Jerez de la Frontera, also known as Xerez, is the heart of sherry country. One of Andalucia’s many star attractions, the city is much more than just fortified wine though, so even if (like me!) you’re not a huge fan, don’t worry as there are an awful lot more incredible experiences waiting for you here.
Let’s start with sherry though. You can hardly turn a corner without bumping into a bodega or a shop, or being accosted by the distinct smell of this special drink. There are many bodegas to choose from with González Byass probably being the most recognisable because of its association with Tio Pepe whose image can be seen adorning many a hillside. Lustau is also an impressive place to visit but neither of these are cheap with tours starting at €18.
We decided to go a little cheaper and paid €12 to visit Diéz Mérito, partly because it was so close to our hotel. Speaking Spanish means you can join any tour but English options are available if you ask them. You may have to wait though. This tour saw us shown all around the bodega learning about the sherry-making process. The distinct 6-barrel pyramid is typical of the region and is used to transfer wine from barrel to barrel ensuring every bottle has a certain quantity of mature wine. It was fascinating to hear both about the process and the history of the company. Of course, most people are only interested in the last part of the tour – the tasting room! This tour included samples of four different sherries and personally the crisp, white fino was the only one I liked. Others in the group had different ideas though, so try them all and you may well find your favourite!
Pricier options are available which include tapas but in a city of a million tapas bars, why pay more to eat in a bodega?!
Horses for courses, so they say, but the show at the Equestrian Art Foundation is definitely something for everyone to enjoy. Plan your trip to Jerez carefully though as it is only on Thursdays in January and February with Tuesday shows added during the rest of the year. Friday shows are in August, September and October, with occasional Saturdays dotted throughout the year. Tickets cost from €21 (buy them online to save queuing and/or disappointment) and the show starts at midday. There is also a museum but it closes shortly after the end of the show so try to go there first! (There speaks the voice of experience!!)
The show itself is an intricate look at Andalusian “dancing” horses. it is absolutely amazing to see the close control their riders have and the dainty moves which an enormous horse can make. There are beautiful costumes and fast moving carriages as well as fabulous classical music, the quality of which is so good I was surprised there wasn’t a live orchestra in there with us. Photography is strictly prohibited during the show and we saw some people being admonished by stewards as you are closely watched! With a bit of luck you will see some riders practising outside during the break and that in itself is worthy of getting your camera out for.
The complex also features some lovely classical architecture and sculptures, plus you can wander freely around most of the main house. Painted ceilings and grand chandeliers steal the show inside.
Flamenco is an artform which is surely best witnessed in an intimate bar with a glass of fino and a plate of tapas. The sensual and passionate mix of music and dance comes to life in many different places around the city. We were lucky enough to squeeze into El Pasaje, but look for options a little more off the beaten track for a bit more breathing room as we found at Tabanco Cruz Vieja.
Around the city
Jerez is a city that just begs you to stretch your legs and wander around. It’s a beautiful place for sure and no hills are particularly steep. Even getting up to the Alcázar fortifications is no trouble. Around those old walls you will find an antique market every Sunday. Statues of flamenco dancers, kings on horseback and Easter hooded penitents may well be found as you amble around the streets. Who knows, you may even stumble across a religious parade as we did. It’s also worth walking out to the railway station where beautiful tiles adorn the walls and you can get a train to Cadiz, or getting lost in the maze of streets north of the cathedral.
Accommodation and food
We stayed in the Itaca Hotel which was perfectly located just a few minutes walk from the heart of the city. There are lots more options depending on your taste and budget, and underground car parks are reasonably priced for extra security for your wheels.
When it comes to food, we overate and drank too much because of the wonderful tapas bars. La Moderna was a particular favourite but we also enjoyed Tabanco Plaza Plateros, Las Banderillas and Tabanco Paulino along the way. For a true meat feast (vegetarians stay well clear!) head to Mesón del Asador where they serve a kilo of beautifully barbecued quality beef for up to four people to share. If you need a break from all of this though, there is an excellent Mexican in town. El Mejicano Chiguagua was just what was required! Having said that, not long after finishing our Coronitas we were soon back on the fino!!