Travel: Home to the salty-tanged sister of sherry

When the Spanish fancy a break they amble down to Sanlucar de Barrameda for a rest and a drop of manzanilla.
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The Independent Culture
SATED WITH the splendours of Seville? It seems improbable. Yet it must sometimes happen to the people who live there, so where do they go to get away from it all? And what if you, too, feel like a holiday in southern Spain without the clamour of the Costa del Sol?

One answer is Sanlucar de Barrameda, a town which lies about 60 miles south-west of Seville at the mouth of the Guadalquivir river. Columbus, Magellan and Pisarro all set sail from here, but now it is sleepy. Wine lovers will already know the town as the home of manzanilla, the salty- tanged sister of fino sherry.

If you don't want to drive (I didn't) there is a bus service every hour or two from Seville. It leaves from the San Sebastian bus station, takes two hours and deposits you in a tumbledown but pretty square.

In two minutes you will be in the Plaza del Cabildo, the town's main square. It is a handsome place, full of cafes and empty of traffic. From here, a left turn takes you straight down to the waterfront via a palm- lined sandy paseo as broad and straight as an airport runway, taking you past the tourist office as you go. A much shorter walk to the right takes you straight to the Hostal la Blanca Paloma in Plaza de San Roque, where the smiling senora will let you have her best room (with a shared but spotless bathroom) for the equivalent of pounds 17 a night.

Sanlucar is set exactly where the river meets the Atlantic. The beach is long and lined with silver sand and the high water line is a row of pearly oyster shells. Fishing boats chug up and down and at the top of the tide, container ships glide serenely past, then disappear surreally among the fields and pine trees as they make their winding way up-river to Seville.

Although it has 60,000 inhabitants, Sanlucar still has a small-town feel. It is generally old and picturesque but - reassuringly perhaps, if you have just come from Seville - it contains no gems of art and architecture that it would be criminal to miss. You are here for a rest, remember, so drift around and enjoy what you see - and smell. That aroma of baked bread and brandy is manzanilla being made and half the buildings in Sanlucar are bodegas that are often open to the public.

As most of the holidaymakers here are Spanish, it makes sense to adopt Spanish eating times. For breakfast, at around 10am, try hot chocolate with churros, or trickle olive oil onto your tostada instead of butter. Lunch is to be enjoyed around 2pm (don't forget the siesta) and don't go looking for an aperitif much before eight; bars that open before then cater mainly for drunks.

Serious eating begins at 9pm. Investigate the Bajo de Guia at the eastern end of the riverfront. This is a line of restaurants specialising in fish and seafood. For tapas bars, return to the Plaza del Cabildo.

Getting there: Iberia (0171-830 0011) has flights from London to Seville before 10 December for pounds 162 including tax or, if you book before 15 December and spend at least one Saturday night there, British Airways (0345 222111) has a fare for pounds 128.30 including tax.

Accommodation: The Hostal La Blanca Paloma (00 34 956 363644) has double rooms for around pounds 14 per night or contact the Sanlucar de Barrameda Tourist Information Office on 00 34 956 366110 for a list of hotels in the town