It is that time again. This May will be just like any other in Cordoba. It will be busy with the first tourists of Spring, it will be eventful and it is sure to be a riot of colour. Later in the month those who go weak at the knees over the sight of a horse, myself included incidentally, will pack the streets for the traditional ferria. Flamenco dresses at the ready girls!
Before then those who love flowers will arrive in Cordoba. They come to enjoy the famous patio festival. Pretty town houses located in some of the oldest streets of the City come alive with colourful displays of geraniums, carnations and jasmines. Pots by the hundreds adorn window ledges, staircases and doors. In a very genteel manner, tourists wander from patio to patio to admire the work put in by the owners and to acquire ideas that would enliven their own Andalucian patios.
Homeowners compete for first prize. I don’t know how the judges decide who wins the top accolade. First off, the standard is so high. Secondly, so many of the entrants create patios which, how can I put this delicately?, are not altogether unlike the ones created by their neighbours! Déjà vu is alive and well when touring the patio displays. Or as one Spanish friend put it: "Seen one Cordoban patio, you have seen them all."
Not true, say I. Although I do hope that more originality is on show this time around compared to when I visited last year. Then it seemed to me that Geraniums were everywhere. Don’t get me wrong, for instant Spring colour you cannot beat a geranium, but Andalucians seem obsessed with them. When I try to grow trailing Jasmine from my pots on the front balconies the women of my village tell me off. It should, they insist, be geraniums on show to passers by.
Historically patios were used by Romans to hold meetings – and Cordoba is awash with both history and colour. In the pretty streets that are the venue for the competition, the crowds are growing much faster than the exhibits! By the very nature of the enclosed spaces, it can be difficult to be able to stand back and admire the hard work employed by the owners. I suggest you be patient. The crowds ebb and flow. Wait a while and there will be a lull between tour parties large and small.
The people who create these glorious corners in Cordoba have striven for months to ensure that they can present a patio fit to adorn the cover of a box of chocolates. The wet weather during April will not have helped their cause.
Many of the private, white washed homes in Cordoba are centuries old. They are among the most photographed properties in Andalucia. The scent of lemon and orange blossom fills the air and numerous fountains provide a backdrop of running water. I was pleasantly surprised at how peaceful these streets are, especially when one considers that the hustle and bustle of tourist attractions such as La Mezquita and the wider City are so close by.
At the beginning of each festival patio maps should be available to you via local businesses and in the Tourist Office. Don’t set off on the trail without one as you may not be able to distinguish whether or not you have already seen a particular patio. In Cordoba it really is possible to have too much of a good thing!
Entrance to the various courtyards and patios of the homeowners is free. However, there is always someone sat by the entrance with a gratuity box or hat on show. You are under no pressure to pay but I believe it is a small price to pay for enjoying such colourful displays. I doff my garden hat and salute them all. Their love of patios will ensure that at least one of the more pleasant on the eye of all Spanish traditions will live on and be enjoyed by generations to come.