What to do in Seville during the December Puente – and over Christmas

navidad, navidades, Christmas, Christmas lights

Typically understated lights on Avenida de la Constitucion.

Christmas, Navidad

One of the fabulous bell-stars (not to be confused with the 1980s all-girl pop group) on Calle Sierpes.

This weekend is a bank holiday in Spain – a double one, with two (legitimate) days off – today, Friday, and Monday. First, Dia de la Constitucion (6 December), celebrating Spain’s Constitution; then Dia la Concepcion Inmaculada (8 December) – a Sunday, which is carried over to Monday 9 December.

Traditionally, the Christmas buzz gets going after this puente, but in Seville it’s already happening now thanks to a broad range of events - some regular annual ones, and some new. In any case, the Christmas lights are already up, so make sure you make at least one visit in the evening to get the full festive effect.

Here I will list my pick of the markets and other attractions this puente, and in most cases, throughout the Christmas season until Reyes – 5 January.

MARKETS AND FAIRS

I love a good browse – especially when there’s so much variety on offer. You can get all your Christmas presents here – books, handicrafts, food, wine. Chatting to the owner/designer/maker of a piece is all part of the experience.

dulces, claustros, dulce, navidad

Convent pastries, made by nuns in Seville province.

Convent pastries market in the Alcazar – 6 – 8 December.
Get your Christmas yemas and lardy goodies - mantecados and polvorones – made by nuns from nearby convents. Some are available in vegetarian versions too. An essential part of the seasonal diet for many Spanish.

Antique book market – Plaza Nueva – until 9 December
Great for quirky presents for hispanophiles; as well as books, you can find postcards, prints, maps, posters and comics.

belen, belens, nativity scenes, nativity figures, nativity, feria del belen

Fish stall at the Feria del Belen (nativity scene fair). They’re half the size of your finger.

belen, belenes, nativity scenes

Colourful Mexican belen. Stand 14, Oscar Lazarte. He also has some wonderful Cuban and Peruvian figures, including Noah’s Ark.

belen, belenes, nativity

Houses for your nativity scene.

Feria del Belen – Nativity scene market – Avenida de la Constitucion – until 23 December
Come here for figures for your belen (nativity scene) – most homes, offices and shops have their own. Rivers with flowing water, all the complementary figures including the cagon (pooing man), and foodstuffs – mini-fish and legs of jamon (widely available in Jewish Bethlehem in 0AD), to complement Jesus, Mary and Joseph with the animals, shepherds, and three kings.

Christmas market – the Alameda – until 5 January
This market features children’s attractions, ponies, dromedaries, and a Grand Flea Circus. Slightly apprehensive about the animals’ treatment; have yet to see.

NAvidad, Christmas

The super-sparkly Ayuntamiento (Town Hall) in Plaza Nueva, where the book and handicrafts markets are held.

Handicrafts market – Plaza Nueva – 13 December – 5 January
Great for unusual Christmas and Reyes presents – stalls mostly belong to designer-makers. Good buys (though less portable) include handmade ceramics and wooden toys.

Gastronomy and Handicrafts of Seville Province Fair – Diputacion de Sevilla – 12- 15, 19-22 December
Find gifts here for foodie friends and family – look out for Ines Rosales tortas de aceite, Colonias de Galeon organic wines from the Sierra Norte, and extra virgin olive oil from Estepa (Oleoestepa) and Carmona (Basilippo).

Independent designers market – Muchomaskemarket – El Arenal – 14-15 December
This two-day event takes place at a co-working space in Cuesta del Rosario 8 (4o) and features 29 stands of fashion, gastronomy and interiors, including recycled materials and cakes. Also workshops – learn how to make baby shoes out of felt, and how to print textiles.

Christmas market with live Nativity Scene – Plaza Encarnacion – until 6 January
Go skating, buy some presents, visit the animals at the Belen Viviente.

SPORT

Whether you’re a wobbler like me, or an elegant glider, skating is fun. And when it’s in such beautiful surroundings as these, even more so. And when it’s followed by a well-earned copita or three with friends – well, that’s a top evening in my book.

Ice rinks – until 6 January
In the Prado de San Sebastian and Plaza Encarnacion. For opening times, see here. The one under the Setas is interesting because it’s ecological synthetic ice, made by local Sevillano company Xtraice.

