I have become quite proficient at cramming in a great deal into free weekends, with the hope of discovering more of Andalucia, and deciding what places are worthy of a more leisurely return visit.
The 10/11/12 June was Feria weekend in Marbella, with various street parties and live entertainment. On the Saturday we took the new A381 from the coast to Jerez. This road cuts a swathe through the amazing Alcornocales Natural Park. Sad to see the construction in such a sensitive area, but it undeniable affords an amazing view of the area, it’s ancient cork oaks, the craggy rock formations, and the storks, eagles and vultures above.
Jerez is of course the home ofSherry, an ancient fortified wine and favourite tipple of the English middle class. Research informs me that the Phoenicians brought the first vines to Jerez in 1100 B.C. introducing sophisticated wine making skills from the Middle East. The city is a little rough around the edges, as are many towns in Andalucia, but it has many superb old homes, reflecting the wealth created by the wine industry.
Famous names of Anglo-Spanish businesses like Gonzalez Byass, Osborne and the like are all across town. The Gonzalez Byass/Tio Pepe logo is the Spaniard with a guitar and the Osborne logo is the more famous Bull silhouette that has become part of Spanish national culture. This picture captures the two icons side by side as you come into the city. It’s strange really, when one considers the long history of exporting Sherry worldwide and the wealth it created in Jerez, but now Sherry is not as fashionable international and companies like Osborne probably make more money from their other brands like the Red Bull energy drink.
For me, Jerez had a very Latin feel about it – I felt I was in New Orleans, or Havana. The sleepy, slightly scruffy streets, the architecture, and of course the heat. It was over 32 degrees centigrade at 9.30pm as we explored the narrow streets and bars in the secluded squares.
El Puerto de Santa Maria, is not far west. Here the Latin feeling is even stronger. The town is littered with Bodegas, and storage vaults for wines and brandies and many of the places are open to the public offering tastings and tours. For seafood there is only one place to go – Romerijo. This is a huge establishment straddling two blocks. The choice is almost overwhelming. In addition to the al la carte menu, there is a whole deli area dedicated to fried fish, like calamari and another huge counter offering a stunning array of fresh seafood and fish. Customers can order for take away or have anything cooked to order and the eat it on the crowded terrace. The place is an institution here, and the turnover is immense, so you are assured of the freshest possible seafood.
Cadiz is a short drive over the bridge. The city is a busy port on a narrow peninsula – practically an island. New town is nothing to write home about, but old town and its cathedral are slowly being renovated by the Junta de Andalucia. There are a few gems hidden away in the narrow streets. Tourism is coming here slowly, so really we’re still pioneers in what is a still a sleepy back-water of Andalucia.
For me, Jerez is certainly worthy of a second visit. The City is growing fast and there is more choice for visitors. It is well connected, as the airport is expanding (direct flights to Germany, and UK etc.), with good motorway connections to the coast and it is of course close to Seville and its high speed train network to Madrid and the rest of the continent. A fascinating place, but you need to be able to bear the heat…
PS this site might be of interest to lovers of Wines, Sherry etc: CellarTours.