”Stand down all other claimants. Jerez, as most savvy Spain-o-philes know, is Andalucia. It just doesn’t broadcast the fact in the way that Seville and Granada do….If you really want to unveil the eternal riddle that is Andalucia, start here.” – Lonely Planet.
For years I had wanted to visit the region of Andalucia in Spain but had always stayed to the east of the continent, leaving it for the next trip or the one after that. Three cities were on my wishlist (Seville, Cordoba and Granada), it wasn’t until reading the above in the Lonely Planet Andalucia guidebook before heading out, and contemplating the long trip from Malaga to Seville, that I decided to shorten my journey and check out Jerez before heading to Seville.
I turned up at the bus station in Jerez late one Sunday evening after a very long day travelling via Malaga and Algeciras (a place I couldn’t even pronounce). As soon as I left the station Jerez starting winning me over with gorgeous sights, the first being the overly pretty train station (who knew!). I then put all my trust in google maps and walked to my hotel on Plaza Arenal in the centre. That Sunday was a write off (snickers bar for dinner then bed for me) but I decided to get up early, put on my best dress and give the Iberian peninsula a better go the next day (unfortunately in jeans and a sweatshirt I found the Spaniards I had met so far could be a bit brusque and did not appreciate this gringo).
As soon as I left my hotel room the next morning Jerez started to romance me with lyrical flamenco guitar coming from a room down the hallway (I missed the flamenco festival by one day). I just stood and listened – now this is what my Andalucian dreams were made of. And the difference in attitude a dress can make (people were far politer saying Hola as they went by, getting off the sidewalk to let me pass, men serenaded me as they went by, someone even wanted me to sit for a painting – who knew the Spaniards have a thing for pasty white bandy legs).
One of the best ways I found for getting my bearings was to take one of the free city walking tours from the Tourist Office on Plaza Arenal, my guide being the ever helpful Javier. You get to hear about Tio Pepe, what Jerez is most famous for (hint: flamenco, sherry and horses), the best places for Tapas, explore small streets where the sound of flamenco guitar fill the air and hear why Jerez abounds in a myriad of shaded alleyways and lanes.
While in Jerez you can not miss the Cathedral of San Salvador, figuratively and literally, it dominates the skyline. The cathedral itself is a mix of gothic, baroque and neoclassicist style – meaning there is always something to see. It is a beauty inside and out – look out for the saints, gargoyles, Pope John Paul II, orange tree filled courtyard…need I sell this to you any more?!
Next check out the Alcazar built in the 11th century. The two gates, Arab baths, the mosque, the palace of the Patio of Dona Blanca, and the octagonal tower still exist from the original Islamic alcazar. While here also be sure to check out the Camara Obscura, which gives a pretty cool live birds eye view of the city on a large screen via a very creative ancient optical device.
Another of my favourite places to nosy inside was the Church of San Miguel. The church itself was founded by King Alfonso X, the Wise, in 1264. So the tale goes after the Archangel Michael and James the Apostle were said to have given support to the Christian troops against the Muslims, in a battle to control the city, in the form of two small chapels outside the then city walls. In the 15th century as the city expanded and a building boom took place the current church was built with lavish adornment by the local aristocracy.
But really you can’t go wrong with even just an aimless stroll in this city…it could melt the coldest of hearts. Those orange trees, that flamenco guitar, those gorgeous tiles…
Then how about a bite to eat. I was pointed in the direction of Casa Gabriela by my tour guide, Javier, and it did not let me down. The tapas menu was extensive and it was all delicious, from the Spanish tomato soup to the prawn fritters and everything I ate in between, I absolutely loved it, and it was a great place to people watch on the lovely little Plaza de Plateros behind the Church of San Dionisio. The middle pic is actually sitting at El Soleo on Plaza General Primo de Rivera, another brilliant people watching location on a balmy Spanish evening. And this is seriously the cutest thing I have ever found in my mini bar.
How about a hammam after all that exploring. Then Hammam Andalusi is the place for you. Absolutely relaxing, I had the place to myself, and I would recommend getting a relaxing massage to boot. Why not even have a meal on their roof-terrace with its gorgeous views of the cathedral of San Salvador. I would even go all the way back just for some more of their moroccan tea.
Seriously if Jerez de la Frontera is not on your radar…well it blinking well should be. It is the perfect place to start any Andalucian exploration…not too big, not too small. Brilliantly located close to two of its more famous siblings, Seville and Cadiz. And well it is full of heart and soul…and flamenco! how could you possibly go wrong?