CULTURE

The programme is less varied at this time of year, as the spotlight falls on seasonal concerts, but there are some star events.

Sara Baras in her flamenco show La Pepa - one of the many highlights in Seville this Christmas.

Sara Baras in her flamenco show La Pepa – one of the many events in Seville this Christmas.

Flamenco – Sara Baras – Fibes – 13 December
The innovative dancer brings her new show, La Pepa, to the Seville Conference Centre. Set in Cadiz city in 1810-1812 – the time of the historic First Constitution and War of Independence against France – it also stars bailaor Jose Serrano. More information: Fibes.

Handel’s Messiah – Maestranza Theatre - 19 and 20 December
The great choral work performed by local amateur choral associations – a “from scratch”. Humming along is positively encouraged. More information: Teatro Maestranza.

Quidam – Cirque du Soleil – Palacio de Deportes San Pablo - 18-22 December
If you’ve never experienced a Cirque du Soleil show, I’d highly recommend this – a unique combination of music, dance, theatre and circus acrobatics. Thrilling and great fun, and worth the hike to San Pablo. More information: Cirque du Soleil.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7uc9lUuJQpE&w=560&h=315]

OTHER EVENTS
Finally, two free events/experiences to round off your Christmas visit to Seville, whether it’s a quick visit of a few hours, a weekend break, or you live here and want to try out everything that’s on offer. 

EVOO, AOVE, olive oil, extra virgin oilve oil

The four types of olive oil on offer, from smooth arbequina to strong picual.

Tasting the olive oil, at the mobile catas around the city this and next weekend.

Tasting the olive oil, at the mobile catas around the city this and next weekend.

Olive Oil Tasting Carts – all over the centre – 5-7, 12-14 December
Nothing to do with Christmas, but a great initiative worth mentioning. All around the centre, from Plaza Encarnacion down to Plaza Juan de Austria, you can find 50 carts each offering four types of EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) to taste; the idea is to introduce people to the delights of distinct varieties. They’re in place from 10.30am to 2.30pm and you can see a list of all the carts’ locations here. I’m a big fan of picual, having seen it being made on a farm in Jaen where I stayed recently; you can also taste smooth arbequina, peppery cornicabra, and fruity hojiblanca. I love this mobile cata idea; you are also given a brochure containing recipes using each type of oil to try at home. I’m tempted by the buñuelos de bacalo.

Mapping – Plaza San Francisco – until 5 December
This fabulous laser show is projected onto the back of the Ayuntamiento building. Dates aren’t 100% confirmed yet, but this year’s show, “El Espiritu de Navidad” (The Spirit of Christmas), will probably kick off on Tuesday 10 December, until Reyes (5 January); last year they were every hour from 6pm to 11 or 12pm. One of the Christmas season’s most popular events, with 700,000 watching the show last year, which won a European Best Event Award. (No, I’ve never heard of them either – no matter. Awards are a Good Thing.) Here’s a taster from last year.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DrHuF0Lyheg&w=420&h=315]

What do they do in your town or village at Christmas? Here’s a listing for Granada by Molly.

Feria de Jerez: Ladies’ Day

Feria de Jerez, Feria de Caballo

Your blogger, geared up (got some funny looks on the train from Seville) and ready for action at the entrance to the Feria de Jerez.

Andalucia has a (richly-deserved) reputation for a being a region of Spain that loves a fiesta. From April onwards, at any one time, several towns and cities around southern Spain are filled with people throwing up their arms and dancing in the streets – many shut down for a few days to concentrate on some serious partying.

So what is a feria? It’s when a mini-village of small, temporary house-tents are erected just outside the centre of town, and people come there to eat jamon and queso, drink sherry, dance Sevillanas, ride in their carriages, show off their magnificent Spanish horses, and generally put all their worries on the back burner for a few days to have a cracking good time.

All dressed up in the carriage with your girlfriends, singing - the perfect feria afternoon.

All dressed up in the carriage with your girlfriends, in the sun, singing – the perfect Feria.

