Five Reasons Why Andalucía is the Place to Be in May

Andalucía in springtime is perhaps the closest I can get to nirvana. Yes, the azahar flowers met an untimely death in April and my allergies are rampant, but even the short bursts of rain seem more poetic and more welcome now, because I’ll soon be slurping down snails or sneaking in a beer before work. The sky is blue and the temperature is perfect; the beaches are uncrowded and tourists have yet to choke city centers and my favorite tapas bars.

Even with flight deals to foreign destinations, staying close to home in Andalucía is my first choice when it comes to weekend plans and city breaks. From ferias to romerías, my social calendar is already packed with ideas!

Things to do in Andalusia in May

While I’m busy preparing for my sister’s wedding in the US along with the crazed end-of-term tasks, please grab a cervecita and enjoy some of these festivals for me this month!

Jerez de la Frontera: La Feria del Caballo

May kicks off with La Feria del Caballo, a smaller more welcoming version of my local Feria de Sevilla in little sister city Jerez de la Frontera. A city renowned for its sherry production and Andalusian horses, the festivities revolve around just those things. Head to the recinto ferial on the north end of town to dance Sevillanas and gawk at horse carriages, glass of fino in hand.

Feria de Jerez

And no need to wear a traje de gitana, chicas – this feria is way more laid-back!

2016 dates: April 30 to May 6

Córdoba: Cruces de Mayo, Festival de los Patios, Feria de Córdoba

Seville’s big month is April, but May is totally Córdoba’s time to shine. While it may not be as grandiose as its westerly neighbor, the Ciudad Califa has THREE festivals of national touristic interest.

calleja de las flores córdoba

Cruces de Mayo, which typically takes place during the first weekend of the month, sees large flower crosses set up in city plazas as offerings (and, rumor has it, there are small bars selling food and drink). Next up is the Patios Festival, where locals open their homes and gardens to the public, their walls and wells draped in beautiful flowers. If your wallet hasn’t burned a hole in your pocket during your stay in Andalusia yet, the cordobés version of a feria closes out the month.

2016 dates: Cruces is April 28 to May 2, after which the Patios are open daily until May 15th. The Feria will be held from the 21st and 28th of the month.

Málaga: Noche en Blanco

Málaga is an up-and-coming touristic epicenter, and the city has responded by offering 20% more activities, openings and gatherings for their annual White Night. Fashioned after its American counterparts, the museums, galleries, expositions and tours here will operate until 2am.

You can see the full program here.

2016 dates: May 14th from 8pm until 2am.

Huelva: La Romería de El Rocío

My first trip to El Rocío – a mere hour’s bus ride from Seville – was one for the books. Straight out of the American Wild West, I was surrounded by people from all over Spain who were devoted to an effigy found near the marshes of Doñana National Park. From parades to enormous corrales housing groups of hermandades, this is certainly quite an event!

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I call her the lushy Virgin Mary, as her party on Pentecost Sunday is also characterized by hedonism. After the long walk to the Aldea from various parts of Spain, the statue “jumps” over the altar and is passed around town on the shoulders of her followers. The best part of the Salta de la Reja is that it happens at a different time every year, meaning Sunday night reaches fever pitch proportions.

2016 dates: the carrozas leave their respective hermandades on various days leading up to Pentecost Sunday, which is May 15th this year.

Granada and Almería: Moros y Cristianos

This long-standing festival, reenacting the Christian Reconquest of Spain during the 8th to 15th centuries, isn’t limited to Andalucía – many locals in southwest and south central Spain have their own version of the event. Imagine full-scale battles, costumes and an enormous medieval fair (meat on a stick!). And given that Andalucía – Granada specifically – was the last stronghold of the Moors, the region takes pride in their rendition.

2016 dates: Dates vary by municipality, but count on late May or June; check local websites.

come and drink

As for Seville? It’s still recovering from Semana Santa and Feria! I’ve been drinking in the temperate weather, the sunny bike rides to work and the longer evening light. Well, that and draining my wallet on gas and bocadillos.

Even if you’re visiting Andalusia on an all-inclusive holiday or cruise, make time to experience these visitor-friendly festivals – they will give you an insight into Andalusian culture and tradition in the wonderful region I now call home.

Curious about events taking place in other parts of Spain? Madrid’s local festival, San Isidro, is marked by bullfights and events around the city, and Girona is famous for its Temps de Flors. Devour Spain covers the ins and outs of San Isidro, and Jess’s photos of the flower festival are gorgeous! And my apologies: I should have pushed publish on this article two weeks ago – oops! 

