Tio PepeJerez de la Frontera; this small and perfectly formed 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.  There’s 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.

The very name sounds exotic and one can almost hear the staccato clap of flamenco dancers and feel the heat of the Spanish sun warming the marbled Moorish floors. It’s seldom that I can so wholeheartedly recommend a city that fulfils all the quirky criteria for an enjoyable break.  It’s got everything – beautiful architecture spanning different 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 the surrounding countryside and coastline provides huge diversity.

Casa Leonor LunchWe stayed in the elegant and relaxing Casa Leonor, a perfect place from which to explore the city. In the middle of our lounge was a graceful stone arch which dated back to the 16th century.  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.  This picture shows the wonderful lunch that Honor, the owner, provided for us on our arrival …

A lively market down the road is a riot of shouting, colour, smells and tastes.  Here we bought Iberico ham, enormous figs, juicy peaches and sea-fresh langoustines.  My favourite place to sip a chilled sherry and watch the world go by was the El Gallo Azul (the Blue Cockerel), near the market.  Their tapas were sublime! At Cruz Blanca we had the most divine battered cod fritters with beans and salad.

Flamenco dancingFlamenco music and dance has its origins in Andalusian life.  music and dance.  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 we later saw at a wonderful show at La Taberna Flamenca.  Nearby is the Andalusian Flamenco Foundation and there’s and there’s an excellent Heritage trail through the streets, tracing the history of this barrio.

Sherry tasting at Bodega Tradicion

The heady aroma of sherry permates every corner of Jerez and no vist would be complete without a visit to a bodega to see how it is produced. The Bodega Tradicion is one of the newest yet most intimate of the many bodegas throughout the city. 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 did at 7 years old ….

ArcosThe spectacular ‘White Villages’ are hidden away in the nearby mountains.  Our driver and guide, Alejandro, drove us to Arcos and Vejer late one afternoon.  We wandered around the little lanes, gazed up at huge churches, peered over ancient ramparts across Spanish planes. We learnt so much from Alejandro, 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.

We took the train to El Puerto de Santa Maria, where we saw one of the oldest bull rings in Spain and had the best fish and chips at Romerijo’s “arguably the most famous purveyor of seafood in Andalucia” according to Lonely Planet’s excellent guide book ‘Andalucia’.  From here we got a boat to Cadiz, posssibly Europe’s oldest city, where we wandered around the little streets full of life and colour, and had a swim in the Atlantic to cool off.

Cadiz Cathedral

We never did get to the Royal Equestrian School; another good reason to go back another day.  This is a region that you could spend many months exploring and Jerez is the perfect base.  Many thanks to Rosi at Camino Holidays, specialising in trips to Jerez and southern Andalucia.