I’ve been to the Seville Feria almost every year (with the odd exception for recently-born babies) since I arrived, which is quite a few hot afternoons and evenings spent traipsing around the recinto (fairground), trying to coordinate with friends to get into their casetas – in Seville, they’re private, you see; invitation-only. It’s also vast, with over 1,000 casetas. And this is why many people I know here, both Spanish and not, shun this feria as being too unmanageably large, exclusive and nobby. I had heard that other ferias were more open, and was curious to find out, so when a fellow Seville blogger, and tapas expert, suggested a trip to the Feria de Jerez with a visiting English food blogger, it was the perfect opportunity.

Lots of space to hand with your girl gang at this Feria.

Lots of space to hang with your girl gang at this Feria. Not sure what their Mickey Mouse theme was all about.

We went on Wednesday, which is Ladies’ Day at the Feria del Caballo (Horse Fair), as it’s officially called. As we arrived at the recinto quite early (it’s an hour by train from Seville, so easy-peasy), and there weren’t many other feriantes around yet, we could get a good idea of the scale. This feria is held in a park, with wide avenues, lined with palm trees and punctuated with pretty roundabouts decorated with sherry barrels.

With food blogger Nicola, enjoying our first jug of rebujito. Photo courtesy of Sevilla Tapas.

With food blogger Nicola, enjoying our first jug of rebujito. Photo courtesy of Sevilla Tapas.

The streets have plenty of space to ride up and down in your carriage - the Seville recinto‘s streets are much narrower, and it’s more cramped in general. The pavement here is vast, with room for 20 people to walk abreast – in Seville, you could barely fit five. The whole feria is a fraction of the size, with only 200-odd casetas. We stopped off at a corner caseta with a big terrace for some rebujito (fino sherry and lemonade) – our table was outside, with a great view of the jerezanos in their finery, and we had table service, none of which is the case in Seville. Recinto score: Jerez 1, Seville 0.

The turquoise satin wasn't one of my personal favourites.

The turquoise satin wasn’t one of my personal favourites.

As we drank our jug of refreshing rebujito, we watched, entranced, as groups of middle-aged ladies started to arrive, dressed in the brightest colours like exotic butterflies – dancing in the street, singing as they walked, clicking their castanets. At a feria, women wear flamenca dresses, traditionally long and fitted, with spots and frilly skirts, with a matching shawl and flower in their hair. They’re the sort of dress which (I think) looks great on everyone, whatever their shape – as you can see in these photos. Many more women had chosen not to don the flamenca dress here, and the alternative feria outfit of choice was showing off your pins in micro-hotpants, with flower-in-hair optional. Sartorial score: Jerez 0, Sevilla 1

Hotpants were the popular alternative to flamenca dresses in Jerez.

Hotpants were the popular alternative to flamenca dresses in Jerez.

In terms of other sartorial differences with my “own” feria, I saw more short (knee-length) dresses here in Jerez than at the Feria de Sevilla, and more loose up-dos, as compared to the slick, pulled-back ponytails with flowers on top of the head – the girls in Seville look more Arabic, with very dark, straight, glossy barnets, while the English element in Jerez (sherry families, where English merchants and producers intermarried with Spanish aristocracy) seems to have left more fair hair – or maybe that’s just my own bonkers theory.

Dancing Sevillanas in the street - for all ages.

Dancing Sevillanas in the street – for all ages.

The palo (stick) this man is holding makes a similar sounds to castanets.

The palo (stick) this man is holding makes a similar sound to castanets.

A lady driving a carriage on Ladies' Day.

A señora driving her carriage on Ladies’ Day; her traditional long skirt is perfect for the position.

This lady was also in the driving seat.

This lady was also in the driving seat – of her own carriage.

We saw women dancing in groups, accompanied by a drum and a flute – this is Andalucian celebration as it’s been for many years. Also women were driving carriages – not just as drivers (in uniform), but of their own horses. Another aspect of Ladies’ Day.

The Tio Pepe caseta, home to sherry, flamenco and Andalucian hospitality at its finest.

The Tio Pepe caseta, home to sherry, flamenco and Andalucian hospitality at its finest.

Jerez is very famous for its sherry (the word is an anglicized version, as the English who came to export, and then make it, couldn’t say hair-ezz), and one of the most famous is Tio Pepe – the man in red jacket and black hat. So we had arranged to rendezvous with various friends at the Gonzalez Byass caseta, reputed to be one of the best (indeed, it won a prize). A circular gazebo hung with billowing red and cream curtains, it is quite a sight, and unlike the stuffy, sweaty casetas at the Seville feria, a breeze blowing through made the steamily-hot day pleasantly warm.

