4 must-see May festivals in Andalucia

Famed for its colourful cultural and gastronomic celebrations, Andalucia hosts a seemingly endless stream of festivals for every occasion across the year. In many ways the month of May really kicks off the festive season after the solemnity of the weeklong Semana Santa spectacle leading up to Easter. The temperatures creep up, the days lengthen, the flowers are in bloom and the people are ready for a party.

Zahara lake, Andalucia

Here are 4 festivals you won’t want to miss in May:

Cruces de Mayo, Cordoba and across Andaluci­a, first weekend of May

While the Cruces de Mayo, or May Crosses, celebrations brighten many an Andaluci­an city and village with spring flowers, the five day event in Cordoba (30 April – 4 May) is easily the most noteworthy. In Cordoba the Cruces de Mayo is not just a fiesta, but a contest between some forty different religious brotherhoods and neighbourhood associations competing for cash prizes recognising the most beautifully decorated crosses. The preparations are highly secretive and the unveiling of the various three metre high floral crosses is met with enormous anticipation. Despite the religious origins of the fiesta, venerating the cross of Jesus’ crucifixion, this is a typical Andalucian fiesta (read “party”), with tapas and drinks at bars set up alongside the crosses, and music and dancing into the night.

Festival of the Patios, Cordoba, 5th-18th May 2014

May is a truly special time in Cordoba. The month opens with the Cruces de Mayo and closes with the annual spring Fiesta de Cordoba, a tradition dating from the year 1284. And no sooner does the Cruces de Mayo fiesta end than the Patios festival begins, one of the absolute highlights of the year. For nearly two weeks, the city opens up its innumerable public and private courtyards to visitors in a floral feast of the senses with elaborate potted and hanging gardens accompanied by the scents of jasmine, orange blossom and an intoxicating mix of other plants and flowers.

This too is born of ancient tradition as courtyards became a central feature of Cordoban life where plants and water features helped to cool homes as a means of coping with the excessively hot, dry climate. The Moors added to the tradition begun by the Romans, and the residents of Cordoba have developed their sense of patio ingenuity and pride across the millennia. Like the Cruces de Mayo, the Festival of the Patios is also a fiercely competitive though fun loving event, and it is the only time of the year that it is possible to see the beautiful private courtyards of the residents of Cordoba.

El Rocio, La Doñana nature park, end of May

Pilgrimages and local fiestas based around these, known as “Romerias”, are a common occurrence across Spain on various occasions, but the El Rocio pilgrimage converging in the La Doñana national park in May is the biggest and most popular in Andalucia, attracting as many as a million visitors each year. Legend has it that the Virgin Mary was spotted in a tree trunk here in the 13th century and soon after the locals began an annual pilgrimage. Over the centuries religious brotherhoods made the trek from further and further afield until the Virgin del Rocio had reached cult status.

The park itself is a massive protected wetlands, one of the most important wildlife reserves in Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage site, attracting visitors for its beauty and an unspoiled connection with nature. So while the majority of the pilgrims may actually be devout, many of the revelers are along for the festival atmosphere as many make the journey in covered wagons, on horseback or in Gypsy caravans singing traditional flamenco songs specific to the pilgrimage.

Seville spring fair, 5th-10th May 2014

This festival has no religious roots, nor floral displays, but is an unadulterated and unapologetic party to welcome spring in earnest. The festival is contained within a huge area alongside the Guadalquivir River with more than 1000 tent pavilions spread across about 1.2 square kilometres. Only a few of these are open to the public so you’ll have to be lucky or connected to get into one of the private parties, but there is no lack of entertainment, food or drink anywhere. The party runs daily from midday until the early hours of the night with flowing drink, mountains of tapas and more live “Sevillanas” style Flamenco than you can click your castanetas at!

Alan Hazel is Owner and Director of Cortijo El Carligto.

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Comments (1)

  1. Great article Alan, I sometimes wonder how many British and Irish are aware of the amount of amazing festivals we have here in Spain. I am based on the border of Catalonia and the Valencian Community, and also guest post here (https://www.aluxurytravelblog.com/author/jdeburca/). Nice to meet you :)

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