All the fun of feria! Madrid’s San Isidro festival

Hola a todos!! In episode three of When in Spain I guide us around the Feria de San Isidro in Madrid and take in the sights, sounds and flavours. To hear all the festivities hit play on audio player above and immerse yourself in all things Feria!

Feria de El Puerto de Santa Maria
Feria de El Puerto de Santa Maria

What is a feria?

In short, it’s an annual festival that takes place in practically every town and city across Spain between Spring and Autumn. Each feria¬†usually lasts around a week and celebrates local traditions, music, dance, food and some of them have religious connections, such as Madrid’s San Isidro.

If you’re thinking of the clich√© of flamenco, girls in bright coloured figure-hugging dresses wearing flowers in their hair…

Feria de Abril - Seville
Feria de Abril – Seville
Flowers at Feria de M√°laga
Flowers at Feria de M√°laga

My advice for anyone who’s never been to a feria. Go! It’a raucous induction to the Espa√Īa profunda – deep Spain. In my opinion some of the most lively and colourful ferias are in Andaluc√≠a in southern Spain. If you’re thinking of the clich√© of flamenco, girls in bright coloured figure-hugging dresses wearing flowers in their hair and jugs of Rebujito flowing like water,¬† (Sherry mixed with lemonade) this is as close as it gets. The big ones in the south are in Seville, Malaga, Cordoba and Cadiz.

To the feria! Códoba
To the feria! Códoba

Other ferias

Of course, not all ferias are made in Andaluc√≠a.¬†There are a few others which are well-known. Pamplona in the north of Spain has it’s San Ferm√≠n, the one where people get chased by bulls through the city’s narrow streets, usually resulting in more than few drunken guiris¬†getting trampled. Valencia, on the east coast has Las Fallas, a deafening feria where towering¬†fallas –¬†cardboard and paper-m√Ęch√© figures are burned to the ground and a daily explosive barrage of coordinated firecracker and fireworks displays called Masclet√†s take place. Not for the faint-hearted. Bring your earplugs. Once was enough for me.

…and in Madrid, San Isidro

So where does that leave Madrid’s Feria de San Isidro? Meh. For me it falls short. Nada especial.¬†I only say this because considering Madrid is the capital city, its feria is pretty low-key which surprises me considering Madrid is renowned for its buzzing nightlife and lively ambiente. That said, it certainly has a charm to it and a curious history.

San Isidro (Saint Isidore) is the Catholic Patron Saint of Madrid and the Patron Saint of Farmers. (1070 – 1130?) His full name is San Isidro el Labrador, Saint Isidore the worker of the land. He was born in Madrid in around 1070, to poor but very devout parents and spent his life as a farm hand for the wealthy landowner Juan de Vargas.

San Isidro, Santa Maria de la Cabeza & Son
San Isidro, Santa Maria de la Cabeza & Son – La Aventura de la Historia

The miracles of San Isidro

Isidore married Maria Torribia, known as Santa María de la Cabeza and they had one son together. On one occasion, their son fell into a deep well but following the prayers of his parents, the water of the well miraculously rose to ground-level, bringing the child with it.

Another story recounts how he had the help of angels in the fields.¬†Isidro used to attend Mass before going to work. One day, his fellow farm workers complained to the boss that Isidro always turned up late for work. His boss decided to take it upon himself to do some detective work and found Isidro busy praying in a local church while an angel was ploughing the fields for him. On another occasion, Isidro’s master saw an angel ploughing either side of him, making Isidro’s work equal to that of three of his fellow field workers.

Despite their humble lifestyle San Isidro and¬†Santa Maria were well-known for their generosity and used to give food to the poor. An an act of kindness that is reflected in today’s feria when¬†cocido madrile√Īo¬†– (Madrid stew) is given out for free.

Where to celebrate San Isidro?

In the podcast I started off in the Jard√≠n de las Vistillas¬†just off Segovia Street¬†and a short walk from Madrid’s Royal Palace¬†and Almudena Cathedral.¬†This a park/square flanked by bars and restaurants where the procession of¬†Gigantes y Cabezudos,¬†giants and bigheads culminates, followed by bands and people dancing dressed in traditional dress or de chulapo/a.¬†

Giants at Feria de San Isidro
Giants and Bigheads
De chulapo/a
De chulapo/a

¬†¬†Then to Plaza de Isabel II right next to the capital’s opera house to watch ‘older’ couples dancing Chotis,¬†a traditional country or folk dance.¬† It’s believed that the dance originated from Bohemia in central Europe, somehow via Scotland hence the name Chotis which is a corruption of Scottish.¬†In Madrid,¬†chotis were danced for the first time in 1850 at the Royal Palace during a party organised by Queen Isabel II. Apparently it became so popular that Madrile√Īos decided to make it their own.

