A voyage of discovery in Sanlucar de Barrameda

Sanlucar de Barrameda sits at the mouth of the Río Guadalquivir, here it empties into the Atlantic Ocean on the wide arc of the Gulf of Cadiz. It’s a location as dramatic as it is beautiful, and a fitting backdrop for the historic events that the town witnessed. After Sanlucar was retaken from the Moors in 1264, it grew into an important port and would later play a role in the voyages of discovery that saw Europeans colonise the Americas.

It was from here that Christopher Columbus departed on his third voyage to the Americas on 30 May 1498, this was when he landed in South America for the first time at what today is Venezuela. In 1519, Portuguese sailor, Ferdinand Magellan, working for the Spanish crown, spent five weeks in Sanlucar before departing for the first ever circumnavigation of the globe. It was a successful but ill-fated trip during which Magellan died.

Plaza del Cabildo, Sanlucar de Barrameda, Spain
Castillo De Santiago, Sanlucar de Barrameda, Spain
Iglesia San Francisco, Sanlucar de Barrameda, Spain
Iglesia San Francisco, Sanlucar de Barrameda, Spain
Nuestra Señora de la Caridad, Sanlucar de Barrameda, Spain
Church of Nuestra Señora de la O, Sanlucar de Barrameda, Spain

These are just two of the many voyages from Sanlucar that brought disaster to the indigenous peoples of the Americas, but vast wealth to Spain. Ships laden with gold and silver from the Americas, and spices and other valuables from Asia, flowed through Sanlucar on their way to Sevilla up the Río Guadalquivir. Sanlucar doesn’t have a wealth of Golden Age buildings like Sevilla, but it flourished nonetheless.

This period in its history has bequeathed the town a vast array of glorious mansions and churches, including the Palace of the Dukes of Medina Sidonia. The 7th Duke, Alonso Pérez de Guzmán y Sotomayor, was another sailor, but one who lived his final days here in disgrace. It was Alonso who led the Spanish Armada to disaster and doubled down on that when he failed to prevent Sir Francis Drake sacking Cadiz.

The palace is now a hotel and not really open to the public, but next door is the Church of Nuestra Señora de la O. This is where both Columbus and Magellan prayed before setting sail into the unknown. It was built in the 13th century using parts of the former Moorish Alcazar that previously stood here. A short stroll brings you to the 15th century Castillo De Santiago and the Bodegas Barbadillo with their sherry museum.

We spent a few hours wandering the quiet, attractive streets in this area, stopping for the occasional glass of chilled manzanilla, the hallmark drink of this premiere sherry town. Eventually we sat down for lunch at Taberna El Loli, where the chefs serve up delicious Sanlucar seafood specialities. Honestly, I never knew clams could be so tasty. After lunch we dropped down into the centre of town and Plaza del Cabildo.

This is the epicentre of Sanlucar and we arrived just as a marching band was trundling down the street and into the square. It’s remarkable how often in Spain you’ll accidentally bump into a fiesta of some sort. The square is where all of life can be found. From an early morning cafe con leche to a late night oloroso and tortillita de camarones, the square hums and buzzes with activity.

Just off the square is the pretty indoor market where you can pick up local fruit and veg, as well as some of the freshest seafood you’re likely to see. We found ourselves strolling around, popping into some of the massive churches, and making regular stops to sample tapas and sherry in a town that is increasingly known for the quality of its cuisine. In the Iglesia San Francisco we came across some of the Semana Santa floats.

Bodegas Barbadillo, Sanlucar de Barrameda, Spain
Sanlucar de Barrameda, Spain
Sanlucar de Barrameda, Spain
Sanlucar de Barrameda, Spain
Sanlucar de Barrameda, Spain
Playa de Bajo de Guía, Sanlucar de Barrameda, Spain

We eventually found ourselves at the beach, which stretches for a couple of kilometres along the estuary. It’s a beautiful place, with views across to the UNESCO listed Parque Nacional de Doñana on the opposite bank of the Guadalquivir. A stroll along the beach gave us an appetite for a few more of Sanlucar’s famed langoustines, all washed down with a briney, dry manzanilla. This is a town I could come to love.

7 thoughts on “A voyage of discovery in Sanlucar de Barrameda

  1. A very pretty little town. Doñana? I bought a book in the late 60’s about that place. I understand it is quite magical. Did you get to go?

    1. Not this time, Brian. I have been previously, but only for a day or two. Beautiful sitting on the wild Atlantic Coast. It’s an underrated area, that’s for sure.

      1. Worth going back then. (Underrated usually has the advantage of less crowds! 😉)✌️

        1. Less crowded and with fewer international tourists for sure, Brian. I guess it’s a little out of the way, but well worth it, especially if you enjoy an occasional sherry!

        2. Wine (Claret) and sherry were probably one of the major reasons of confrontation between England and France on the one hand, and England and Spain on the other… 😉

        3. Given the geopolitical rivalries, it’s interesting how the English came to be so heavily involved in the sherry and port trade. Sherry in particular is very strongly associated with the English, especially old ladies!

        4. A typical Agatha Christie drink… 😉

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