The Spanish know how to party. In every city, town or whitewashed village with three inhabitants there'll be an annual fiesta or feria (fair). The Feria de Jerez is one of the most spectacular of all.
For one week each May, the Andalusian sherry-town throws off its cares and puts on its finery for the Feria. The dusty Parque Gonzalez Hontoria in central Jerez is transformed into a small city of bars and restaurants called casetas. These structures may be temporary, but they are built with care - wooden structures that look like saloon bars from the wild west. The park is lined with temporary streets housing 250 of these casetas, while the main thoroughfares are filled by horse-drawn carts transporting giggling locals and burnt tourists. In some ways, it's come a long way since medieval times, when the feria was an annual meet up for horse traders, who enjoyed (what else?) a sherry or three after trading.
The feria may boast 250-odd bars, yet tradition remains. I took the pictures above on Ladies' Day, when local women put on their flamenco dresses. I'm told that girls spend up to 800 euros having their dresses custom-made, and Ladies' Day is the big reveal. From the technicolour finery on display (polka dots, stripes and patterns in every shade imaginable), and the joyful atmosphere - the clack of castanets is ever present, and clusters of friends dance Sevillanas - you'd never guess that Jerez is suffering Spain's economic woes more than most, with some of the worst unemployment figures in the country. Reality is on hold during Feria.
As dusk falls, locals stand at the bar drinking rebujitos - Fino sherry and Sprite over ice. They are deceptively potent, and the Spanish can hold their drink far better than I can, so I try valiantly to sip, and play the long game. The Feria celebrations go on into the small hours so you need fuel. This isn't the place to find gourmet tapas, but dirty ballast like the serranito - a white bun filled with pork fillet, Serrano ham and a blistered fried green pepper - I eat at Caseta Juan Carlos. At night we repair to Tio Pepe's caseta, one of the grandest and one of only two to be housed in a permanent, wrought-iron structure. Here we sip chilled Tio Pepe (a dry and clean Fino), and later fishbowl-sized gin and tonics with cinnamon (it is at this point in the retelling that my recollection goes a little fuzzy). A live band is playing both flamenco and Pharell's Happy - the crowd know every word, and twist and twirl in their blazers and flamenco frocks. It is 4am and everyone at the Feria is clapping along because they know 'what happiness means to you'. And tomorrow night, they'll do it all over again.
Pinch of Salt was a guest of Tio Pepe