Seville’s famous April Fair. / sur

Dates for your diary as Andalucía’s ferias make a dazzling comeback

After eating and socialising during the day, once night falls the party gets into full swing and continues into the early hours - or even until dawn

FERGAL MACERLEAN MALAGA.

This year saw a hugely welcome return to the celebration of Andalucía’s ferias (fairs) and festivals after a hiatus imposed by the pandemic. The ferias are highly-charged events, when Andalusians delight in celebrating their traditions among friends, relatives and neighbours, and are wonderful to experience.

The annual ferias date back to the middle ages, when they were an occasion for farmers and traders to gather and do business, with much merry-making afterwards as continues to this day. Seville’s feria marks the first of these great gatherings which stretch right through the summer and into autumn, with the last being held in San Pedro Alcántara in mid October.

The Seville feria is a particularly grand occasion as befits the region’s capital. In 2023 it will take place from 23 to 29 April. Set in a huge fairground to the south-west of the city, by the River Guadalquivir, it sees processions of horse-drawn carriages whose exquisitely dressed passengers come to eat, socialise and dance during the daytime. Once night falls the party gets in full swing and continues into the early hours, or indeed, until dawn.

At the eastern end of the Costa del Sol, the picturesque seaside town of Nerja is among many centres in Spain, including Madrid, that celebrate the patron saint of farmers, San Isidro, on 15 May. Known for his piety toward the poor and animals, Isidro - an 11th century Spanish farmworker - was canonised in 1622.

Cart drawn by oxen

Crowds line the Nerja streets and picnic to watch the spectacle of the romería, or pilgrimage, which sees a statue of San Isidro being placed on a decorated cart drawn by oxen from the main El Salvador church at the Balcón de Europa. This is accompanied by a procession of men and women on horseback and many brightly coloured trailers filled with local people celebrating. Hundreds walk the route too with the men wearing traditional red neckerchiefs and the women resplendent in a dazzling array of flamenco dresses.

The romería, which almost always takes place under the hot May sun, brings San Isidro to a chapel adjacent to the Nerja caves in Maro. Then the partying, with plenty of eating, drinking and live music begins in earnest under the shade of pine trees and marquees. Though ostensibly a religious festival it is typically Andalusian with a firm emphasis on fun and socialising. And it is loud, with DJs blasting music until night falls.

On the western Costa del Sol, Marbella’s popular feria takes place in June with a weeklong fair and pays homage to its patron saint San Bernabé (Saint Barnabus) on 11 June, a public holiday in the famous Costa del Sol town and one of the most important days in its cultural calendar. This colourful festival begins with the crowning of a feria queen and a spectacular fireworks display.

The festivities, which commemorate the reconquest of Marbella by the Catholic Monarchs in 1485, see locals and visitors alike pack gaily-decorated marquees to enjoy eating ‘fritura malagueña’, a selection of fried fish. Dancing during the day continues long into the night with twirling ladies in their flamenco dresses showcasing their vibrant culture.

One of Andalucía’s most popular romerías is held in Torremolinos for San Miguel (Saint Michael), the town’s patron saint, and attracts up to 200,000 people. It takes place on the Sunday closest to the saint’s day on 29 September with a floral offering to San Miguel in the Costa del Sol town. From there hundreds of ox carts, harnessed horses, brightly decorated caravans, floats pulled by tractors, and thousands on foot make their way to Saint Michael’s shrine in El Pinar pine forest. Traditional ‘sevillanas’ are played by bands as the pilgrims dance with zest through the afternoon. The romería is a prelude to the Torremolinos feria with its packed programme of music and events which runs from 28 September to 2 October.

Pilgrimage

The spectacular city of Granada - settled by Iberian tribes from 2000 BCE, a millennium before the Phoenicians, followed by the Romans from 250 BCE for seven centuries - is famous for its Day of the Cross (Día de la Cruz) celebrations on 3 May. Its origins date back to the fourth century when Saint Helena was sent on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in search of the Holy Sepulcher and The True Cross with events to commemorate her successful mission held across Spain and in Hispanic America.

Granada’s Day of the Cross can be traced back to 1625 when an alabaster cross was erected in the San Lázaro area before spreading to the popular old Muslim quarter of Albaicín and the Jewish one of Realejo. Today groups of neighbours, children and the Hermandades - the religious brotherhoods who organise the Easter Week processions - get together to decorate crosses with carnations.

These highly ornate and colourful works are on display throughout the city with prizes given for the best, usually located in the Albaicín, Calle Zafra or Plaza Larga, as Realejo’s Corrala de Santiago. In the historic centre flamenco performance take place adding to the wonderful atmosphere.

World Heritage

Cordoba, on the mighty River Guadalquivir, has a rich cultural and architectural legacy which includes its World Heritage-listed Festival of the Patios.

This flower-filled extravaganza takes place from 2 to 14 May, 2023, when a century-old competition sees the Cordobans open their patios, or courtyards, to visitors.

Each contains dozens of plant pots set on whitewashed walls. A visit strolling through the historic centre to see these living works of art filled with geraniums, fuschias, carnations, bougainvillea, strawberry plants, hydrangeas and more is unique.

The local tourist board provides online and paper maps of a route incorporating the participating patios (some of which are open year-round). One famous district is the Alcázar Viejo, between the Alcázar (Castle of the Christian Monarchs). Around the Mosque-Cathedral, there are many very beautiful old examples of patios in the old Jewish quarter. One of the most beautiful of all is in the Palace of Viana which has twelve linked patios, each with d