Dancing chotis
Dancing chotis

The classic place to set-up camp for San Isidro is in the Pradera de San Isidro a huge hillside park a hop skip and a jump over the Mazanares ‘River’. Here you’ll find more of what I consider a feria atmosphere. The park is home for the week to huge live music stages, endless rows of tents selling food, booze and traditional dress. There’s also a huge fairground, a must for any feria.¬† It’s a great place to come and spend a whole day watching the people go by and taking in the eclectic mix of music being performed. Also there are some great views to be had from the park, especially when the sun is setting over Madrid.

Views of Madrid from Pradera Park
The Pradera Park, Madrid

Keep an eye out for Rosquillas that I mention in the podcast. I kind of crumbly donut in various flavours. These are traditionally eaten around San Isidro and can be found in food tents and bakeries around the city. A bit dry for my tastes.



San Isidro takes place every year during the week running up to the 15th of May, the day San Isidro is believed to have died.

There are many other locations and events that take place around Madrid other than the ones I have mentioned. These include concerts and dancing in Plaza Mayor, The Retiro Park, The Debod Temple, Plaza Espa√Īa, Plaza Oriente and many more further outside the centre in the various barrios.

Here’a a link to the 2018 San Isidro event guide.

Also, check out Madrid’s official tourism page for up to date info on subsequent ferias.¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† In 2019 the feria will take place 10th -15th May.


Exploring Madrid – La Latina and life in the barrio

In this, the second episode of the When in Spain show I take you for a wander around La Latina, the neighbourhood where I live and one of the oldest and most famous in Madrid.

Don’t forget if you haven’t already listened to this episode it’s right at the top of the page. Just hit play!

What’s La Latina like?

I’d say it’s still a pretty authentic barrio as far as central¬†Madrid neighbourhoods go. It’s bustling, noisy, beautiful and gritty. It’s an everyday working neighbourhood that still manages to retain its own Spanish, Madrile√Īan and Castizo* identity despite a growing influx of tourists, immigrants and international students. All seem to rub shoulders fairly oblivious to each other’s existence – so far.

Taking the weight off – Photo Paul Burge

However, the clank of plastic wheels from ‘carry-on’ suitcases as they’re dragged across the barrio’s maze of cobbled streets is becoming an increasingly common sound and one that often wakes me up and 6am. As abuelos¬†pass away their apartments are being sold on and devoured by gangs of Airbnb-ers. This has pushed up rents and house prices in the last couple of years and, in turn gradually transforming La Latina into one of the more expensive areas in the Spanish capital. That said, this ain’t no Barceloneta or Bario Gotico, two of Barcelona’s most tourist-plagued, once-traditional neighbourhoods.

On a daily basis for me it looks and feels like this. You’ll see a couple of¬†octogenarians propping up a bar, grunting to each other as they pick at a slab of tortilla and sip thimbles of beer, their bespectacled eyes glued to a bulky TV clamped to the wall. Outside two elderly and perfectly coiffured Madrile√Īas will be conversing with each other at shouting volume, both clutching bags of fruit and veg from the greengrocer. As they stand directly in the middle of the pavement, knowingly blocking everybody’s passage, they’ll be comparing the price, quality and texture of said produce before moving on to comparing their seasonal ailments.¬†Suddenly, Horns will start blaring. (The car horn is a favoured means of communication in Spain, it’s loud you see.) Half a dozen drivers are suddenly and furiously punching and pumping the steering wheel of their Seat Ibiza because two kids have run into oncoming traffic, chasing a rat-like dog, who in turn is chasing a ball. Cries will ring out from drivers and passersby ¬°¬°Ostia!! and ¬°¬°Joderrrr!!


The thing I love about La Latina and Madrid and Spain in general, is that people still value and remain loyal to independent shops. The neighbourhood is home to dozens and dozens of independent greengrocer, butchers, bakers, grocery shops, pharmacies and ironmongers, all of which add character. It reminds me of growing up in England in my childhood. Some of these places are reminiscent of the 1950s. La Latina is also home to El Rastro¬†Madrid’s biggest flea market. An amazing assault on the senses (Especially on a Sunday morning) and a treasure trove of antiques, clothes, bric-a-brac, art, music, household goods, plants and flowers.

“La Latina, is very¬†Castizo,¬†and you’re gonna love it”. That’s what my old flatmate Laura told me when I first moved into the barrio. I’ve since been trying to work out what Castizo means. It’s a word that gets bandied around a lot.

