Jerez de la Frontera was a revelation. It’s known as the world capital of sherry, is home to passionate flamenco, and wears its long and proud history firmly on its sleeve. Small enough to walk almost everywhere, large enough to feel cosmopolitan, it’s filled to the brim with fabulous tapas bars and takes its nightlife very seriously. It has so much going for it that I couldn’t help but wonder where the tourists were.
Jerez seems to have all the qualities of far more famous and popular Andalusian towns in abundance, yet it remains below the radar of many tourist itineraries. That must change in coming years, but for the moment it feels like you’re stumbling upon an authentic, almost-undiscovered part of Andalusia. We were there in the off-season, but even then I’d expect a town this lovely to have its fair share of tourism.
We stayed in the La Fonda Barraco, a classic Andalusian house built around a central courtyard in the old town close to the cathedral. Its owner, the fantastically helpful and well informed Alejandro, greeted us with a choice of sherries by way of welcome to Jerez. It was the first of many tastings of the town’s iconic drink. A love of sherry isn’t required to enjoy a visit to Jerez, but it certainly helps – the town is fuelled by the stuff.
We just had time to finish off a deliciously nutty Amontillado and put our bags in the room, before going out to catch a religious parade that Alejandro mentioned was taking place. We headed to the magnificent cathedral and waited with a few other bystanders for things to get going. Sure enough, a parade of local dignitaries and a statue of the Virgen soon emerged and made their way slowly down the street.
This sort of thing happens surprisingly often in Spain, and it was the harbinger of good news: it was a festival weekend. The town was buzzing with energy and activity, which mostly seemed to be focused on promenading, eating and drinking. It was a lot of fun. We watched the parade and then visited the Catedral de San Salvador, which was gearing up for a service and was atmospherically filled with incense smoke and organ music.
Afterwards, we walked behind the cathedral toward the magnificent Moorish Alcázar, passing one of the world’s most famous sherry houses, Gonzalez Byass, on the way. We found our way into Plaza del Arenal, the attractive main square. From here streets branch off in all directions, and it’s possible to wander around exploring the historic barrios of the town centre.
We planned to visit a sherry bodega the following day, so did a little prepping in Jerez’s tabancos, old and traditional sherry bars. Many had signs outside saying “hay mosto”. Mosto is fermented grape juice, more like wine than sherry, but not really like wine. It doesn’t have as much alcohol as sherry and is light and refreshing. It’s something of a local delicacy and is delicious with chickpea and chorizo stew.
Tabancos all offer a wide range of different sherries and basic tapas dishes, we sampled a couple as we meandered around the town. Like the Tabanco La Pandilla, which took us ages to find, they are simple places full of Old World charm. If you want something more upmarket, there are numerous good tapas bars and restaurants lining the streets and plazas between Plaza del Arenal and Plaza de Rafael Rivero.
After spending a few hours strolling around town, the festival weekend seemed to be getting into full swing. In the town centre we found a nice restaurant, took a seat outside and ate a delicious dinner while watching the world go by. Jerez is a relaxed and welcoming place, we couldn’t wait to explore more of it the next day, but that would have to wait … you’ve not been to Jerez if haven’t joined the late night crowds carousing in the streets.