Bright coloured marquees, swirling dresses with polka dots and ruffles, dapper horses ridden by elegant 'caballeros' and cool glasses of pale manzanilla sherry... Andalusia is celebrating yet again, and the streets of Seville are bustling with the 'Feria de Abril'.
Spain is a country of fairs and festivities: each town and village celebrates its own local patron saint in grand style as well as taking advantage of any and every opportunity for a full-blown fiesta. And Seville, the capital of the Andalusia region, is no exception. The annual Feria de abril – literally the April fair – is held two weeks after Holy Week, so in years when Easter falls late, it actually takes place in May. This week, then, the streets of the southern city are decked in their finery, providing a colourful backdrop for the event which is a don't-miss diary date for so many Spaniards, and a time to see and be seen.
Seville was the birthplace of Don Juan, the hero of Byron's epic poem, in which the city is described as “a pleasant city, famous for oranges and women.” There's more to it than that, though, and spring is a perfect time to discover Spain's fourth largest city, when its streets fill with the bustle and activity of the Feria, the clink of sherry glasses and the scent of orange blossom.
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The Feria de abril is a place to see and to be seen, and the mode of transport is either on horseback or in a horse-drawn carriage
Most of the bright pavilions - known as casetas - are privately owned and you need an invitation to join the festivities inside, but there is a municipal marquee and a few others that are open to the general public
The horse riders wear the traditional short jacket and flat, wide-brimmed Cordobese hat and use Spanish-style stirrups
The restrained elegance of the horses and their riders contrasts with the vivid flounces and fringes of the flamenco dresses and shawls
No cars or motor vehicles are allowed in the precinct on the banks of the Guadalquivir where the Fair is held each year
The traditional Seville costume is not simply a relic of the past but follows fashion trends
Pale dry fino sherry, and manzanilla, the speciality of Sanlucar de Barrameda, are the traditional drinks at the Feria
Huge dangling ear-rings and bright hair combs are an essential part of the ladies' costumes, and always carefully chosen to match or tone with the dress
The April Fair lasts for six days, from midnight on Monday through to the following Sunday, and local and national media keep a close record of which celebrities have been spotted
The festivities keep going right through the night, and the streets and pavilions are lit by thousands of paper lanterns known as farolillos
This year, the slogan for the April Fair is La vuelta a Sevilla en un mundo – 'around Seville in a world' – and is an early celebration of the fifth centenary of the first world circumnavigation, the voyage that set out in August 1519 led by Magellan and Elcano on behalf of the Spanish Crown