The Tio Pepe girls with the ice shute, for chilling your fino.

The Tio Pepe girls with an ice shute, for chilling your fino. Their outfits are based on…

The signature bottles, like the roadside figure ads you see all around Spain.

The signature bottles of Tio Pepe with hat, jacket and guitar - like the roadside figure ads you see all around Spain.

Seville Tapas Queen, Shawn Hennessey, Antonio Flores of Bodegas Gonzalez Byass, and myself.

Seville Tapas Queen, Shawn Hennessey, Antonio Flores of Bodegas Gonzalez Byass, and myself.

In the Gonzalez Byass caseta, with my new favourite tipple, Tio Pepe en Ramas

In the Gonzalez Byass caseta, with my new favourite tipple, Tio Pepe en Rama

Plied with chilled Tio Pepe, and even better the marvellous unfiltered, multi-layered Tio Pepe en Rama (only 6,000 bottles produced annually), we had a riotously good time. Various friends turned up, including Jose Pizarro, London-based Extremaduran chef and restaurateur, whom I interviewed a few years ago was there, as was Daily Telegraph Spain expert journalist Annie Bennett.

One of our hosts was the gregarious Antonio Flores, master blender at Gonzalez Byass – he’s the man who decides which barrels from the solera to use in the blending process of each sherry. An important job, you might say. He was tickled by our shared surname – Flores – and we snuck off for a cigarette break together (tut tut, I know – only when pissed, honest) like naughty children.

The flamenco bailadora claps out the rhythm -note the Tio Pepe colours.

The flamenco bailadora in Tio Pepe’s caseta claps out the rhythm – note her colours.

flamenco, Feria del Caballo, Jerez

flamenco, Feria del Caballo, Jerez

flamenco, Feria del Caballo, Jerez

As well as horses and sherry, Jerez is also famous for a third typically Andalucian element: flamenco. As soon as the performance started – a singer and various dancers, wearing the signature black and red – the caseta filled up as the music and tac-a-tac drifted out into the street outside. Flamenco score: Jerez 1, Sevilla 0.

My return journey was slightly earlier than scheduled, due to some technical communications hitches, but I could not have enjoyed my visit to Jerez Feria more. Go if you can – if not this year, than next. I will be back, for sure. Final score: Jerez 2, Seville 1.

The Feria del Caballo in Jerez is on until tomorrow, Sunday 12 May, which also happens to be the deadline for voting in the BIBs blogging awards for which I was shortlisted. So if you’ve enjoyed reading this blog post, and would like to vote for me, please click on the button on the top left of this page to go to the voting form (Travel section), or alternatively just click on this link. Thank you!

Scenes from the Feria de Abril in Sevilla

Teenagers hanging out, as you do, at the portada of the Feria

Teenagers hanging out, as you do, at the portada of the Feria.

Makes a change from sloping around the shopping centre. These young people have arranged a rendez-vous at the Feria entrance gate, the portada, a popular meeting point. They say that many people meet their media naranja – other half – at the Feria de Sevilla (I know a few who did) – so who knows if some of these chavales and chavallas will end up together? The girls all look stunning, while the boys are less impressive. Overawed by the bright beauties; hovering like moths around a flame.

I love this woman's bright orange dress, with the farolillos (paper lanters) behind.

I love how this woman’s bright orange dress happens to co-ordinate perfectly with the farolillos (paper lanterns) behind.

Women in frilly dresses riding side-saddle behind men in their traje cortos (short jacket, high-waisted trousers and Cordobes hat) are one of my favourite Feria sights. This lady was beaming and delighted to have her photo taken – complete with admirer gazing up at her adoringly from down below. Who knows what the story with these three was.

Feria de Abril, April Fair, Sevilla, Seville Fair, Spring Fair

Double-dating at the Feria.

Riding around the Feria with your media naranja, and perhaps another couple, stopping off at your friends’ casetas for a glass of fino, is a key part of the experience for jinetes and their gitanas. If you don’t have your own horse, you can hire one for the day. Horses must, naturally, look their best too – groomed to within an inch of their lives, with gleaming coats, and exquisitely-coiffured, with expertly plaited mane and tail.