What’s your favorite springtime festival in Spain?

Tapa Thursday: Tasting Jerez de la Frontera

I’ll admit it – I have a big ol’ crush on Jerez de la Frontera.

While Seville swoons, Jerez pokes and teases, yet always entices. It moves slower. It seems to stay for just one more round of ‘la penúltima.’ Jerez knows how to party, but it also knows how to stop and smell the sherry.

And at just an hour car ride south of La Hispalense, it’s easy to cheat on Seville with Jeré.

Tasting

No stranger to Spanish wine culture, Jerez – along with El Puerto de Santa María and Sanlúcar de Barrameda – make up the Sherry Triangle and produce white wine of the same name. I discovered the Feria de la Vendimia thanks to Devour Spain‘s monthly newsletter, and though we’d missed the grape stomping and the sherry cooking classes, there was still one lingering activity on a sunny Saturday late in the summer: the Feria Gastronómica.

Feria de la Vendimia Jerez

Set in a shady plaza sandwiched between the Alcázar fortress and world-famous González Byass Wineries, nearly two dozen tents offered special tapas and a drink for 3.50€ under caseta tents. Rather than do a lap, we beelined straight to a brightly colored bar at the west end of the square. Being hangry is a good enough excuse for me to follow my nose and tummy into a tent.

Jerezano cuisine is similar to that of Seville, but because the province of Cádiz boasts both sea and fertile terrain, there is more fresh fish and seafood, plus heartier meats. The Bahía de Cádiz is famed for Almendraba tuna and bull meat, called retinto. While it would have been easy to choose croquetas and solomillo, I was determined to choose tapas that were more regional.

Here’s what we devoured:

Pepe Limon Sherry Spritzer

While I’ve become a sherry convert thanks to the Feria de Sevilla, my friends find it too bitter. Pepelimón is the newest product from the makers of a fino variety called Tío Pepe that is half fino, half 100% lemon juice. Like rebujito, it’s sweet and potent (and don’t fret, I had a glass of sherry after we’d eaten).

Destraperlo beer Jerez

Craft beer is on the rise in Spain (admit you just did a fist pump), and Jerez has a new kid on the block, Destraperlo. Irene invited us in for free samples of their pilsner and red brands. La birra más burra es muy buena – it’s got more body than local favorite Cruzcampo, but with less bite than an IPA, making it just right for the Spanish palate. 

Ensaladilla de Pulpo

Thirst quenched, we stuck around in the Guardia de Ángel tent for ensaladilla del pulpo. Octopus is one of those Spanish foods that I would have never thought I’d like, but mixed with mayonnaise and paprika, the salty taste was too overwhelming.

Albondigas de Atun

Sticking with seafood, I nabbed some albóndigas de atún con queso payoyo with homemade tomato sauce. Both alemndraba tuna and Payoyo cheese are native to Cádiz, and this was indeed the star dish of the day.

eggplant tapa in Spain

The berenjena con queso de cabra carmelizada en Pedro Ximénez came recommended at Bar Papanata’s tent. Washed down with sherry, of course!

Sampling sherry in Jerez de la Frontera

Realizing we’d only been on one side of the food fair, we got one more drink at Restaurante Bar Gula. I wanted to try the hamburguesa de retinto, a bull’s meat burger, but we opted for croquetas de tomate y albahaca con jamón and a chicken satay (hey, when you find international food in Andalucía, you order it!). 

After five tapas a piece, we were stuffed!

Croquetas in Jerez

That day was one of those typical Andalusian Saturdays where you look at your watch and ask, wait! Where did the time go? Between catching up on our summers, sampling tapas and ordering another round, it was suddenly after 5pm and time for merienda.

Spanish desserts and I broke up a long time ago, and Jerez’s dessert game seemed a little off (we were so desperate we hiked to a Foster’s Hollywood, the most jankity Friday’s you can imagine, to find it closed). We settled on cakes from a pastelería.

oreo cake

While Jerez’s food culture isn’t terribly different from Seville’s, I can never resist a decent food festival, especially when all of the bars are clumped together.

While Jerez may not be the food mecca, I have a feeling that Sevill’s kid brother might soon have its swan song.

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I visited Jerez’s Feria de la Vendimia with Caser Expat Insurance’s Typical NonSpanish project. All opinions and extra calories are my own.

