called a rebujito – a mixture of manzanilla sherry and lemonade – just the right amount of alcohol to ensure you pace yourself sensibly as the nights can be long.
Finally, at 5am, we start to walk wearily home. But it’s not quite finished just yet: just as I have decided I couldn’t eat another morsel or drink another sip, I discover that there’s an obligatory stop-off for a late night / early morning snack (or meal) of thick hot chocolate and churros (fried dough) cooked in huge vats by gypsy women, who cook whilst singing and dancing their flamenco songs of old. It’s a great way to finish off the fair full of life, love and custom.