The Do’s and Dont’s of the Feria de Abril of Seville

Recently, Shawn of Azahar Sevilla and the mastermind behind Seville Tapas tweeted that I have a reputation of being feriante, a lover of Seville’s famous festival, the Feria de Abril. We may have only met briefly, but mujer gets me. What’s not to love about a week dedicated to revelry, horses, wine and curve-hugging dresses?

Two weeks after sevillanos have dried their tears after another washed out Holy Week, a makeshift city of temporary tents is erected at the southwest end of the city. Known as the Real de la Feria, this pueblecito comes alive during six days of the year, from 9pm on the Monday two weeks after Resurrection Sunday to the following Sunday’s fireworks show.

The dizzying, vibrant week can be characterized by a whirl of polka dotted dresses, the jingle of horse bells and the sound of sevillanas, a type of flamenco music, and it’s one of Spain’s most well known festivals. But as a city deep-rooted in tradition, even the April Fair has its set of unofficial rules. I consider myself a fairly well-weathered feriante after five years of teaching class after late nights, of using my enchufe to my advantage and of lasting through six days of partying.

DO bring your wallet

One of the biggest pitfalls to Feria is that it falls two weeks after Holy Week (my perfect excuse for traveling during 10 days). Feria is a wallet drain.

First is the costly flamenco dress and everything that goes with it – the flower, shawl, earrings and shoes. I got my most recent dress during the July sale season for a mere 125€ and the accessories, called complementos, cost me another 60€. Styles change de feria en feria, so some wealthy women get a new dress each year!

My caseta membership costs Kike and I 150€ a year (we alternate who pays, this year me toca, while he’ll pay the cheaper gym membership), and then there’s the food, the drinks and the need to buy a new pair of shoes when I dance the others right into the trash. Tapas are not served in casetas, but rather raciones that can be 6 – 12€, while a jarra of rebujito can cost up to 10€! What’s more, hotels and taxis operate on a holiday price, so rates will be sky-high like during Holy Week. City buses have a 2€ day pass, and they’ll extend working hours – look for the “Especial Feria” bus.

To keep costs down, I usually eat lunch at home and walk to the fairgrounds and always ignore my dwindling bank account for the sake of un buen rato. Feria only comes once a year!

DON’T only see Feria by night

The fairgrounds open daily around 1p.m. and most casetas stay open until the wee hours, meaning the Feria de Abril is an exercise in stamina, and not just for your wallet. My first few years in Seville, I worked outside the city and therefore had to run home, change into my traje de gitana, eat and get to Calle Gitanillo de Triana. I’d alternate dancing sevillanas with sips of rebujito and riding the carnival attractions in Calle del Infierno, arriving home in the early morning hours and collapsing in my bed hoping to get a few hours of sleep.

I may have inadvertently taught my high schoolers the word “hangover” in English my second year in Olivares.

There are two different sides to the fair – during the day, horse carriages and riders crowd the streets, even parking their horse next to their caseta and drinking sherry by the glass atop the stallion. Music spills out of the tents at all hours, and kids roam the streets with plastic toys and cotton candy the size of their torsos. The ambience is festive and cultural.

As night falls, the carnival rides at the Calle del Infierno begin to light up, and the round paper lanterns, called farolillos, come on. While you’d be pressed to find a caseta that isn’t playing a rumba or sevillana, everyone switches from rebujito and beer to mixed drinks, and casetas are often open all night long. I’ve had mornings where I’ve ended the long day of partying with chocolate con churros!

I’m also partial to weekday visits. During Friday and Saturday, other villages in the area get a day off to enjoy the fair, which means that it’s difficult to walk and navigate around the streets, all named for bullfighters.

DO dress up

Feria is the pinnacle of pijo culture – women will don the traditional traje de gitana, a tight, ruffled dress that cost upwards of 500€. If you’re not keen on dressing like a wealthy gypsy, be sure to look nice. I went to the alumbrado, the lighting of the main gate and the official start to the festivities, wearing ratty jeans and sneakers, not fully aware of how the event worked. I’ve since wizened up and now make it a priority to have a few nice dresses on hand in case there’s a chance of rain or I can’t bear wearing my traje.

If you’re a chico, wear a suit and tie. Caseta etiquette is very important, and you’ll be expected to follow suit (literally!). If you’re planning on riding a horse, a traje corto, a short jacket and riding pants with a wide-brimmed hat called a cordobés. I’ve ridden in horse carriages, but never on the back of a jerezano stallion, kind of my dream!

DON’T forget the caseta etiquette

Casetas are the temporary tents that act as houses, kitchens, concert halls and lounges during the Feria. Since the private spaces come at a commodity (there’s even a waiting list for when a family or organization decides not to continue paying), a certain type of behavior is expected – you can’t be overly drunk, improperly dressed or smoking within the walls.