Have you ever been to a Food Festival in Spain?

Spain Snapshots: the Feria del Caballo in Jerez de la Frontera

Call me a purist, but I love Seville’s April Fair, classism and all. Friends of mine had always talked about the jerezano equivalent, held a few weeks after Seville’s famed fête in mid May. Last year, M and I took the train to nearby Jerez de la Frontera for a day to experience the festival.

Being a celebrated horse breeding and training city, el caballo takes center stage at the fair, with both exhibitions and a horse auction. The biggest difference between the two is that the streets aren’t choked with horse carriages, so there’s less of a chance you’ll get hit by one or drag your dress through horse poop.

But there was plenty more: Jerez’s fair was a fun mix of eclectic and traditional casetas (we danced in a caseta run by a biker bar and drank margaritas at the Mexican restaurant’s tent), many different types of music, and much more wallet friendly. Not having to worry about appearances, we could just enjoy ourselves with all of the adorable, sherry-drinking abuelos.

Not much can hold a candle to Seville’s fair, but Jerez is as damn close as you can get.

If you go: The Feria de Jerez is held over seven days in May, typically during the second week of the month (this year’s festival is the 11th – 18th of May). You can take the train from Seville’s Santa Justa or San Bernardo stations straight to Jerez, with a round-trip ticket costing 17€. Entrance to the fairgrounds in Jerez is free. For more information, check the city’s festivals page.

Have you been to any Andalusian fairs?

El Caballo Camina Pa’lante: A Horse-Lover’s Guide to Andalucía

Andalusia, Spain’s southernmost region, is synonymous with many things: flamenco, sun and sand tourism and bullfighting. It’s also the breeding grounds for the Andalusian horse, a strong and powerful race favored by Moorish kings and thought to have evolved from the Portuguese breed. It’s common to see horses in Southern Spain used for sport – rejoneos, hunting and plain old riding – as well for work.

When my mother came to visit in June, she had one thing on the brain (and the tongue, as it’s the only word she could say in Spanish): caballos.

I took my pony-loving parent on a tour of Andalusia’s most famous horse sites, including a visit to the Novio’s farm, which is recognized as an ANCEE Andalusian breed farm.

Horse crazy? Andalucía is a great destination if your brain is more focused on the equine world than tapas.

Jerez de la Frontera

The largest city in the Cádiz province, Jerez is famous for its dry sherries and horse breeding farms, called yeguadas. Jerez is just less than an hour away from Seville by car and makes a great day trip, as you can hit all of its sites and catch a show at the world-famous Andalusian horse training grounds.

Real Escuela Ecuestre de Jerez

Andalusian horses are world-famous for their agility, and the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art is home to the show, ‘How the Andalusian Horses Dance.’ I took my mother to this 90-minute spectacle, similar to the Lipizzaners in Vienna, and I was mesmerized by their abilities to jump, side step and control their stops. Even at its steep price, sitting in the front row was worth it.

If you happen to be in town on a no-show day, you are still able to walk the grounds, watch the practice, and visiting the museums on-site. From the center, it’s a 10-minute walk to the compound. Shows are held on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and select Saturdays at noon. For more info: http://www.realescuela.org/ing/home.htm

Feria del Caballo

Jerez’s version of the Feria is just as brightly colored and fun as Seville’s, just not as pretentious – all the tents are free to enter, you won’t get run over by a horse carriage because the streets are wider and there’s even Mexican food and hard rock tents. What’s more, it’s a living horse show, and the Andalusia giant is put on display. There are workshops, shows, contests and carriage parades all week-long. The fair typically falls in May, about a month after Seville’s annual Feria de Abril. 2014’s dates are May 11th to 18th.

Sevilla

Seville resonates with the clip-clop of hooves in the city center. Horses are everywhere in the bustling Andalusian capital, used mainly for horse carriages, mounted policemen and in bullfights. The annual Feria de Sevilla is full of carriage exhibitions and parades, but this horse-friendly city offers more.