Castizo¬†(Spanish: [kasňątiőło] or [kasňątiso]) is a Spanish word with a general meaning of “pure”, “genuine” or representative of its race (from the Spanish: “casta”). The feminine form is castiza.

So, anything can be castizo – but you only really know it when you see it, feel it, smell it, or hear it. It’s hard to explain.

Despite all its¬†antiquated charm La Latina has tonnes of modern, ‘trendy’ bars and restaurants. It’s definitely a place where people come to go out. Out out. You could easily drink and dine in a different venue every night for weeks, maybe months on end without leaving the neighbourhood. Old ‘tasca’ bars like the one I go to in episode 2, stand cheek by jowl with hip craft beer ‘socials’, there’s the traditional and modern in abundance.

Ah, one small detail. The name ‘La Latina’ where does it come from? The neighbourhood was named after an old hospital, long since gone, founded in 1499 by Beatriz Galindo ‘La Latina’¬†1465 – 1534.¬†She was a writer and teacher of Queen Isabella of Castile and was viewed as one of the most educated women of her time. She was nicknamed La Latina for her skill in Latin and wrote poetry a commentary on Aristotle.

Onwards around the neighbourhood…

Some of the places where I went in episode 2…

I had a quick Verm√ļ¬†in El Camarote, Plaza de La Puerta de Moros¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† A¬†fairly traditional and basic bar/cafe for cheap food and drink. Open all day for breakfast, lunch, dinner and late night drinks.

Verm√ļ and free a free stodgy tapa. So much for the¬†Mediterranean diet!¬† Photo Paul Burge

Then on to two bustling and pretty squares, Plaza de los Carros and though to Plaza de la Paja.

A busy Plaza de la Paja – Photo Paul Burge
Plaza de los Carros – Photo Paul Burge

Next stop El Jardín del Príncipe de Anglona. One of my favourite quiet corners of Madrid to sit and contemplate. The former private walled garden of a house belonging to the Prince of Anglona. The house is still there overlooking the garden.

El Jardín del Príncipe de Anglona РPhoto Paul Burge
Photo Paul Burge
Photo Paul Burge

How romantic.

El Mercado de la Cebada – An everyday indoor market where many of the barrio’s locals go to do their shopping. It’s a bit of a carbuncle in my opinion, brutal 50s/60s architecture. La Latina deserves better. But it’s a great place to wander around. There are a couple of hole-in-the-wall bars, a watch/clock repairer¬†who has a cigar permanently wedged between his fingers. There are plans to tear the current market down and replace it. But as yet, there’s no money in the ayuntamiento’s pot to do so. As you can see, it’s seen better days.

Mercado de la Cebada – Photo Paul Burge
Mercado de la Cebada – Photo Paul Burge
Mercado de la Cebada – Photo Paul Burge
Mercado de la Cebada – Photo Paul Burge

Calle Santa Ana – The street where I used to live, right in the heart of the neighbourhood. This street and the adjoining Calle de la Ruda have become quite gentrified and hipsterfied over the last few years.

On Calle Ruda I had a look at Ruda Café, La Tienda de la Cerveza and Mamá Elba Ice Cream parlour. All signs of a changing barrio.

Calle Santa Ana – Photo Paul Burge

The final stop Plaza de Cascorro. The beginnings of the Embajadores barrio, the main hub of El Rastro market and home to a statue of Spanish soldier, Eloy Gonzalo commemorating the Spanish-American War over the independence of Cuba. Cascorro was poor garrison town in Cuba which became one of the battlefields.

Plaza de Cascorro – Photo Paul Burge

Welcome to the When in Spain podcast series!

¬ŅWhat is this¬†When in Spain…?

Ever wanted to know what it’s like to live, work and play in Spain? Yes? Well, click on the play button above and I’ll tell you…Or better still, subscribe to the podcast!¬†¬†When in Spain is a weekly podcast series, recorded in Madrid (and other parts of Spain) accompanied by this blog, where I’ll talk about my ‘warts and all’ observations and insights on life and culture on the Iberian peninsular. But wait there’s more! Throughout the series I’ll be sharing regular practical advice on how to move here, live, survive and thrive in this country of countries.

