Málaga Feria - a day in the life of the free, Spanish festival

Málaga Feria - a day in the life of the free, Spanish festival

Spanish port Málaga enjoys a more luxuriously paced but no less fevered summer than ours. Jan Fairley brings us a diary of 24 hours in the heat

If there are a thousand reasons to be in Edinburgh during the Festival there are as many to escape, and where better than a free festival in a Mediterranean port founded by the Phoenicians some 3000 years ago. Which is why, at midnight on a mid-August Friday, I’m standing on Málaga’s Malagueta beach watching the night sky explode with fireworks from all sides of the port. The opening concert of the biggest free party in Spain is kicking off and will continue into the small hours. After a supper of fresh sardines straight from the charcoal barbecue at Maricuchi’s’ chiringuito restaurant on Pedegalejo beach, we’re ready for a long night.

The whole of Málaga stops to party during the Grand Summer Fair or Feria, which dates back to 1487 and the reconquest of the city from the Moors by the forces of the Catholic royal family. The streets flow with families, the adults wearing small drinking glasses around their neck the better to exchange feria golden wine, fino sherry or just water with passers by. On Saturday morning a band strikes up as, beneath the palm trees outside the Town Hall, the Mayor awards the city flag to the flag bearer of the year. Glamorous locals in frills pile into horse drawn carriages for the romería procession round the city streets to the Sanctuary of the Virgin de la Victoria, the city’s Patron Saint. The men, dressed in boots and short jackets, many of them on horseback, while the women are in gorgeous frilled dresses with combs and flowers in their hair.

In the Calle Larios in the old quarter there’s serious partying to all sorts of music. The best comes from the zippy fiddles, drums and be-ribboned dancers of the verdiales groups from surrounding villages, whose supporters drink wine from a bucket with long straws hanging out of it. We catch a late lunch in the Café de Chinitas, a famous haunt of bullfighters and flamenco musicians.

We follow the local rule of taking a quick siesta before heading out on a free shuttle buses to the Real de la Feria (Feria Proper) at the Cortíjo de Torres. The one time cigar factory is lit up, Blackpool Illuminations style, with a massive fun fair on one side and 200 or so caseta pavilions hosted by local associations on the other. Flamenco singer La Repompa and her family are on in the huge radio station tent and the next several hours are spent moving between casetas eating, drinking and dancing, with some of our group clubbing ‘til dawn.

Málaga’s most famous son is Pablo Picasso and the next morning we visit the house where he was born before heading to the Museo Picasso in the Palacio de Buena Vista, which houses the paintings which during his lifetime were kept in his home. This is my second visit and I am once again awed by the ‘holy family’ paintings of Picasso with his parents. Then it’s time to chill out by catching a bus to the Botanic Garden at the Finca La Concepción, a paradisiacal place to relax among tropical trees and plants whose seeds were brought to Spain from all over the world by sea captains in the 19th century.

Late afternoon there’s more street music and stilt walkers, and all sorts of entertainment for children. In the evening we eat supper on the terrace of the hotel Parador de Gibralfaro among the pine trees, enjoying the spectacular views of a horse show in the famous bull ring which Picasso loved to paint. Late night we’ll head out to the Feria again … Viva Málaga!

Málaga Feria runs from 14–23 Aug.


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