One year, a friend of a friend was visiting, and I took them to the Novio’s friend’s caseta. This girl, K, was not sipping the lethal rebujito, but instead treating it like a shot. She bumbled around like an idiot and starting making out with the Novio’s youngest brother, causing quite an escándolo and getting us banned from the caseta.

There’s also an unspoken rule that you can’t bring your twelve friends with you. The Novio’s best friend’s wife, Susana, often encourages me to invite some pals, but I try and keep it limited to two, maybe three. Even my own caseta has a one-buddy-per-socio rule!

DO set limits on consumption

If Feria is a marathon for your wallet and feet, it’s no stroll through the Real for your liver, either. The drink of choice is rebujito, a refreshing mix of half a litre of dry sherry and 7-Up, and it is potent. The sugary drink is usually served in enormous jars and drunk out of plastic shot glasses or sherry glasses between friends. Drinking water and curbing the intake often helps, as well as getting some fresh air every so often. During my first year, the only kind of connection I had was in Los Sanotes, and Kelly and I made sure to be there every day. Susana’s uncle finally reminded me that there was more to Feria than one caseta out of over 1000, and a break in the dancing and drinking will allow you to take in the ambience.

Be sure to eat during the day, too. I usually don’t want to stop dancing for a montadito or fried fish, but spacing out your drinks and punctuating them with some heavy food like carrillada or tortilla will help you last longer.

DON’T be pesada with your contacts, and try and make them early.

Feria is a time when enchufe, the age-old connections game that lives and thrives in Seville – nearly all of the casetas are private and protected by a doorman. I usually have to say the name of the person who I’m meeting or offer to drag that person back to the door after I’ve found them to prove that I’ve been invited. Phone lines collapse and batteries run dead, or someone is too drunk to get to their phone. Make your plans with friends ahead of time to avoid the letdown of arriving to the fairgrounds and having to wander around while you wait for an invitation.

I’ve have several invitations to casetas where I’m brought food and drink outside, though I’ve never actually psychically been inside of them. But that’s alright with me…as long as there’s rebujito and a plate of ham waiting, that is!

While I’m busy with pouring over relaciones institucionales or dancing my brains out on Calle Gitanillo de Triana, here are a few of the articles I’ve written in the past about la semana más bonita:

How to dress up a flamenco dress

A vivir! Que son dos días!

The Feria during the economic crisis

My first Feria experience 

Any other tips and tricks for enjoying the fair?

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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living among pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she wrangles babies at an English Language Academy and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.

Comments

  1. Maribel says:

    Last year I went to Seville during the Feria and was unprepared by how beautiful this festival is. The dresses, the horses, the casetas, rebujitos, and the participant’s excitement was mesmerizing. I felt completely underdressed in my pants while these women were simply outstanding in their usually made to order dresses…

    I went as a tourist and visited only a public caseta which was definitely not as fun as the private ones… need to do back. Maybe next year!

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      I was, too! The fair in Seville is definitely one to see and be seen, as opposed to some of the others around Andalucía. As for the public casetas, there’s definitely a different ambience. I prefer the private ones because they feel more intimate, though it can sometimes be a crapshoot as to who you can find and where you can go!

  2. Sunshine and Siestas says:

    Another my friend Stacy share – don’t wear your traje to the alumbrado!!!!

  3. Jill says:

    Really good,comprehensive article. I’ve met many visitors who have been disappointed because they did not realise the casetas are private and require an invitation, so they are limited to the very crowded public casetas. Visitors also don’t know it’s an event where people wear their best clothes. Good to highlight both these points in your blog. Have a great time.

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Thanks, Jill! I’m lucky to belong to a caseta, but remember the days when I didn’t or would go with a big group.

  4. I’m so ready for feria season! Actually, I was in Vejer last week and stumbled upon the first night of theirs. Very different than here – no dresses, very casual, and all the casetas appeared to be public (or at least my group of guiris didn’t get stopped at the door). I’m excited for the El Puerto, Rota, and Jerez ferias – I have 2 dresses and have even been taking Sevillanas lessons. But I’m a little worried I might not make it through the next few weeks, there are some long nights ahead!
    MeghannG@HolaMatrimony recently posted..Olvera and RadishesMy Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Seville is the only one with private casetas, don’t worry! I’ll be in Jerez this year for the first time, so excited!!

  5. Nice post! I liked seeing the Feria much more during the day because you can check out all the colorful traditional clothing. It’s like going back in time.
    Jessica of HolaYessica recently posted..What to Wear to Sevilla’s Feria de Abril (if You’re a Guiri)My Profile

  6. I think you should come and party at Malaga Feria in April – very different and a bit more “user friendly”! :-)

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      I’ve never been, but am usually gone in August! I do have a good friend in Antequera though….

