Words by Erin Hardie | Photos by Ryan Platten
|3.50€ per pint of Guinness
*2.50€ per pint of local beer (Cruzcampo)
A short 2 hour train journey south of Madrid, lies Cordoba, a landlocked city of approximately 300,000 inhabitants. Small by any standards these days, it was, a thousand years ago under Moorish rule, one of the most important cities and cultural centres of the world. With such a glowing historical provenance, Córdoba should always have been on our itinerary radar for Spain but in fact wasn’t. It was only when we met a Córdoban native in Corfu (of all places) that we were convinced of Córdoba’s many charms and one especial jewel in its current day cultural crown: La Feria! (The Fair).
The influence of the Moors is everywhere in Cordoba.
So we arrived one steamy 35C afternoon to see a little of the week long Córdoban May tradition: La Feria. There is a good reason that La Feria is a May tradition and that is the weather. This little landlocked town lies in a valley with a subtropical mediterranean climate (translation: it’s hot and humid!) For the three days we were in town in the last week of May the temperature each day ranged between 33C-35C daily with few cooling breezes, consistent humidity and sun in the sky until 9pm daily. Awesome weather! But by summer, ie July/August these temperatures shoot up to 40C plus with many locals insisting they even reach heights of 50C… Well we do all love to be hyperbolic about the extremes of our hometown’s weather!
Colourful La Feria!
Needless to say Córdoba was a Spanish town in which we first noticed a near total observance of the “siesta” closing hours for businesses including restaurants. On our day of arrival at just after 3 pm we had just missed the lunch hours of the restaurants in our barrio (neighbourhood) and having only had breakfast that day, we waited anxiously for them to reopen between 8-9pm. Same went for supermarkets too! We stayed twenty minutes walk from the city centre in an Airbnb as accommodation prices during the week of Feria do shoot up to double/triple the usual rate, although with 3 nights for just $100 for a room with ensuite we were pretty pleased all the same. The streets in our barrio were not quite shaded enough from the searing sun by tall orange trees, I was tempted to shake a few ripe ones down from the high branches but on further research discovered that these trees are a sour orange variety sometimes known as the Seville Orange.
Everyone in town goes to La Feria during the week
But back to La Feria! La Feria (The Fair) is as you may have guessed, a fun fair. Lots of cities across the world have a version of these sorts of annual fairs; in our hometown of Perth the fair (Royal Show) has an agricultural aspect in addition to rides and games. In Córdoba the fair has of course the expected fairground rides such as the ferris wheel and dodgem cars, vendors selling candy floss and games of skill. The local dimension came in the form of Flamenco culture and tradition in the outfits and equipages of the attendees (yes many actually travel to the fair by horse and cart) and also in the big dusty avenue of drinking/dancing club tents in the fairground. The fairground is opposite the town’s historic centre, across the river. It’s in a big field, laid out in streets of tents to shield fairgoers from the harsh sun and these streets become quickly dusty. Many of the locals wear traditional dress which makes for a gorgeous scene all around of swirling ruffled skirts and shawls and even toddlers wobbling around in little polka-dotted flamenco dancing heels. Extra public transport is put on for the fair and the most popular time to arrive is unsurprisingly 9pm as the sun has just set and the heat started to leave the day.
The ladies of Cordoba dress to impress at La Feria
On the day of our visit with our local friend and guide we partied how some of the younger locals do: we started our Feria day in town at a couple of small bars and bodegas in the historic centre. Bodega basically means wine bar, although there’s usually more than wine on offer for those who prefer a beer or gin and tonic. Another famous Spanish beverage of choice is sherry, a daunting drink for a newcomer with its almost vinegar taste and higher alcoholic strength which we’d avoided until now for these very reasons. I discovered my sherry sweet spot (literally) in a drink locally known in Córdoba as a “fifty” – as in “fifty-fifty” the ratio of sweet dessert wine as added to fino sherry. These fifties are delicious, fortified in strength and thus totally lethal. To drink sherry like a local however one should really have a glass of just Fino sherry served chilled and unadulterated by sweet additives as an aperitif to accompany a tapas plate of jamón serrano (the cured ham style found throughout Spain). Another local drinking culture quirk we picked up on during this miniature bar-crawl was what to yell when a glass gets loudly broken in a bar. In Perth, Australia this is typically “taxi!” but in Córdoba to yell like a local you should say “alegría!” – meaning joy! Unsurprisingly we did not find any Guinness in bottle or tap form in these local bars, but it was not missed!
According to legend, Tapas was invented when a waiter put a small piece of ham over the King of Spain’s drink to cover it from dust. The King was so impressed by it he decided to eat all of his meals like this. Tapa means “cover” or “lid”.
With the siesta hour approaching the bodegas began to close so we hurried off to one of the last restuarants open to grab some stomach lining tapas. Our table featured fried crumbed calamari and a Córdoban version of huevos rotos (broken eggs). This version including fried chorizo with the standard runny-yolked broken fried eggs over chips – seriously tasty. To do Feria as the young do we then stopped past a mini-mart to pick up some pre-drinking supplies. The mini-mart was well stocked in ice and provided free plastic drinking cups to customers choosing their pre-drink of choice which ranged from beers through to mixing one’s own gin and tonics in the provided cups. I was surprised by this provision of free cups until we arrived over the bridge almost to the grounds of La Feria. Just outside of the entrance at an underpass was gathered a crowd of at least a few hundred groups of people with their drinks, ice and cups desperately hugging the high wall for shade in the hot late afternoon sun.
Huevos Rotos – broken eggs – seriously tasty!
After it had been deemed that a suitable number of pre-drinks had been consumed to offset costs once inside La Feria we finally went in and were blown away by how pretty the fairgrounds were. The dusty grid-formation avenues were lit above by string fairy lighting and paper lanterns in bright colours. The rather uniform white tents with only narrow doorway openings were not giving away many clues as to what lay inside so entering every tent was a surprise, although typically in the drinking street every tent had a large bar, dj, dance floor and lighting inside and all the top reggaeton tracks of the moment. Here you could see the whirling ruffled hems of the traditional flamenco inspired outfits in action. For keen fashionistas do note that although inspired by traditional costume these dresses each year are slightly updated, our local guide assured us. This year’s dress style of choice seemed to favour a longer sleeve finishing at least at the elbow if not longer. In that heat! No wonder people attend La Feria mostly after 9pm. We didn’t see the end of Feria heading home by midnight but had been assured by our friend that if you have the stamina you can party until the early hours, and then get up and do the same thing again the next day for the whole week.
Crowds gather under the bridge to consume cheaper drinks before going into La Feria
La Feria is not the only delight Córdoba has to offer, read on below for our top picks other than partying the days and nights away in the much needed shade of the drinking tents. Also worth noting is that Córdoba is not the only Spanish city to hold a fair; in fact they can be found all over Spain and are not all held at the same time. Seville for example holds a Feria in April (la Feria de Abril). So if you’re planning a trip to Spain grab a glass of sherry to set the mood whilst you google Feria dates for the towns you’ve always wanted to visit in Spain. If you’ve attended any of these other Feria’s, or visited la Feria de Córdoba/Córdoba before, we’d love to hear from you in our comments section below.
Until next time Chin Chin! (Cheers) Erin and Ryan.
Our top picks
Do you think you could party all night at La Feria? What are your thoughts on the massive drinking party under the bridge!? Let us know in the comments below and please like and share!
Want to Know Specifics?If you’d like to read more about any of the places we have stayed, ate, drank or partied, check out the Reviews link in the main menu at the top of the screen.
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