The birthplace of sherry and flamenco, Jerez is a jewel in the heartland of sunny Andalucía, full of baroque grandeur, cosy bodegas and historic Moorish beauty
Discovering Jerez, nestled in southern Andalucía, is like opening a small but bewitching treasure box. Drenched in Spanish sunshine and packed with tapas bars, the city may be compact but there’s an astonishing wealth of culture. Moors and Christians clashed here, the legacy of their volatile relationship evident in the striking architecture. A huge, intricately carved cathedral studded with graceful figurines, reminiscent of the Duomo in Florence, faces a sandstone Moorish Alcázar – once a mosque, then a cathedral and now simply a fascinating and serene place to visit. The birthplace of both sherry and flamenco, the city is full of old bodegas (sherry houses) recently converted into duskily atmospheric bars and restaurants. Watch the emotive Flamenco dancers here – a glass of fine fino in one hand, delicious seafood tapas dish in the other.
What to do
Start at the city’s Moorish heart – the Alcázar. Inside this sandy fortress is a network of paths opening out on to rose-filled courtyard gardens. See old Arab baths with trickling fountains and deep wells that are a model of ancient water conservation genius; a mosque that was converted to Catholicism during the Reconquista, and a camera obscura that reveals far-reaching views of the city. Sit for a while in the palm-shaded plaza between the Alcázar and the mighty Baroque San Salvador cathedral, then stroll through back streets brimming with homes hiding beautiful blue and white tiled courtyards. Look closely and you’ll see stars carved into wooden doors and building facades everywhere.
For fantastic tapas bars stroll along the Tornería and for shopping head for nearby Calle Larga. Plaza del Arenal, San Miguel church and the Centro Andaluz de Flamenco (a little further out) are all worth a visit, as is the Mercado Central de Abastos – it closes at 2pm so get there in time to see the local produce in all its guts and glory.
Sherry is the lifeblood of the city, and a tour of a bodega is a must. Try traditional Bodegas Estevez (www.grupoestevez.com) where sherry is still lovingly processed by hand, or the Bodegas Williams and Humbert (www.williams-humbert.com) just out of town, where the inside resembles ‘below decks’ on a huge sailing ship packed with barrels. Most prestigious of all is Gonzalez Byass (www.gonzalezbyass.es), in the heart of the old town and home of famous sherry brand Tio Pepe. Book a guided tour to see and taste just how much a labour of love sherry-making is.
Where to stay
Hotel Los Jándalos was once a bodega, and you can still sense the liqueur in the air. The building is shady and romantically decorated in deep crimson, and the dining room has ceilings like towering domes. Palacio Garvey is a 19th-century mansion in the middle of town. Its restaurant is fantastic for breakfast with a huge selection of cheeses and hams. Hotel Nuevo, set in an old palacio, is a great budget choice.
Where to eat and drink
For dinner and live flamenco, go to El Lagá del Tío Parrilla, Plaza del Mercado (00 34 956 338 334), the locals’ choice. You’ll find simple, tasty dishes, including an excellent tomato gazpacho, to keep you busy until the show starts. La Carboná, Calle San Francisco (00 34 956 347 475) is set in an old sherry warehouse and has amazing tapas and wine. Try the ortiguillas (fried sea anemone).
The rustic Mesa Redonda, Calle Manuel de la Quintana 3, is filled with bookcases groaning under the weight of cookbooks, antiques on the walls and dishes that use every type of sherry – from finos to Pedro Ximenes – as well as brandies. For excellent local seafood try La Tasca, Plaza Parque Avenida (00 34 956 310 340). Start with mollete (flat-bread served with jamón and olive oil), and finish with tocino de cielo, an Andalucían version of crème caramel.
Time running out?
Don’t leave without buying some local produce: tangy Manchego cheese and melting jamon iberico de bellota at the market, sherry vinegar (great for marinating red Romano peppers) and a small bottle of Pedro Ximenes at a supermarket. The latter is sweet and excellent on vanilla ice cream.
Sherry fanatics should visit Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana (00 34 956 385 304) in nearby Sanlúcar, where charismatic owner Javier Hidalgo knows all there is to know about sherry. His wines taste deliciously of the salty Sanlúcan air. For bird lovers, a tour to the Coto Doñana National Park is an essential addition to your trip.
Currency is the euro. Jerez is one hour ahead of GMT and a two-hour 50-minute flight from London.
Ryanair (0871 246 0000; www.ryanair.com) has regular direct flights from Stansted to Jerez. Iberia Air (0870 60 90 500; www.iberia.com/gb) flies from Heathrow to Jerez via Madrid.
Jerez Tourist Office: Alameda Cristina (00 34 956 338 874; www.turismojerez.com). There is also an office at Jerez Airport.
This guide first appeared in Food and Travel magazine.