Madrile√Īas out on the town

Yeah, I know, just what the world needs right?! Another ex-pat (immigrant) telling other ex-pats how to live the dream! There are a ‘mogoll√≥n’¬†or shitload of blogs about¬†living in Spain, Gap Year guides about where to meet other ‘guiris’ (Northern Europeans), hipster* handbooks waxing on about where to find the best flat white coffee and sourdough bread in Barcelona, lone traveller journals on how to ‘find yourself’ in C√°diz and Tarifa and how to get there for just ‚ā¨2.50 and of course the ubiquitous ‘Top 5 places to…’¬†buy vegan chorizo in Madrid or¬†find oversized vintage denim and original aviator glasses¬†(I’d suggest The Rasto market)

Spanish eyes

The When in Spain podcast and blog – not to be confused with, by the way, Cliff Richard and the Shadows’ 1963 album of Spanish standards – will not be¬†romanticising life in Spain. And with the help of some of my Spanish and not-so-Spanish friends I’ll aim to ‘tell it like it is’, for want of a better maxim. I’ll be casting an eye on everyday life, people, places, politics, culture and history and attempt to¬†give an honest opinion from a Brit who has a love-hate relationship (hate is far too strong a word), a love-frustration relationship with Spain. I shall attempt to dispel or indeed confirm Spanish stereotypes through my ramblings and see if I can break into the Spanish psyche – and ask, why do they SHOUT so much?


When in Spain podcast and blog – not to be confused with, by the way, Cliff Richard’s 1963 album of Spanish standards.

Who is When in Spain for?

Anybody who’s thinking about coming to live and work in Spain short or long-term.¬† Anybody who’s already living in Spain or has recently arrived.¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† Anybody who is planning to visit Spain on holiday or travel the country.¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† Anybody who simply has a passing interest in Spain and Spanish life, culture etc…

Who is When in Spain probably not suitable for?

Anybody looking for recommendations about where to get a ‘full English’.¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† Anybody who is looking for recommendations about Irish Pubs.

What you can expect from the series…

Enough rambling. When in Spain is a podcast first and blog second. The blog will act as the podcast show notes and give additional info such as photos and links. Occasionally I’ll endeavour to write some longer pieces on the blog.

The weekly podcast episodes will cover, as I’ve said, observations and insights on Spain and Spanish life – which I hope will be entertaining. I’ll also publish regular ‘How to’ guides that will cover all practicalities (Think dreaded nightmare Spanish bureaucracy) about moving here, living here, working here, making friends, learning t’ lingo and everything in between.

A solitary coffee

Who am I and what the hell do I know anyway?

I’m Paul Burge, born and grew up in Oxford, UK and have been living in Spain for around four years in total. I spent around 10 years working as a journalist in London and Oxford for various news outlets, including BBC, ITV, CNN and The Telegraph newspaper before moving into corporate communications. Fascinating!¬† Since living in Spain I’ve worked in Marketing and Communications for a number of Spanish companies and last year decided I wanted to escape the office environment and spend less time staring at a computer screen. I trained as an EFL/ESL teacher after studying a CELTA course and now inflict English on Spanish uni students and adults while freelancing as a corporate content writer and PR wanker in Madrid.

Por qu√©¬†Spain? I’ve had a fairly long fascination with Spain, the beautiful women, how loud people talk, the heat blah blah. Some of this was also bound-up in the mystique of childhood memories of holidays to Spain with my parents. Really, as a bit of a language geek I’d always wanted to learn Spanish, always liked how it sounded (I’ve since modified my opinion on that slightly) and so through learning Spanish back in the UK I made lots of Spanish friends which subsequently led them to inviting me to Spain to meet their families and friends.

After numerous trips to wild sherry-fuelled ferias (festivals) around Spain and getting the inside track I gradually fell for the place. Like most people who come to Spain, yes I was fed up of the grey skies and drizzle of the British summer. But really, I was just at a point in my life where I was tired of the ‘rat-race’ and wanted something new, exciting and challenging. It has been challenging and continues to be in many ways. But that’s what keeps me hooked.

I have a Spanish, well Ecuadorian girlfriend, more Spanish-speaking friends than English-speaking friends and feel very much part of a big latin family and circle of Spanish friends. So yes, I feel pretty embedded in the Spanish way of life and all the frustrations it presents. Still can’t get used to eating dinner at the un-human hour of 11pm!

A note on my inspiration…?

Back in the dark and dismal London days, I was looking for a podcast to listen to on the daily commute to transport me from the Northern Line to somewhere sunny. I stumbled across a podcast called Notes from Spain by Ben Curtis. His podcast series looked at life in Madrid and Spain and clicking on the episode link was like opening a sunny window. I loved listening to his thoughts on and travels around Spain. Ben and his podcast series definitely influenced to some extent my decision to come to Spain and to start making my own podcast. Check it out. Ben stopped making new episodes many years ago but all of the episodes are still available. Ben if you’re reading this, I’d love to meet you one day for a ca√Īa in Madrid one day. Also, if you’re looking for a great free podcast for learning Spanish check out his Notes in Spanish podcast which helped me a lot. No, he hasn’t paid me to plug him.

*I heard we’ve reached post-hipster now, or is it just peak?