We had a fantastic day out today in Jerez de la Frontera or just Jerez as it is known. We’ve been to most of the major Andalucian towns: Grenada, Seville, Cadiz, Cordoba but Jerez had escaped us. And it’s not to be missed – a fantastic walkable city crammed with history and little foodie bars serving wines and delicious local food.
At it’s heart there is the old walled city that dates back to medieval times when this whole area of Spain was conquered and settled by the Moors. Subsequently it was reconquered by the Christian Castilans and returned to Spain. The city shows all these influences with Spanish and Islamic architecture.
It is a centre for Andalucian skills – sherry and brandy making are centred here, the training of horses, particularly in dressage and dancing, flamenco….. Sherry originated here and comes from the Islamic name for Jerez – Xérès.
We wanted to see as much as possible so we set off at 8am to make the nearly 2 hour drive. It is an easy trip on the motorways, west along the coast first then north. We had located a carpark near the edge of the old city, very close to the Alcazar. We parked up and walked through a lovely little park to the Alcazar.
The Alcazar is a former Moorish fortress that was then taken over in the re-conquest and became a palace. It was a very interesting visit and only cost about 3 euro for the two of us. There is still a mosque within the walls, baths, a leisure palace, a lovely water garden, the palace itself, an olive press and works and the ruins of bread ovens. The olive press and works was most interesting – huge stones worked by donkey and a final press made of giant beams applying pressure using a huge screw. The buildings are largely empty but interesting to see.
The Alcazar is right next to the bodega of Gonzalez Byass, the home of Tio Pepe. You can have a tour and various tastings. In fact there are bodegas all round the city offering tastings – Sandeman, and other famous names.
Our next stop was the Cathedral. Again a lovely building. The current cathedral is built on the site of a much older church and was named a cathedral in 1980 by Pope John Paul. It is a wide building, the central nave surrounded by side chapels, and it is very light and airy due to the number of windows and the great dome in the centre which also lets in light. The treasury contains many paintings and much silverware dating from the 17th Century.
We left the cathedral and walked on, deep into the old town, exploring the narrow lanes and the lovely squares. Most of the central historical area is totally pedestrianised which is great for exploring. We stopped for cold drinks in a couple of places – it was hot in the sun. There is of course a central marketplace with a covered market building at the heart of it. Had an explore there and admired the massive fish market. Lovely displays of fresh fish and seafood.
We had reservations at a small bar for 2pm to enjoy food, drinks and a local flamenco show. The bar is called Tabanco el Pasaje – literally the passage tabanco.
Tabancos are typical Andalusian premises. A tabanco was half tavern, where you could have a drink or eat some tapas, but also half wine shop, as they used to sell wine in bulk as well. While this is rarely the case any more, nowadays the essence of a tabanco is serving all kinds of sherry directly from the barrel. This one is quite famous and has been trading since 1925. There is a tiny stage for flamenco and it’s about as authentic as it gets, all local artists and musicians.
We had ordered one of their set menus which was platters of ham, special cured ham and roast pork, accompanied by bowls of artichokes marinaded in olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and also some tortilla. We were also given water, soft drinks and a half bottle of the sherry of our choice – we chose fino, but we also tasted the amontillado. True to form it was all decanted from a barrel into a half bottle. You weren’t allowed to take the bottle so…. obviously……
It was all very lovely and a great atmosphere in there. It’s pretty small and the walls are covered in posters from the bullfights held over the years and also photos of the flamenco artists who have visited or performed there. The waiters were very friendly and helpful. By 2pm it was pretty crowded so we were glad we’d made the reservation to book the table which was right at the edge of the stage.
The show consisted of a guitarist, a male singer and a female dancer and they entertained us for over an hour. The singing was very dramatic and plaintive and of course we had no idea what it was all about, other than it was clearly about suffering for love. He really put a lot of emotion into it, we were half afraid he would have a heart attack at some points. The dancer was excellent too, very dramatic, very proud, very sensuous. She and the singer clapped and stamped in conjunction with the guitar music and it was quite amazing how loud their clapping was. We thoroughly enjoyed it and would definitely go again.
We got back to the hotel a little after 5pm and ran down to the pool for a cooler. It was still very hot. Stayed down there till 7pm and then came up to watch a bit of Wimbledon.
Really liked Jerez – it would be a great place for a weekend. So many tabancas and restaurants to explore and the city must look magical after dark.