How to celebrate Seville’s Feria de Abril like a local

A night at Seville’s Feria de Abril is foggily recollected via a series of flashbacks the following morning. Among them: a sea of marquee-tents, the drama of flamenco, and many jugs of manzanilla sherry.

Feria de Abril is the city’s annual springtime fair; celebrated in the otherwise-vacant grounds of ‘Real de la Feria’ in the Los Remedios quarter. For one week, these grounds are transformed into a huge, carnival-like party – swarmed with exuberantly-dressed locals who dance flamenco, enjoy sevillana folk songs, and drink excessively until morning.

“Feria is how we shake off the ‘Holy Week’ [Santa Semana] and begin Spring,” says Aire G, an artist from Seville. The event notoriously evokes the colourful, old-world decadence of Hemingway’s ‘The Sun Also Rises’. Nights are long, traditions are strongly represented, and yes – if you must – there is bullfighting nearby.

Over the week, five million people take part in the fair’s exotic, intense theatre. To the average Brit, however, Feria de Abril is apparently low on our Iberian ‘to-do list’; a cultural quoi compared with those bulls up in San Fermín.  

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This year’s event takes place between May 4 and 11. To help you make the most of Feria, we’ve compiled some dos, don’ts and tips from Sevillian locals themselves.

Casetas, where the magic happens

Squeezing through the crowds, down the aptly-named Calle de Inferno (‘Hell Street’), you will notice a thousand marquee tents, at night doused in sepia-tinted-light. These are called ‘casetas’. Inside is a dissonance of loud chatter, sevillanas (local folk songs, with their own steps), and often a bar, where families and friends gorge themselves on delicious tapas, and drain ice-cold jugs of rebujito (the Fair’s traditional cocktail).

Besides those privately hired by prominent families, societies and unions, are seven tourist casetas. Even without a coveted invite, private casetas are willing to open themselves to the tourist who is both properly-dressed and polite.

What should I wear?

“If you want the full experience, dress smart,” says Daniel Jimenez, a student from Seville. “This means a colourful dress – or skirt and blouse – for women, and a suit for men.”

Keeping up appearances is important in Seville, where conservative, religious and family values are still strong. For tourists, sticking to formal clothing (that doesn’t mean stuffy – it is a party, after all) can enhance the experience.

Not only will your hosts appreciate the effort, it also helps to blend in; separating you, a participant, from the misinformed visitors who single themselves out as spectators.

Women might be tempted in buying a figure-hugging faralaes dress like those worn by the locals (also known as trajes de gitana). These vibrant, polka-dotted costumes have their roots in Andalusian Gitano culture and flamenco. They do come at a price, though.

María Garcia, living in Stockholm (but from Seville) says, “Some women decide each year whether to attend Feria or go on a holiday. They save money to get a different dress for each night they attend.” Locals are serious about their fair. “There are stories of people taking out bank loans!”

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If you still fancy blending in, try shopping one at flamenco emporium, Flamenco y Mas, or the popular Lina 1960. Renting is another option – with shops around Calle Feria offering good prices.

And for the Caballeros?

That would be the ‘Traje de Corto’ – complete with a Cordoba hat – and typically worn by the gentlemen you see parading their horses. Those of us the ground level wear smart tailoring. “It is important to wear a suit and tie,” Daniel suggests. If this sounds a little stiff, a button-down shirt, blazer and chinos will do; anything less will encourage disapproving looks – and discourage entry to the casetas.

If you insist on heading in with a Cordoba hat – by all means – take a visit to Fernandez y Roche on Calle Rosario. They also stock versions for women.

How to get into Casetas

You look the part, now it’s time to join the party. Forgo the public tents (cavernous, dark; booming reggaeton for Latin-American expats) and look for ‘Universidad’ on the banners. Little known fact: most universities open their casetas to anyone. It’s the perfect place to mingle, and begin the night – while invitations to smaller, family-hired casetas could be as simple as asking. Sevillians are happy to vouch for you and share in the hospitality.

You might get the urge to gatecrash. Picture yourself – after a few drinks – gazing longingly into a family caseta, while the band plays ‘A La Puerta de Toledo’ and dancers’ whirl like dervishes into a blur of red and yellow. Temptation takes over. This isn’t out of the question – especially after midnight. “Locals do it too,” confirms María, “but I wouldn’t.” Save yourself the embarrassment of getting thrown out by asking first. “If they say no, move on.”

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What to drink and eat

The easiest way to make friends? Booze, obviously. “Everyone drinks rebujito,” says Jimenez. “A sweet mix of sherry (Manzanilla, typically) and lemonade – served cold in a jug, and poured in small cups called ‘catavinos’.”

Rebujito is the great leveller. As many will tell you, offering out catavinos has sparked friendships; the kind that transcend language and escalate into a caseta-hopping odyssey until six in the morning (consider some comfy shoes).

Rebujito is so refreshing, it is easy to forget you’re shooting back wine. “Pace yourself,” suggests Aire. “If you want to survive Feria, don’t drink too early or too fast.” Not unless you want to feel the full wrath of the rebujito hangover the following day.

Tapas are also available in most casetas. Platters of fried seafood (pescaito frito) are famously eaten on the Monday, with Gambas de Sanlucar (shrimp) as a fair-favourite. Jamón Iberico and other Andalucían delicacies are often sold too. If you get a strong case of mid-Feria munchies, however, it is best to find somewhere outside of the fair. Bodegón and Peña Sevillista, both five minutes away, are casual spots serving cheap and delicious tapas. Recommended: the creamy tortilla at Bodegón.

To dance or not to dance

Watching people stomp their heels to the dramatic, rapping beat of flamenco, you may be coerced into joining. “We learn how to dance sevillanas at school,” says Jimenez. “Even if you don’t know how – it is nice seeing tourists try.” Try you might. There are a variety of steps and they are difficult; particularly for a wooden Brit like myself.

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If you happen to get the basic steps, it becomes addictive – hypnotically mirroring the movements of your partner as the night creeps on. Sevillanas songs are mesmerising. They evoke intense romance or tragedy (assumedly), and you needn’t speak Spanish to feel goose-bumps at the heart-rung cry of a flamenquito, or the isolated strum of a guitar.

Whether or not you choose to dance; whether or not you follow new friends through the streets until daylight, or take it easy to fight another day – Feria de Abril is the single greatest themed-costume party in Europe because – in actuality – it is a thousand themed-costume parties at once. Every night holds something new; and when the hangover has subsided, those flashbacks become fond memories. Forgo the bulls, run with the fair.


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