  7. August even!!!

  8. We will be there Saturday afternoon through Sunday. Thanks for the tip. Unfortunately we are on a tight budget, so may need to dress like a tourist. I wish we had the pretty dresses. My daughter (8) is taking flamenco lessons, but only has a practice skirt. Would it be bad to show up on a souvenir shop dress rather than a “real one”? Can’t wait to see it all!
    Heidi Wagoner recently posted..Living Abroad Budget in Spain- Actual Spend (Months 5,6 & 7)My Profile

  9. I feel quite lucky to have had the opportunity to enter several casetas and a few thanks to you, especially after you mention there are “rules” about how many friends you can invite!
    Definitely wished I had spent more time wandering around during the day… hopefully I’ll be able to visit again one day!
    Lauren @ roamingtheworld recently posted..Flashback Photo Fridays: A Flashback in time-Canyon de ChellyMy Profile

  10. Paco Sánchez says:

    …ha,ha,haaa…!!…te echaron de una caseta…??…love it…(¡)

  11. Andrew says:

    Really interesting festival. IN places it sounds like Germany with the memberships, but definitely not the flashy stylish dress.

    It sounds a bit too chaotic for me, but it does sound like fun.
    Andrew recently posted..Researching Longterm Settlement Visas in GermanyMy Profile

    • Maribel says:

      @Andrew: besides the large crowds, it does not feel chaotic. It is the largest fair of its kind in Spain (and probably the world) so people come from all over. It may be chaotic trying to get something to eat there or anywhere near but just due to the large number of people. I’m sure Carnival is just as crowded in Germany.

      Having said that, I found the afternoons to be less crowded than the evenings.

      • Sunshine and Siestas says:

        I’ve been surprised that the fairgrounds have been relatively empty these two days. Like any large festival (and Disneyworld), there’s bound to be crowds. You and Ali can come, and I’ll get you into my caseta where it’s much easier to sit and enjoy!

  12. Julia says:

    This is great! I definitely want to check out feria next year. And buy a traje de gitana. I missed the big Corpus Cristi festival in Granada by a week, but so many women and little girls donned them at the smaller Fiesta de las Cruces and looked amazing. It’s pretty incredible what those dresses do for a woman’s ass haha.
    Julia recently posted..simple pleasures in the eternal cityMy Profile

  13. Very interesting … I can’t imagine how drunk your friend got drinking rebujito like that! Madre mía, I get a headache thinking of the terrible hangover that could cause.
    Kaley [Y Mucho Más] recently posted..Old Fashioned Breaks: Top Seaside ResortsMy Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      It’s LETHAL! I drank just a few glasses and switched to beer yesterday. I only lasted until 1am after meeting by friends at 1pm on about five hours of sleep!

  14. Gayla says:

    Feria de abril sounds like a lot of fun (much like Carnaval in many places) but also seems to be quite exclusive. Not sure I like that aspect. I do, however, love the dresses and colors, and the idea of old traditions and celebrations!
    I’ve always wanted to try chocolate con churros, but never had any luck finding them when I was in Spain :-(

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      You’re right in that it’s crazy exclusive. I am lucky to have friends who are always willing to have me in theirs and bring others, as well. If I didn’t, I’m sure I’d enjoy it, just not quite on the same scale!

      AND NO CHURROS?! Travesty! They’re my Sunday morning thing with the Novio!

  15. Hi Cat!! Great post! I hope you had an amazing time at Feria this year. I’m sure you looked gorgeous. Ahhh Feria…. I WILL return one day (and follow all this helpful advice).
    Kara of Standby to Somewhere recently posted..The Rain in Spain… Falls Mainly in SalamancaMy Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      I had probably my best Feria yet!! Next year they want to make the date even earlier by a week, so maybe it will coincide with your Spring Break?

  16. Ok this looks just as fun as wearing a Dirndl – therefore I NEED in on it.
    Alex @ ifs ands & butts recently posted..stuttgart beerfest.My Profile

Trackbacks

  1. [...] As the Feria began, however, I realized there’s a unsavory, unseen side of the rich and dazzling colors of the spectacle. Simply put, Feria is  a week where locals simultaneously put on hundreds of private parties in a large public space. Casetas, little tents in which locals eat, drink, and dance the week away, line the public fairgrounds. It is inside the casetas that the private gatherings are held, sometimes so large that people spew out of the entrances into the dusty streets. Some of these casetas can be quite big, holding hundreds of revelers, bathrooms, a stage, a full bar, and a kitchen. To enjoy the benefits of a caseta unencumbered, one must pay dearly. And one must also pay dearly for year’s current fashions. In order to enter a caseta as a foreigner, you must have an enchufe, a hook up inviting you in. Without an enchufe, you’re the scourge of the Feria, relegated to the one of the few public casetas packed tightly with uncouth riffraffs clamoring for a space at the bar. Feria gives the appearance of being a public festival, but in reality it is conglomerate of private gatherings. (See my friend Cat’s recent, less cynical account of Feria etiquette.) [...]

  2. [...] right bicep is now twice as large as its twin from all of that fan flicking. I even broke some of my own rules when it came to stalking around the [...]

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