Some may find it a little strange that I never seem to update this post before I re-issue it every year. The reason for this is very simple: Nothing changes. Sure, the animals will change every year and the events may happen in a slightly different order, but the essence of the Zafra fair remains unchanged; the organisers have a formula that works and you don’t fix something that ain’t broke(n). So rest assured, dear reader, the information contained in this post is as relevant today as it was the first time it was posted.
Enough of the Simon & Garfunkel, already! But, yes, there will parsley, sage, rosemary & thyme – and a whole lot more!
About an hour’s drive south of where we live lies the town of Zafra. Like most Spanish towns and cities, it has many historical buildings and its Parador hotel is quite impressive; set in a castle which was built for the Dukes of Feria in 1437. That isn’t the reason why we visit the town once a year, though. Our motives are more, well, animal-related.
The first week of October sees Zafra celebrate its Feria de San Miguel. It’s been doing so since 1453, when Juan II de Castilla granted it royal status. Zafra has, throughout its history, been the hub of the region for the buying and selling of livestock and has grown, over the years, into the Feria Internacional de Ganadera – one of the largest and significant farming events in Europe.
During the seven day fair, cattle, pigs and all varieties of farm animal are paraded and judged to determine ‘best in show’ in their categories. It’s serious stuff – a prize-winning animal can be a big money-earner for its breeder. Add to that all of the farm equipment for sale and exhibition halls full of gadgets and food from local producers and you’ve got a full and entertaining day out.
The busiest time to visit the fair is over the weekend when, obviously, the majority of people are not at work. It is when all of the parading and judging takes place. The crowds are enormous and the queues to get in (and out) of the town are horrendous. If, like me, you don’t really need to see all of the parading and judging; I’d suggest visiting on the Monday. Sure, a lot of the livestock has gone – back to the farm – but so have the large crowds, which makes wandering around the exhibitions and stalls a much more pleasant experience. There are still plenty of four-legged friends to go and see and, with the whole fair on the wind-down, some bargains to be had from the food exhibitors; they don’t like taking produce back with them and would rather sell it off cheap!.
The recinto ferial (fairground) is huge, but it’s quite easy to find your way around. Parking is free on the industrial estate opposite and it’s little more than a five minute walk to the main entrance. Even on a quiet day, like Monday, the entire place is buzzing with the sounds and smells from the makeshift bars and restaurants.
There are numerous food stalls and bars to ensure that you don’t go hungry (or thirsty) – my favourite is a churro stall which serves chocolate filled churros, with a chocolate coating (no, there aren’t any photos of it, it doesn’t last long enough to get the lens cap off – and besides, I wouldn’t want to smother chocolate all over the camera, now, would I?*).
The animal enclosures are all in one area and, if you can stand the authentic farmyard odours, well worth a visit. Recumbent pigs, screaming (and spitting) goats, shaggy sheep, proud bulls and elegant equines make up the main species represented; some are for sale, others just for show. Most of the horses for sale have gone by the Monday – Phil says that’s a good thing. In this same area is an exhibition hall with all of your shootin’-huntin’-fishin’ needs – if hunting isn’t your thing, I’d give this one a miss as it can be quite distressing to see caged birds and the like.
For those who prefer their horse power without the horse, there is a magnificent display of tractors and farm equipment on show, as well as other agricultural necessities such as fencing and feeders. There is also a few new & used car dealers selling all manner of transport from carriages (yes, as in horse-drawn) to electric cars.
At the outer reaches of this end of the fairground are the (mainly private) casetas which pump out loud music all day long and, one can only assume, are the centre of activity for nightlife during the Feria – let’s not forget that, as well as the farming side of things, Zafra is in full-on party mode!
Heading back towards the main entrance are the food halls. Produce from all over Spain and Portugal can be found here and most of them offer free samples – try before you buy. As well as buying from the local farmers, it’s a great place to pick up delicacies from further afield – last year we got hold of some wild boar chorizo and venison paté from northern Spain and some (wickedly strong) Portuguese cheese.
The market stalls that surround this area are useful for outdoor clothing with many bargains to be had on walking boots and waterproofs. It’s also where you’ll find all the equestrian equipment – Phil doesn’t let me hover around these stalls for too long, in case I start getting ideas about trading in the car for a horse & cart. Thankfully, the layout doesn’t change from year to year and we can now complete our circuit of the fairground in about three hours – it’s advisable to allow at least a whole day if you’ve never been before.
The 2013 Feria ran from the 3rd to the 9th of October.
PS – The 2014 fair will take place from the 2nd to the 8th October.
PPS – The 2015 fair will take place from the 1st to the 7th October.
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About the author – Sue Sharpe lives in the wilds of Extremadura which – let’s face it – is probably the best place for her. She (and her partner) grow their own food; keep chickens and other sorts of hippy stuff. She is occasionally allowed out in public to write for travel guides and maintains her own blog about her life & experiences at www.hiddenspain.info/wordpress. Should you ever encounter her while she is on assignment, approach with caution and preferably with a gin & tonic or chocolate!
Photos & text © Sue Sharpe 2015