Spring is festival time here in Andalucia. After the Feria de Abril in Sevilla, with its fabulous frilly flamenca frocks, and elegant horse-riders of all ages, comes the Feria de Caballo in Jerez, which is on now and lasts until next Sunday (13 May). This city is where sherry comes from, so it’s the obvious place to try manzanilla, oloroso, fino and all the other types of this unfashionable but delicious tipple which is so intimately linked with Andalucia’s fiestas. Some people prefer Jerez’s feria to Seville’s, since it’s much smaller (200-odd casetas as opposed to 1,000) and more open: casetas are public, not privately-owned like at the Feria de Abril.
But more than anywhere else, May belongs to Cordoba. In this beautiful Moorish city, with its medieval feel, a succession of major events kicks off with the Battle of the Flowers at the beginning of the month; followed by the Cruces de Mayo, when neighbourhoods decorate crosses with flowers (also celebrated in other towns and cities around Andalucia); the Patios Festival (2-13 May); and then a short break before the Feria Nuestra Señora de la Salud (19-26 May) - horses, dancing, vino de jerez – all the usual shebang.
Officially known as the Concurso Popular de Patios Cordobeses, with its offshoot Concurso Popular de Rejas y Balcones (Bars and Balconies – yes, a windowbox competition: Cordobeses take it that seriously), the patios festival sees 48 private homes and institutions opening their gloriously blooming courtyards to Joe Public.
The patios are courtyards whose white walls and wooden balconies display potted flowers hanging in neat rows, creating a stunning multi-coloured floral profusion. Larger plants cover the floor, as well as trees, turning city-centre patios into lush secret gardens open to visitors for 12 precious days of the year.
This being Andalucia, music also features – tonight (Friday) ladyboy cantante Falete is giving a concert.
When we visited Cordoba to see the patios, last Sunday (you can see them till this Sunday, 13 May), the flowers had suffered a torrential downpour the day before, so some were looking a little sad, though most were wonderful. The day was warm and the sky was blue – mercifully, before the temperatures shot up to the high 30s we’re seeing this week. The heat has arrived – it’s sarong and sandals weather now here in Andalucia.
So we picked up a map from the tourist office in Plaza de las Tenderas, which showed three routes – one around the Cathedral and Plaza del Potro (pink); another in the area near Palacio Vinuesa de Viana, the patios museum, and the Plaza San Andres (blue); and a third spread out by Plaza San Rafael and Plaza San Juan de Letran (green). Having only 90 minutes to see the patios – they close for lunch at 2pm, and we are incapable of leaving the house before 10.30am on a weekend, so by the time we’d parked and got our map, it was 12.30 – I set about fixing an itinerary with military precision.
The closest route started a short walk away, so we made our way there. Needless to say, there were disagreements on which was the best street to take, but everyone was more or less in good humour. On the wall outside the first patio we saw a plaque, and the plant pots flanking the doorway boasted red coverings with a logo. A discreet signal to let you know they’re part of the festival. Nice.
My husband was thrilled to find a cafeteria inside - it was an old folks’ community centre - so he could get his essential shot of caffeine, while I checked out my first ever Official Competing Cordoban Patio – for it is also a competition, with cash prizes; plaques are awarded every year, many of which I saw proudly displayed.
After that, we had to queue to see some of the more popular (or smaller) patios, with my husband staying outside with the kids and buggy while I popped in – although one or both of them often came in to join me. My blog widower used to complain bitterly about my compunction to photograph anything and everything wherever we went; now he’s got used to it, and just puts up.
Thanks to some wrong turns caused by dodgy map-reading on my part – I now have renewed sympathy for the pavement-blocking, scowling, map-examining tourists in Barrio Santa Cruz - we jumped around a bit between routes 1 and 3. “Come on, come on, we’ve only got 25 minutes left and number 2, 3, 4 are conveniently grouped together just up the road from here. Move it, people!” A fun day out for the kids, being marshalled around by Bossy Mummy Blogger and her Camera (“Mum, STOP TAKING PHOTOS!”).
My favourite patios were one in Calle Parras (Route 1, number 4 or 5; above), and the last one we saw, in Calle Pozanco (Route 3, number 3). My biggest regret: missing the much-photographed Calle San Juan de Palomares (Route 3, number 7) which has all the classic ingredients: whitewashed walls, steps, blue pots, cobblestone floor, painted wooden balcony.
Pink is the most usual colour in the patios, so a splash of yellow made a welcome change. I saw carnations, snapdragons, hydrangeas, geraniums, bougainvillea, er – that’s the extent of my limited horticultural knowledge. Owners are on hand to keep an eye on visitors and answer any questions, though I was amazed how many people just walked past their hosts without even greeting them. The patios are free to visit, but most have a little basket or dish for coins.
Some tortoises and various small singing birds in cages (yeuch) provided extra interest. Our final stop, along a long narrow passageway, in a former convent, had Chumbao (that Andalucia ad) playing, for a chilled vibe.
The owner was a delightful lady, who was keen to explain the history of the building – it’s a one-storey 14th-century island in a sea of modern edifices.
Going to Cordoba to see the patios was was well worth the trip, but I’ve already decided that next year we’ll stay the night and have a more relaxed visit, -especially now that I know which my favourites are.
The official patios association is called Claveles y Gitanillas (Carnations and Geraniums).
Cordoba Tourism information about the Patios Festival with its QR code.
The hours of the patios are 11am-2pm and 6pm-10pm (12 midnight on Fridays and Saturdays).