Museo de Carruajes

This small museum right off of Plaza de Cuba opened 15 years ago to house intricate horse carriages in an old nunnery. While the space is used primarily for events and weddings, the exhibitions can be visited for free on Tuesdays. The foundation also puts on the horse carriage parade in the bull ring during the Sunday prior to the Alumbrado of the Feria. (You can visit Monday-Friday from 9:00 – 14:00 and in the afternoons from 17:00 – 19:30 for 3,60€)

Horse Carriage ride

Horse carriages are one of the city’s most romantic rides – it’s impossible to drive near the city center or María Luisa park without giving yield to one of the open-top buggies. While I’ve never done it, you can hire a driver near the cathedral or park and take in the sights, regardless of the weather. A 45-minute trip will run you about 40€, plus a tip for the driver. There is an official rate for the city, displayed on signs near the official pick-up points, so be sure to negotiate the price with the driver.

SICAB

The Salon International del Caballo is an annual horse show and fair held in Seville, typically in November, and considered one of he city’s biggest tourist draws. You’ll find breeders and designers with booths in the Palacio de Congresos dedicated to the Pura Raza Española, and the equestrian championship is also held during the event. Thoroughbreds are displayed in an exhibition hall for purchase – almost like a throwback to the origins of the Feria.

The Novio’s family gets free tickets each year for being an ANCEE-approved farm, but I usually just go in the hopes that I’ll see the Duquesa de Alba. (This year’s even will be held the 3-8th of December).

Doñana/Huelva

Not everyone adds Huelva to their list of musts while in Andalucia (even though you should!), but there are horse-friendly things to do in the province wedged between Sevilla and Portugal.

Saca de las Yeguas

I would have loved to take my mother to the annual Saca a las Yeguas, when the wild horses in The Doñana swamps are rounded up, blessed in front of the majestic chapel at El Rocío, and then driven to nearby Almonte to be sold. For the last 500 years, this festival has been held on June 26th to commemorate Saint Peter. During the five days that follow, the horses are trained, shown off and sometimes bought, with special attention towards the foals. Almonte is only an hour away from Seville and reachable by Damas bus or car.

Rutas Ecuestres in Doñana National Park

It’s also common to see trail groups riding between the pine trees and over the sand dunes of Doñana, a wildlife reserve in the southeast corner of the province. My mom and I got a groupon for Rutas Ecuestres Mazagón for a 90 minute ride, which included a bit on horse care and the topography of Doñana. Getting back in the saddle again after so many years was fun, though I think my mother was bored out of her mind! For more: http://rutasecuestresmazagon.com

Are you a horse lover? What are your favorite equine events or activities in Spain?

 

Seville Snapshots: The Real Escuela Ecuestre de Jerez

It may be summer, but here’s a quiz: Spain:Cat::Horses:Cat’s mom.

I grew up spending Sundays at the barn, learning to care for horses and riding my mother’s docile giant, The Pudge. My mother tried in vain to have my sister and I share her love for ecuestrian arts, but Margaret and I didn’t have much interest in playing with even My Little Ponies, let alone the real ones.

Coming to Spain and learning to categorize the morphology of the long-snouted Andalusian horses sparked my interest in los caballos, long after the days when my Girl Scout troop earned our Horse Lovers badge. Trips to the pueblo often include a trip to the farm and the sound of cantering seems to be synonymous with Seville.

When my mother hopped a flight to Spain (more like sweet talked her way onto one on standby), I had very few plans for her. Those that I did make revolved around an Andalusian pony fantasy: hanging out in the Novio’s village, San Nicolás del Puerto, a horse ride along the beach in Mazagón, and taking in a show at the Fundación Real Escuela del Arte Ecuestre Andaluz in Jerez de la Frontera.

On a sweltering Tuesday, we drove an hour south to Jerez. Lush gardens and a stately mansion were surrounded by yards of stables and practicing grounds. We watched as riders hosed down strong, white stallions, working them out in a ring adjacent to the exhibition grounds. Despite the heat, Nancy pulled me from one ring to the next barn, asking me how to say words in Spanish related to horses.

The show itself was something else – the Novio and I had seen the Lipazzaner stallions while in Austria, but the Andalusian stallion show was exceptional, showcasing the strength and agility of the beasts. For my pony-loving mother, it was one of the highlights of her trip and an alternative to the sherry-soaked tourism in Jerez.

If you go: The Real Escuela is open daily and includes several museum exhibitions and workshops. The celebrated show, ‘Como Bailan los Caballos Andaluces’ is only on twice a week, on Tuesday and Thursday at noon, and some select Saturdays. You can nab tickets from their website, and I’d recommend sitting in the front row, if possible. Student cards or carnet joven will also get you a hefty discount. 

Have you been to the Real Escuela in Jerez? Did you freak out like Nancy and I did when the horses got on their hind legs and jumped?!

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