6 minutes reading time Spain
When you think of Spain you probably imagine the seaside city of Barcelona, the trendy hustle and bustle of Madrid or even the ancient pilgrimage route of the Camino de Santiago. But one of the less spoken about areas of the country, Andalusia, is one of its finest. Famous for its tradition of flamenco as well as its rich history steeped with Moorish influences, it’s certainly a region you shouldn’t miss. So, where should you stay if you do decide to visit Andalusia? A lot of people would go for the largest city, Seville, or for the most popular coastal one, Cádiz. However, my advice is to stay in Jerez de la Frontera. This beautiful medium sized town is off the normal tourist path, so you’ll get a true Andalusian experience. After years of living in the town, I’m giving you a rundown of the things you absolutely must experience when you visit the area.
Flamenco is at the heart and soul of Jerez. Rather than being manufactured for tourists, the art lives through the locals. On any evening walking down one of the city’s cobbled streets, you’ll be able to hear the arresting tones of a flamenco singer echoing out from one of the cavernous bars. Pop inside and don’t be surprised to see women and men in jeans and t-shirts dancing and singing together. In Jerez there is no need to be wearing traditional costumes to celebrate flamenco, it’s a part of daily life!
My favourite spots for impromptu flamenco are Tabanco el Pasaje, Tabanco Cruz Vieja and El Guitarrón de San Pedro. To be honest, wherever you go you are likely to have an excellent time. One of the absolute best things about this city is that it is so easy to consume raw, passionate art by the incredibly talented people who live here.
Speaking of local bars, one of the drinks that you’re most likely to find a jerezano consuming is sherry. In fact, it’s so popular that you shouldn’t be surprised if you see elderly gentlemen sipping it while playing dominos in the plaza at 11am in the morning!
Sherry is a fortified wine which is made from the white grapes grown around Jerez. The most famous brand is Tio Pepe and you can go to their bodega (winery) to take a tour, learn how it’s made and do a tasting session. Some of the coolest things to see here are the many barrels of sherry that have been signed by famous people. They even have one with Picasso’s signature!
However, Tio Pepe isn’t the only bodega worth visiting. There’s also Bodegas Tradición and Bodegas Lustau close by in town. If you decide to simply sample sherry in one of the bars, make sure to order some traditional chicharrones (fried pork rinds) to snack on alongside it.
La feria de Jerez (the Jerez Fair), also known as La feria del caballo (the Horse Fair) is the most important date in the Jerez calendar. Not to be confused with the more famous Feria de Sevilla (Seville Fair) which is held over Easter, Jerez’s fair comes slightly after in May. Whilst it’s somewhat smaller than the Seville Fair, it’s no less important and because it is less visited by tourists it feels much more authentic.
The fair lasts for a full week and sees a huge display take place over the 52,000 square meters of the González Hontoria fairground. Women get dressed up in their finest flamenco dresses and men don their smartest suits before heading out to sample the best of Andalusian culture.
The fair is a celebration of local food, horses, dance, music, and culture. Around the fairground you can find many casetas which are different tents owned by associations, families, or groups of friends. These tents have different types of music, drinks, and food. With most of them you can simply wander in to enjoy yourself and make some new friends.
If you’re planning a trip to Jerez de la Frontera, you should certainly plan it to coincide with the fair to see a traditional Andalusian celebration.
Given that Andalusia is not far from Northern Africa, the town has a strong Moorish history. This can be seen today in everything from the architecture to the prevalence of pastries flavoured with honey and sesame seeds.
The most impressive piece of Arabic architecture in the town is the Alcázar de Jerez, a fortress from the 11th or 12th century. As you walk around the fortress, which now has a park within its walls, you can see ancient Arabic writing and a traditional bathhouse known as a hamam.
As a bonus, on Sundays you can cross to the park next to the fortress and visit one of the town’s flea markets. Here, the locals bring everything and anything you can imagine to sell at low prices. It’s a good place to pick up some kitsch souvenirs and it’s also fun to imagine what was going on in the same spot in the 11th century.
The people of Jerez are incredibly open and friendly. Don’t be surprised if you’re scanning the supermarket aisles or staring out the window of a bus to have a friendly abuela (grandma) tell you all about her day. Having said this, not many people in the town are strong English speakers so it’s helpful to have a few Spanish phrases up your sleeve to make the most of your time there.
If you have a little bit of Spanish, you should practice sitting in a cafe on one of the many plazas and having a chat with the people around you. It may feel awkward at first, but this is the way it’s done in Jerez and after a while you’ll see how lovely it is. The pace of life is slow in Jerez, but this gives you more time to enjoy life’s simple pleasures.
This article should have given you some insights into what you absolutely must experience when you visit Jerez de la Frontera. It’s truly a delight of a town and is also rather cheap so you can live like royalty during your visit. Because the town is small, it’s easy to see everything listed in this article and more. ¡Buen viaje!
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12 August 2020 4 min. Katrina
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