Winter never seems to linger long in Andalusia. With more than 300 days of sunshine each year, Andalusia claims the sunniest spot in Europe and it often feels like Spring is the longest season of all. The warm weather contributes to the virtually endless string of festivals throughout the year, which always kicks off with full momentum in the Spring season.
So dig out your short sleeves and ready yourself for the pomp and circumstance resulting from centuries of tradition in Andalusia. There is something for everyone, from quirky cultural celebrations, to sombre but vibrant religious spectacles, and unique gastronomic fairs. If you’re not sure which fiesta to drop in on, many of them are within days of one another and can be sampled in stride.
Semana Santa - all across Andalusia, 9th-16th April
The “holy week” leading up to Easter Sunday is easily the biggest and most important celebration in all of Spain each year, and nowhere are they more serious about it than in Andalusia, with Malaga and Seville putting on particularly spectacular weeklong events. Each dioceses and every town or city has numerous religious associations represented throughout the Semana Santa. Each has its day when they make their slow and sombre march through the streets, their numbers in the hundreds.
If you witness nothing more than one of these distinctly coloured, hooded and robed cofradias lumbering under the massive weight of the ornately decorated floats (or tronos), it will have been worth your visit. Those carrying the tronos, which depict biblical scenes and venerations of the Virgin Mary, consider it a great honour, and many pay handsomely for the right. Others walk blindfolded, self-flagilate, or otherwise demonstrate their passion and contrition along the way. This is serious business, but despite the gravity of the processions this is still Andalusia, where an opportunity for a party never slips by unheeded.
Cruz de Mayo (the May Cross) – various sites across Andalusia, 29th April – 2nd May
Today the May Cross celebrations have evolved into something of a floral competition, with residents, businesses and religious associations vying for prizes awarded for the most beautifully decorated crosses. The origins, of course, have a more religious tenor, harking back to Saint Helen, mother of Constantinople, who sought out Jesus’ cross in Jerusalem and allegedly performed numerous miracles upon finding what was presumed to be the true cross of the crucifixion, according to legend. Cordoba, with its affinity for floral displays and competitions, is the best place to witness the modern, festive celebration of the May Cross.
The Morcilla (black pudding) festival - Canillas de Aceituno, last Sunday of April
One of the more quaint and amusing of the springtime gastronomic festivals, the small but historic white washed village of Canillas de Aceituno kicks of the season with an ode to the humble blood sausage, one of the specialties of this little mountain pueblo. They tear through a literal tonne of the stuff within a matter of a few hours, all washed down with copious amounts of beer and wine served on the cramped central plaza. You have to be early to get in on the free tasting of morcilla, but never fear; the party lasts well into the night with live entertainment, games, and the unmistakable songs and dances of Andalusia. Drop into one of the restaurants for a sampling of the black pudding if you missed the public degustacion in the morning.
Romerias (pilgrimages) – various sites across Andalusia, on or soon after the final Sunday of April
The Romerias take their name and tradition from historic Christian pilgramages destined for Rome. Like the Semana Santa processions, the Romerias include lengthy parades, though these generally cover greater distances and typically include a much more festive atmosphere altogether. The Romeria will usually end in a pre-designated destination where the proper festivities kick off and last well into the night.
Though officially religious in nature, the tradition would seem to owe much to those of the travelling gypsies, incorporating song, dance, games and other entertainment, plentiful food and drink, and general merry making that draws the entire community out to share in the revelry and strengthen common bonds. Many of the smaller villages around Andalusia will celebrate their own version of the Romeria around the end of April, while from the larger cities one never has to travel far to join the festivities. They often honour a particular patron saint and begin with an honorary mass, though as the evening light fades and the celebration runs into the early hours, it is easy to forget any religious affiliation.
The Patios festival of Cordoba, 4th-15th May
The May Cross competition is something of a warm up for the true floral fair overtaking the city of Cordoba each May. Here individual residents of the city open up their private, exquisitely adorned courtyard displays to the public, competing for recognition and prizes. Local businesses, governmental offices and historic sites also join the action, creating an impression that this ancient city all but drips with flowers and colour, as the breeze delights with the scents of Eden.
The Horse Fair, Jerez de la Frontera, 30th April – 7th May
An unrivalled equestrian event, the Feria del Caballo celebrates all things related to Andalusian horses, with regal processions, show events and competitions. But horses are not the only protagonists of this even; given equal time are Flamenco and wine. Jerez is one of the national centres of the Flamenco art form, and sherry production, a winning combination for any Andalusian fiesta!
With any visit to Andalusia in springtime, you’ll never be far from a fiesta. Those such as the Semana Santa and the Romerias are so ubiquitous that you’d have to lock yourself away to miss them, though each and every village, town and city has its own traditions worth exploring.
Due to the temperate climate, the gastronomic festivals are never far off, with a year round harvest of some sort or another. These also gain momentum in the Spring with a whole host of events scheduled on or around the first of May. Take for example the Orange Festival in Istan, the Aparagus Festival in the Sierra de Yegas, the general Gastronomy Festival in Guaro and the Nispero (loquat) Festival in Sayalonga in addition to the Morcilla Festival of Canillas de Aceituno.
So many fiestas, all within so little time!
Alan Hazel is Owner and Director of Cortijo El Carligto.