Jerez is the place to go if you love sherry...
A little odd then, that as two sherry-virgins we planned a whole two week holiday around a visit to Jerez! But isn't that what a holiday is all about? Going somewhere new, seeing new sights, soaking up the culture and...above all (for me at least) sampling the local food and drink. When I travel there is nothing I like more than learning about the local produce and cuisine, trying out the bars and restaurants, shopping at the markets and recreating dishes I've seen or read about back at our holiday apartment. Each time I go away I learn something new and come home ready to use the new ingredients and styles of cooking I've seen on my travels - crostini, panzanella and caponata from Italy, the perfect tarte au citron from France, Oxford Blue and Simon Weaver's Organic Brie from the Cotswolds...and now, salmorejo, pimenton ahumado, oloroso dulce...
Back to the sherry... Jerez de la Frontera is the home of sherry and one of the three towns in Andalucia which make up the 'Sherry Triangle'. After reading Heston Blumenthal's article "The Hungry Traveller's Guide to Jerez" in Delicious a couple of years ago, Jerez had been on my hit list of places to visit and it didn't disappoint. Most tourists seem only to visit Jerez for a day, or two at most, but we were there for a little over a week (which seemed to amuse the man in the tourist office). Before we arrived we had great plans of a trip to Cadiz on the train and hiring a car to visit Cordoba and some of the typical Andalucian 'white villages' but when it came to it we ended up spending the whole week in Jerez...
We visited two of the bodegas for which Jerez is famous during our stay - Bodega Gonzalez-Byass and Bodega Pedro Domecq - learning about the production of sherry, the most important part of which is the ageing process and in particular the solera and criadera system, whereby the young wines are gradually blended with the mature wines.
The Gonzalez-Byass tour was an 'all singing, all dancing' tour and, although very touristy, it was really well conceived and great for those of us who knew nothing about sherry. Tio Pepe is their best known brand and the tasting of this light fino are fairly generous at the end of the tour...! What I did find interesting was that the American oak barrels in which the sherry is stored are used by Gonzalez-Byass 30 years and then for another 20 years to store their brandy, after whch they are sent to Scotland where certain whisky producers use them to store whisky for the final 20 years of the barrels' lives.
We had a far less 'touristy' tour of the the Pedro Domecq bodega which is now American owned. The buildings and gardens are beautiful here and the tour guide willing (if a little difficult to understand). There were only four of us on our tour which meant lots of opportunities to wander off and take photos of the barrels and buildings.
Whether you are looking for a mid-morning snack, fresh fish from the market, a meal with friends or tapas with a cold beer stood at the bar you are spoilt for choice in Jerez. There are so many places to eat and drink and watch the world go by! We snacked, ate and shopped at so many places that I'd be here all night if I tried to list them all. So, for the highlights...
For fresh vegetables, fruit, fish and friendly market sellers, head to the Mercado on Plaza Esteve. You can spot the best stalls - they're the ones with 10 old ladies queueing up to be served. What a delight to be able to sample some early summer alcachofa (artichokes), habas (broad beans) and esparrago (asparagus) after the endless months of root vegetables in England!
After all that hard work shopping at the market, weary feet need a rest and they don't need to go far to find it... If it's breakfast time then La Vega also on Plaza Esteve is the place to go for churros - sugar coated long thin doughnuts which are bought from the man who cooks them fresh at the back of the cafe. You'll see lots of people eating them - groups of women in the cafe, school girls congregating outside - but I have to say I wasn't a big fan. To me they tasted like savoury (slightly salty even) doughnuts dipped in sugar which was an unusual combination. Whether you like them or not, they are best eaten with the hot chocolate which, for chocolate lovers, is heaven. It's just melted chocolate in a cup really!
Top 5 Eateries
Bar Juanito (c/Pescadaria Vieja - just off Plaza Arenal): Go for lunch on a sunny day and sit at one of the brightly coloured tables outside. Order the 'infamous' artichokes!
Bar La Moderna (c/Larga): The best papas alinas in town!! On a weekend evening this place is packed out with a total mix of people. Head there to soak up some atmosphere, propped up at the bar with a beer and a plate of the papas alinas.
Bar La Medina (in the Zoco de Artisania): A lovely setting for a lazy lunch (and it will be lazy...they're late starting service even by Andalucian standards and then will only serve what is actually ready...!). Great staff who are happy to recommend something typically local for you to try.
La Marea: We stumbled upon this place one fino-fuelled evening because it looked lively and atmospheric...and full of locals (always a good sign?!). Go for plates full of fresh seafood and funny looks from said locals when you haven't got a clue what you're doing and you speak only about 5 words of Spanish!
Bar Las Bridas (Paseo de la Rosaleda 4): There isn't really a menu here (although they'll give you one if you're struggling). Just grab a table and then let the owner show you what is on offer that evening. It's only a 10 -15 minute walk from the centre of Jerez and worth every step - try the gallo empanado (john dory goujons).
Most days we wandered around the narrow streets in the different districts of Jerez which was a great way to get to know the city. It also meant that we stumbled across the Zoco de Artesania (Handcraft Market) where there are three floors of small shops selling artisanal products from Southern Spain and North Africa - beautiful handpainted pottery, brightly coloured throws and Moroccan tea glasses. Set in the middle with a lovely big terrace was Bar La Medina where we ate lunch a couple of times.
Finally, for a bit of luxurious relaxation on our last day, we headed to the Hammam on c/Salvador 6. The idea is to start off in the warm pool and then alternate between the hot and the cold pools, staying as long as you can bear it in the cold pool (not very long in my case...!).