A recent request on Twitter for, “Somewhere hot, beautiful, preferably a place I’ve not been to before, with a quiet corner to write – and a pool,” brought an amazing number of responses. I LOVE Twitter – there’s always someone there answer questions, solve problems, exchange ideas, even make dreams come true …
My Twitter wish was wonderfully realised by delightfully quirky Rosi, who runs Camino Holidays, specialising in Jerez and southern Andalucia. This small city has three big claims to fame; it’s the home of that quintessentially English tipple, sherry, flamenco was born in this region and the world-renowned Royal Spanish Equestrian School is based here.
It’s seldom that I can recommend a city that fulfils all my quirky criteria for an enjoyable break with such unalloyed enthusiasm. It’s got everything – beautiful architecture spanning many centuries, varied cultures, wonderful food, friendly people, a nightlife lively enough to please most people (without the brashness of some Spanish resorts) with plenty of places for a quiet meal or drink, fascinating history and surrounding countryside and coastline that provides huge diversity.
There is a strong Moorish influence which is apparent in some of the most beautiful buildings in the city, including the Alcazar Palace and the Arabic Bath House. Rosi had booked us into The Casa Leonor, a Moorish house right in the heart of the city, perfect for exploring the city. It has its own pool which was a joy to relax in after a day’s sight-seeing and the views from the roof terrace are breath-taking. In the middle of our lounge was a graceful arch which dated back to the 16th century.
The food is really excellent – lots of fresh fish, meat, fruit and vegetables and there are tapas bars everywhere. My favourite place to sip a chilled sherry and watch the world go by, was the El Gallo Azul. We were shown round the city by Madeleine, Rosi’s daughter, who lives in Jerez and knows it well. On her recommendation we also ate at the Cruz Blanca and had the most divine battered cod fritters with beans and salad.
Madeleine is a very talented flamenco dancer – our trip included a flamenco lesson, where I quickly learnt just how VERY difficult it is to do even the simplest moves! It all helped to make us appreciate the Flamenco dancing, singing and guitar playing that we saw at a wonderful show in the heart of Barrio where it all started.
The heady aroma of sherry permeates every corner of Jerez and no visit would be complete without a visit to a bodega to see how it is produced. On Rosi’s recommendation, we had a tour of one of the newest yet most intimate, the Bodega Tradicion. As well as learning about the quite complex art of sherry production and sampling some of the most expensive sherries in the world, we also saw the owner’s private collection of Spanish art, dating from Medieval times to modern day. I loved the painted tiles of bull-fighting that Picasso painted at 7 years old ….
We took the train to El Puerto de Santa Maria, where we saw one of the oldest bull rings in Spain. Although it has been banned in northern Spain, Andalucia is still very proud of it’s bull-fighting heritage and the 15,000 seater stadium is a popular recreation for the locals. We had really tasty fish and chips at Romerijo’s “arguably the most famous purveyor of seafood in Andalucia” according to Lonely Planet’s excellent guide book ‘Andalucia’ . A very hot walk to the beach nearly finished me off – and it started to rain when we got there …
From Santa Maria we also got the Vaporicito, a lovely 1930s boat, to Cadiz, possibly Europe’s oldest city. We wandered around the little streets full of life and colour, staggered up to the top of the catherdral tower for a fantastic view of the city, and had a swim in the Atlantic to cool off. We found a great little tapas bar where the guys were happily watching replays of their recentWorld Cup triumph. We stood at the bar with the tapas they had told us we had to have whilst the good ole boys chatted away in Spanish and we smiled uncomprehendingly – brilliant!
One of things I loved the most about Jerez was the little squares that you come across unexpectedly – people chatting and having a coffee, a brief altercation that blows up and dies down in a trice, the gentle splash of a fountain and the palms giving a touch of the exotic. In August it’s cauldron hot and in the afternoon there’s a stillness in the air akin to the quietness in the heart of a hurricane. Siesta is the only solution. I want to return in the spring to experience the Ferria, with the horses, flamenco, music and fiestas that the city is renowned for.
Not far from Jerez are some of the most spectacular ‘White Villages’ hidden away in the mountains. Our great guide, Alejandro drive us to Azahar and Viejar late one afternoon … what a really memorable trip that was. We wandered around the little lanes, gazed up at huge churches, peered over ancient ramparts across Spanish planes. We learnt so much from Alex, who is rightly proud of his home town of Jerez and the area. Finally he took us to the Atlantic coast to watch the sunset at El Palmar beach, whilst sipping huge Mojitos at the laid-back hippyish bar, El Dorado.
Jerez is a great place to visit any time of the year – and if you get the chance to go, you won’t regret it. If you’ve a taste for Andalucia, why not the tiny fishing village of Ayamonte or a Moorish-style villa near beautiful Montefrio.