My first feria experience was unforgettable; the beautiful dresses, horse carriages, decorative casetas, and festive atmosphere were mesmerizing! I was instantly enamored with this event and as soon as it ended I began counting down the days until the next feria began. Cities all over Spain have their own feria (annual festivals or fairs), but the ones in Andalusia are especially well-known because they encompass elements that people typically associate with Spain; flamenco inspired dresses and music, copious amounts of wine, people singing and dancing in the street, and lots of partying!
When and where is feria celebrated in Andalusia?
Celebrations can last four to seven days and the first ferias of the year usually begin in spring following Semana Santa (Holy Week). In May and June there’s always a feria happening in the provinces of Cádiz, Málaga, Seville, Cordoba, Granada and Huelva; get a full list of cities and dates here.
What happens at feria?
Local businesses and schools may close for the celebrations and there’s usually a local holiday that occurs within the week of feria so people can get off work and enjoy the fun. During feria there are numerous casetas set up on the fairgrounds with brightly colored exteriors; casetas are temporary structures or tents (similar to a small bar) where people gather to drink, eat and dance. Typically a family or group of friends will sponsor a caseta and supply the food, entertainment, furnishings, decorations, alcohol, etc. People in town visit the casetas during feria to dance and socialize, as well as purchase food and alcohol.
People normally drink wine at feria and order jarras (pitchers) that come with small plastic shot glasses for sharing! In Sanlúcar for example, we drink jarras filled with rebujito, a mix of manzanilla (local wine) and Sprite soda. It’s also customary to hang paper lanterns throughout the fairgrounds; make sure to check out feria at night for the beautiful views! Apart from the casetas you’ll also find a variety of rides and other attractions – similar to the ones you’d find in an American fair or carnival.
People also partake in the Sevillanas dance at feria; a traditional dance and music style that got its flamenco flair in the nineteenth century. I took Sevillanas classes in Sanlúcar and my instructor explained that the four parts of the dance represent four stages of a romantic courtship; first the couple meets, then they fall in love, then they fight, and finally they make up. The pasos or parts of the dance interpret this story and it’s very fun to do! It can get tricky however after several jarras of wine….in the video below you can see me and my friend Ana doing the traditional Sevillanas dance at the feria in Sanlúcar.
What do people wear to feria?
Many men and women wear traditional outfits to feria. I’ve heard the women’s dresses called by several different names including traje de gitana, traje sevillana and traje de flamenca. Every year there’s a new trend that’s comes into style so it’s not uncommon for women to own several trajes de flamenca…I have five of my own!
Seville has the most famous feria in Spain and it’s considered the style capital of moda flamenca; once the annual flamenco fashion shows take place in January, women all over Andalusia go to their dress makers to have the latest look for the upcoming feria in spring. I attended some flamenco fashion shows in Jerez this year and loved it! If you’re interested in getting your own dress there are several ways to go about it:
- You can have a dress hand-made and choose the fabric and style (normally costs upwards of €350)
- You can buy new a dress at a shop (new dresses typically start at €100)
- You can check out second-hand shops for a more budget-friendly option (€20 and up)
If you want to buy a new traje de flamenca, I’d suggest looking for one in smaller towns as the dresses in Seville and other large cities tend to be more expensive. If you don’t want to wear a traditional traje de gitana to feria that’s fine! Just keep in mind feria in Seville is dressy (ex. men wear jackets and ties and girls get dressed up to go to the casetas), but in the smaller cities like Puerto de Santa Maria it’s a more casual affair.
What you need to know before going to feria
- Bring cash to pay for drinks and food.
- The ground at feria is usually dirt or mud so keep this in mind when selecting shoes for the event (I always wear wedges).
- If you don’t have a traje de gitana but still want to get dressed up you can go to any corner shop/euro store and buy some matching earrings, a comb for your hair, and a flower—it shouldn’t cost more than €10! I have heard this is something only “canis” (the closest word I can think of is “redneck” haha) and guiris (foreigners) do…but since I fly my guiri flag proudly I usually wear the accessories if I’m not wearing a dress. 😉
- Pace yourself with the jarras of wine…they might not seem strong at first, but they will knock you on your ass and give you a horrible hangover (I’m speaking from personal experience here).
- Ladies…bring tissues and hand sanitizer, the bathrooms are disgusting by the end of the week.
- Typically casetas are open to the public, but in Seville most of them are private and you must know one of the sponsors to get inside. But not to fear! There are public casetas in Seville that are accessible to everyone.