Anything But Paella

El Puerto de Santa María

El Puerto de Santa María is a great alternative to staying in Jerez or Cadiz, and is well located on the train line half way between the two. Initially our impressions of the town were that there was little to see, but the more we explored, the more we were proved to be wrong.

First things first though and this blog must begin with our accommodation. The Monasterio de San Miguel is a boutique hotel which will capture your heart and your imagination. It certainly had us enthralled and not just because out of season the prices fall into the bargain basement category while the service remains exemplary.

The byline on the hotel’s website is “discover the majestic 18th century building that houses the Hotel Monasterio de San Miguel, a completely renovated four-star hotel that is just a few minutes away from the main sights in Puerto de Santa María.” Majestic it certainly is, and worthy of the four stars, if not a fifth. Getting lost in the maze of monasterial corridors was fun and there seemed to be a hidden gem around every corner, be it a courtyard with a fountain in it or another of the hotel’s amazing collection of artwork.

The views from our balcony were breathtaking too. We looked right over the pool which in warmer months would be a great place to be. Beyond the pool we could see the salt pans on the other side of the Rio Guadalete. Sunset was gorgeous and we could also see the aircraft doing circuits at the nearby airbase at Rota.

The stars of the show were the storks. These magnificent birds are here in great numbers and some were nesting very close to the hotel.

Our hotel was just a couple of streets from the riverside. It’s possible to walk alongside the water for a few kilometres and there are some nice sights along the way. The arched passageways are intriguing hiding a multitude of traditional cafes alongside a host of Mexican restaurants! Cantina Puerto Mexico was excellent. Finding places open on a Sunday night in low season is difficult though as there are so few people around.

The streets of Santa María are quite picturesque. It’s worth a diversion up and down them to really get a feel for the place. Some of the statues will catch your eye too. We were particularly taken by the one of Piotr Potiomkin although there was really no information about why Russia’s first ambassador to Spain way back in 1667 is honoured here.

Of course, the river here has played a very important part in Spain’s history. Christopher Columbus‘s first expedition to the Americas set sail from El Puerto de Santa María. His pilot, Juan de la Cosa drew his world map (the first including the coast of New World) in El Puerto in 1500.

Just beyond the ferry terminal is a huge car park. The streets away from the river are where the bodegas like Gutiérrez Colosía and Osborne (yes, the one with the famous bull!) are based. We didn’t have time for a tour though.

Beyond the car park is a fascinating mural. It pays homage to the role women played in the workplace during the Second Republic (1931-1939). They kept the wine and conserves industry going but their work was never recognised until this mural was created in 2019. The women had worked unregistered for less than half the salary of their male counterparts, despite making up over half of the workforce.

The area around the bullring further surprised us. We had to pay a man to join the hundreds of cars parked outside but there was no other option really. Whilst it would have been nice to visit, we were there on a Sunday and a Monday. When will we learn to time our travels better?!! The bullring itself is a beautiful classical construction dating back to 1880. Outside there are a couple of really good statues.

Nearby there are several cafes brimming with bullfighting memorabilia. Not to everyone’s taste perhaps, but it is a real part of Spain’s culture. Our destination though was the Archaeological Museum where we had seen an exhibition of old photos listed in a magazine. When we got there it wasn’t in fact in the museum!

We crossed the Plaza España and walked past the impressive Basilica. A few streets away we finally found the Sala Museo Hospitalito but access to the photos was difficult. They were clearing up from an event over the weekend and the final day of the photography exhibition was going to be disrupted. Very annoying but very typical!! It’s a shame as the photos we did manage to see were exactly what we had hoped for and the old hospital building itself is worthy of a visit. After that we had a quick look at the medieval walls of the Castillo de San Marcos but didn’t venture inside as it was time to hit the road.

We think a visit to El Puerto at a more leisurely pace would be better, and probably not on a Sunday and Monday in low season. There are a lot of bars and restaurants we would love to explore but sadly timing is everything and ours was rotten!

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