On Saturday night at 2200 hours the lights were switched on at the Feria del Caballo 2017 in Jerez de la Frontera. I have written before about this annual week-long festival ( see Feria ) but this year’s edition is slightly different. Usually beginning on the first Sunday in May this year it begins one week later and on a Saturday and is dedicated to Lola Flores the Jerezana flamencista ( see Lola ).
There were fears this year that the recent heavy rain would make the Feria ground muddy and unpleasant – it was plummeting down and drumming hard on our roof overnight – but the sun came out at lunchtime on Saturday.
The fair includes equestrian competitions of different types, for riders and carriages, which are held in the large arena at the corner of the Parque Gonzales Hontoria in the mornings. Tickets cost between 8 and 12 euros. There is also a large commercial horse-fair going on at the same time. But the real point of the fair is to enjoy oneself, to see and be seen, promenading, preferably with horse or horses, along the wide avenues and to meet with friends, some of whom return from all over the world for this event.
This year there are over 200 casetas, tented rooms for eating, drinking, talking and dancing. Some of the city’s leading penas, or flamenco clubs have one, with a full line up of flamenco talent performing on each day of the Feria ( see full list here ). The sherry houses also sponsor casetas, though these are of a more permanent construction. They too have a programme of events and there is a large funfair attached.
So plenty to do and see, though be warned, it gets very crowded and the tented restaurants and cafes which line the temporary ‘streets’ are often reserved for members of specific Jerezian institutions, especially those casetas with the best views of the grand avenues. One year we visited with friends, one of whom insisted that the restaurants could not possibly fill up, there were so many to choose from. We ended up eating out at the end of one of the spurs, seeing very little of the paseo.
Eating at the Feria is not cheap, my late neighbour, Teresa, always refused on principle to visit it because of the increased cost of food and drink. Like any annual celebration, reunions and remembering old friends is part of the tradition. Who was here last year, who was not and discussing who is not here this year is part of the ritual.
And, towards the end of the week there is the ‘death in the afternoon’ which Hemingway wrote about so memorably. Jerez is in traditional Andalucia, fiercely protective of its ancient traditions, this is not Catalunya. So there is a full programme of bull fights, carried live on local television (one can purchase meat from the previous day’s kill at the market on the following day).
Getting to the Feria is best done on foot, I think, walking among families dressed in traditional Spanish dress, though there are fifteen special buses from all parts of the town to the Parque (see routes). Taxis are permitted to drop off at the main entrance, though security is tight and nearby streets are cordoned off. We were travelling in a cab early Monday morning when we passed the Parque entrance, our driver taking a short cut across the Policia patrolled open space.
‘They’ll think we’re going to the Feria early,’ our cabbie said.
‘At nine o’clock in the morning?’ I asked.
‘They’ll probably think you’re Germans,’ came the reply. Thus do national stereotypes perpetuate.
Unlike ten years ago, the centre of town does not close down during the Feria, so there is still lots to do there. We enjoyed some flamenco at Tabanco El Pasaje, so you might too.