Riding around the Feria in a carriage - every little girl's dream.

Riding around the Feria in a carriage – every little girl’s dream.

Most little girls are obsessed with princesses, palaces and castles, so wearing a frilly dress and sitting in a magnificent carriage being pulled by a horse has to be high up there on most niñas’ wishlists. Cinderella, anyone? (My four-year-old daughter would combust with delight at the chance to do this.)

 

Feria de Abril, Feria de SEvilla,

Some quality time with the family, listening to another of Tio Pepe’s yarns.

But riding in a carriage around the Feria, where such transports are allowed until 8pm, is also a good chance for a family get-together, accompanied by some classic Sevillano tall-story telling. Everything is exaggerated when someone here recounts an incident – details will be overblown for dramatic or comic effect. Add some sunshine and sherry, and you’ve got the makings of a very entertaining afternoon.

Dancing to a guitar - no dance floor here, just joyous singing and clapping.

Dancing to a guitar – no dance floor here, just joyous singing and clapping.

This caseta is always full of good cheer – like most casetas it is private, but when I stop here to take photos, they never fail to invite me in, offer me a glass of sherry and treat me like a friend. Warm, delightful women who aren’t here to posture and show off how rich they are and how many friends they have. They just want to dance, sing and celebrate life. Salt of the earth.

Dancing Sevillanas outside a caseta.

Dancing Sevillanas outside a caseta.

Dancing in the street – most Sevillanas are danced inside casetas, the small, striped tents, but this year temperatures were so high that the tents were steamingly hot and stuffy; many people took their baile outside where the air was less stifling.

Nothing like a group of girls in flamenca dresses.

Nothing like a group of girls in flamenca dresses. The little girl on the right of the picture doesn’t look too impressed, does she?

Young girls get dressed up in their flamenca dresses from an early age, going to friends’ and family’s casetas in groups. Friendships are cemented over Feria experiences – first kisses, first boyfriends – it’s all part of growing up in Seville.

This year’s Feria finished last Sunday; next year’s is on 29 April – 4 May 2014. Horse and/or carriage optional; frilly dress strongly advised.

The Andalucia Show: from Almeria to Seville

Flag, fan and pennant in the regional green and white to celebrate Dia de Andalucia, 28 February.

My children with their flag, fan and pennant in the regional verde y blanco to celebrate Dia de Andalucia, 28 February. My daughter is proudly showing off her mixed heritage.

Children here in Andalucia are inculcated with a strong sense of regional pride right from the word go – they are Andaluces first, Spanish second (which leads to a sense of confusion about their identity, in the case of my Anglo-Andalusi children). They learn all about the culture, history, fiestas, famous figures, cuisine and geography of their region, which varies from desert to snow-covered mountains, from cork-oak forests to olive groves, from tidal marshes to sandy beaches, via Moorish cities and ancient sea ports.

This year, to celebrate Dia de Andalucia (28 February), my children’s school put on an exhibition about the entire region, province by province. Sections of corridors were magically transformed into colourful casetas in the Feria de Abril, patios in Cordoba, Cadiz beaches and Almerian hothouses.

Here, in alphabetical order, are the eight provinces of Andalucia as represented by three to 12-year-old Andaluzes, in products and pictures.

I haven’t captioned each photo – partly through sheer laziness and Alt Tag burnout; but also it means that you can try to guess each one’s contents (or, if you live here, ask your kids to) before reading the text for that province, which comes below its corresponding set of pictures. First up: Almeria.

Almeria invernadero

Almeria veg

Almeria skeletons kids

ALMERIA: Polytunnels, vegetables, spaghetti westerns and one of Spain’s most important archaeological sites.

Cadiz - atun de almadraba

Cadiz carnaval

CAdiz carnaval table

Cadiz entrance

Cadiz food 2

Cadiz piconeras

Cadiz playa

CADIZ: blue-fin tuna caught in the Atlantic and Mediterranean using the traditional almadraba system of nets and boats; the Teatro de Falla and the Carnaval in Cadiz city (a masks and two kazoo: the one on the left is my son’s, from our recent trip); sherry, seafood and cheese; fishing nets; piconero/as (coalmen and women – new to me, that one) and, of course, La Playa (yes, that’s real sand)!

