Every spring, thousands of colorful striped tents appear on a huge vacant lot to the south-east of Seville. Beautifully-dressed people stroll along the sandy sidewalks arm in arm, singing sevillana songs, throwing their hands up in the air and swirling their polka-dotted dresses as they dance in the street. Grand carriages drawn by glossy, prancing horses roll along the streets filled with elegant gents and ladies sipping their sherry, and handsome men in tight pants or ladies in long side-saddle skirts ride purebred Arab steeds. Inside the tents, which are called casetas, Sevillanos chow down on the finest jamon iberico, gambas de Sanlucar (shrimp), and other Andalucian delicacies.
This is one party where you need to know the right people. To get into a caseta – nearly all the 1000-odd are privately-owned – you need an invitation. And to get an invitation, you need to know someone
Sound tempting? Would you like to experience the magic of Seville’s Feria de Abril?
This is one party where you need to know the right people. To get into a caseta – nearly all the 1000-odd are privately-owned – you need an invitation. And to get an invitation, you need to know someone. So it pays to choose the right companion when you go to Spain’s most famous festival, which started out as a livestock fair. To have the insider experience in a caseta – hear the flamenco-style music, see the foot-stomping dancing, sample the fare, feel the adrenalin and intensity of Spaniards partying as only they can – you need to be accompanied by those who have the contacts.
So allow us to offer you some all-important tips on how to enjoy the Feria de Sevilla like a local.
The traditional drinks of the Feria revolve around a type of sherry which comes from the coastal town of Sanlucar de Barrameda called manzanilla – a delicious, pale, bone-dry wine, made using a complex, traditional method of fortification, aging and blending. This Andalucian speciality is ordered either by the glass, or in a jug mixed with 7-Up to make a refreshing and more-ish cocktail.
Most of the ladies will be squeezed into figure-hugging trajes de gitana, or flamenco dresses. While it is possible to hire one to wear, you may find it easier just to pick some accessories to flamenco-ize your own outfit. This means heading to one of the myriad stores in the city and buying a flower and manton (fringed shawl), traditionally worn along with coordinating jewellery, in the right shade. A small sartorial gesture like this goes a long way – you will feel more part of the Feria, and your hosts will appreciate the effort.
Sevillanas are the dance of the Feria. While mastering the whole flamenco-type dance can take years, the first part is fairly simple and with a little practise you’ll be gracefully curling your hands, keeping the rhythm, and stamping the end beat. It’s very normal for ladies to dance together in pairs, although the passes and turns are designed to flirt with your partner, so it’s fun to do with a man.
Sevillanos will stay at the Feria for 12 hours at a stretch. How do they manage it? By pacing themselves. Yes, enjoy your manzanilla or rebujito, but also drink plenty of water as it can get steamy hot inside the tents – only some have air-con – and the strong Andalucian sun will be beating down outside. Lunch and dinner will be big plates of prawns, ham and fish to share, but snacks such as montaditos (small toasted sandwiches) are great between-meals pick-me-ups.
You’ll be either walking, standing up, or dancing, for a lot of the time while you’re at the Feria. The recinto – fairground – is huge, like a small town, and there are 14 streets of casetas (each has its own name and address). So make sure your footwear is comfortable. Sensible, even. You won’t regret it.
Is your Spanish is somewhere between rusty and non-existent? Fear not- you can still talk to your hosts. They will ask you how the food/drink/music is. You reply “Bien! Me encanta!” – “Great! I love it!” with a big smile. The festive mood at Feria is so infectious that, helped along by the alcohol content and music, your linguistic skills might surprise you.
Sevillanos chow down on the finest jamon iberico, gambas de Sanlucar (shrimp), and other Andalucian delicacies.