Cordoba -cruces, patio ,feria

CORDOBA: Las Cruces de Mayo (the cross of red flowers) and the Patios Festival (the little pots with their blooms on the wall).

Malaga food

Granada

Granada  Lorca

Granada Arabic stuff

Granada food

GRANADA: The Patio de los Leones in the Alhambra; bit foxed myself as to the second picture – possibly Conquest Day, commemorating when the Reyes Catolicos recaptured the city from the Moors, and the royal banner of Castille is carried through the city; Federico Garcia Lorca, with some books by the poet and playwright; Arabic clothes and objects; Granadan pastries.

Huelva

zHuelva- El Rocio

HUELVA: A jamon (don’t miss the piggies on the front of the table); fish, prawns and other shellfish; El Rocio: dress, tambor (drum), mini-carreta, leather chaps, and the all-important leather riding boots to protect from mud, dust and wading through river fords.

Jaen

JAEN: Land of liquid gold – olives, olives, and more olives.

Malaga food (2)

 

Malaga people  Banderas

Malaga sardinas

MALAGA: Pastries, olive oil and sweet wine; famous people, including Picasso and, the “Father of Andalucia”, Blas Infante, bottom left (but not Antonio Banderas, strangely); sardines on sticks.

Cordoba Sevilla

Sevilla Feria

Sev Feria table

Sev Betis baby

Sev cathedral model

Sev incense

IMG_4998

Sev paso

Sev tapas list

SEVILLA: Inevitably, our provincial capital takes a starring role, both in the exhibition itself, and in this blog post. First we have the Feria caseta, complete with entrance (each one has its own name, number and design); the traditional painted table and chairs, plus jewellery, castanets and dress; a creepy-looking Betis baby, for the youngest football supporters; the cathedral; then we’re into Semana Santa, coming up in a few weeks: incense (smells very strong; my daughter hated it), nazarenos with a small cardboard DIY model of the Setas in front of them: more nazarenos, with their paso (float with statue of Jesus); and finally a list of tapas on a blackboard.

I never fail to be astonished and humbled by the huge amount of work which goes into these school shows, projects and exhibitions. The teachers and children obviously spent many hours preparing, assembling and presenting it (we had been asked to provide items from Seville and Cadiz provinces, hence the kazoo) and the finished effect looked quite spectacular.

Happy Andalucia Day, and congratulation to the staff and students!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Round

IMG_1928

Like many bloggers out there, I am thoroughly enjoying Skinny Wench’s A Word A Week - both reading others’ posts, and putting together my own – and I hope you’re liking them too! This is only my second AWAW, but I love these sorts of posts which are quick (my photos aren’t indexed, so it would be even quicker if I got my act together and could locate them using keywords – dream on), easy and fun. Many of my chosen images are Instagram snaps – I am mildly obsessed (@fififlores, if you want to follow me).

The idea of round, for me, denotes smooth, tactile, geometrically balanced; a baby’s soft bottom, a downy peach, a child’s ball. Circular and spherical shapes abound in nature – fruit, flowers, sun, moon… There is something profoundly satisfying about such a complete object, especially when it’s three-dimensional.

Here in Seville, the most ubiquitous incarnation of round are the spots on feria dresses – a key part of one of the city’s most important celebrations.

These round photos are a mix of natural and man (or woman)-made, and are as colourful as I could find:

water wheel at Sanlucar la Barrameda Feria

balloons in a friend’s garden (oval, so a slight cheat there)

supremely stylish football hat worn triumphantly at Euro 12

son with Olympic rings at Stratford this summer

home-baked (and decorated, don’t laugh) Hallowe’en cupcakes

trippy gold mushrooms

friend’s arroz (not paella, strictly speaking)

beer bottle tops

Christmas lights

mad flamenco-painted bread in a sadly now-closed shop

spotty farolillo (paper light) at the Feria de Sevilla

lemon from our tree

brandy barrels in Jerez de la Frontera

window of Seville cathedral, seen from roof

sunflower – a popular crop around these parts

IMG_2433

IMG_2457

IMG_2948

IMG_3663

IMG_3897

IMG_4189

IMG_4327

round, a word a week, weekly photo challenge, lights, tree, Christmas

pan flamenco

round, spotty, feria

IMG_0742 los apostoles

round, window, cathedral, Seville, Sevilla

sunflower