Jerez, Spain

This Andalucian city the home of sherry and birthplace of flamenco is the perfect destination for an exotic winter escape.
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The Independent Travel

Why go now?

Well, if you can get there in the next few days you can toast Santa's circumnavigation with a warming glass of the finest fino at the home of sherry. The temperature in this lovely Andalucian city never falls too low. It is also the birthplace of flamenco, and later in the winter Jerez de la Frontera celebrates this exotic artform with an annual festival (00 34 956 35 02 72; www.festivaldejerez.es). Next year, it runs from 23 February until 8 March, and performances are held in venues all over the city, including Jerez's main performance space, the Teatro Villamarta (1).

Touch down

Ryanair (0871 246 0000; www.ryanair.com) flies from Stansted to Jerez daily except Wednesday. The airport is 7km north of the city, and a frequent bus service (00 34 902 45 05 50; www.cmtbc.es) delivers passengers from outside the terminal building to the city's main bus station (2) in 20 minutes. Services from the airport operate from 6.30am-9.30pm (9.45pm on weekdays), and leave the city between 6am and 8.05pm. The one-way fare is €0.95 (0.70).

Get your bearings

The original heart of Jerez was a diamond shape, surrounded by more than 4km of walls built by the Moorish occupants of the city in the 11th and 12th centuries; Jerez was once on the frontier of Arab territory. Parts of the walls are still visible, particularly at the junction of Calle Chancilleria and Calle Porvera where remnants of a restored tower (3) also stand. But there is much of interest to visitors outside the walls, too, including many of the bodegas, or sherry houses, for which Jerez is known, as well as the district of Santiago, to the north-west, where the city's Roma population still lives. The tourist office (4) ( www.turismojerez.com) is on Alameda Cristina, next to Santo Domingo church. It opens 9am-3pm and 4.30-6.30pm Monday-Friday, 9.30am-2.30pm at weekends.

Check in

Many of Jerez's hotels are on the main roads leading out of town, but these are best avoided unless you have transport. Among the centrally located offerings is the Hotel Palacio Garvey (5) at Torneria 24 (00 34 956 32 67 00; www.sferahoteles.net), a beautiful, refurbished 19th-century mansion with excellent facilities. It has 16 rooms; doubles are available from 161 (115), including breakfast. The Hotel Bellas Artes (6) at Plaza del Arroyo 45 (00 34 956 34 84 30; www.hotelbellasartes.com), opposite the cathedral, is an old palace with impeccable credentials: it once belonged to a member of the Domecq family. It has now been converted into an attractive four-star hotel, whose double rooms start at 96 (69) including breakfast. A well-located budget option is the two-star Hotel El Ancla (7), at 13 Plaza del Mamelon (00 34 956 32 12 97; www.helancla.com). All rooms have en suite facilities, and cost 50 (36) for a double. Breakfast is extra, and is available from the caf on the ground floor.

Take a hike

Start your exploration of the city centre in the Plaza del Arenal (8), a pleasant open space that was an important meeting place during Moorish times; now it is dominated by the statue of the 19thcentury dictator Miguel Primo de Rivera. Head north out of the square along Calle Consistorio, stopping to look at the old walls, encased in glass, that now form part of a take-away burger stall. At the far end of the street is the Plaza de la Asunció* (9), a pleasant square dominated by the Casa del Cabildo, a Renaissance building with an elaborate faade; this was once the town hall. The church at right angles to it is dedicated to Dionisio, the patron saint of Jerez. Meander through the squares and old streets as far as the Augustinian convent of Santa María de Gracia (10), founded in 1526. A heavy wooden door leads off the street and up a passage to the main entrance; the nuns sell cakes from a small window beside it, from 9.30am-1.15pm and 5.30-7.15pm. Take a short detour to the north to peep into the Andalucian Flamenco Centre (11) (00 34 856 81 41 32; caf.cica.es). Housed in the Palacio Pemartin, an Andalucian palace built around an open tiled courtyard, it contains exhibitions on the art of flamenco. From there, continue south along Calle Justicia as far as the Plaza del Mercado (12), where the Moors used to hold their market. Now this cobbled space is filled with palm trees, and houses the city's archaeological museum (00 34 956 35 01 33; www.museoarqueologico.webjerez.com). It opens 10am-2pm and 4-7pm Tuesday-Friday, 10am-2.30pm at weekends.

A walk in the park

Stroll around the grounds of the Royal Andalucian School of Equestrian Arts (13) on Avenida Duque de Abrantes (00 34 956 31 80 08; www.realescuela.org) and watch the horses being exercised and trained. There has been a tradition of horsemanship in Jerez since monks introduced Carthusian horses to the city 600 years ago, and in addition to the gardens there is a museum dedicated to the region's equestrian heritage. The complex opens 11am-2pm Monday-Saturday. Visitors can watch the horses training in the indoor arena between 11am and 1pm on Monday, Wednesday and Friday; at noon on Tuesdays and Thursdays the horses give a dancing display.

Lunch on the run

There are several good lunch spots in and around the colourful food market, the Mercado de Abastos (14), on Plaza Esteve. The best of these is the Cafe La Vega, which serves Spanish-style pizzas and warming casseroles. If the weather is sunny as it often is in Jerez, even in winter the market itself is an excellent source of bread, cheese, fruit and other picnic ingredients.

Cultural afternoon

For many people, the culture associated with Jerez is viticulture, specifically the palomino grapes that are grown in the vineyards to the north and turned into sherry in the many bodegas that are dotted around the city. A number of these are open to visitors, but the most interesting are the largest: Harveys (15) on Calle Pintor Muñoz Cebrian (00 34 956 15 15 00; www.bodegasharveys.com), Sandeman (16) at Calle Pizarro 10 (00 34 956 15 17 00; www.sandeman.com) and Tio Pepe (17) at Calle Manuel Marie Gonzalez 12 (00 34 956 35 70 00; www.bodegastiopepe.com). Owned by Gonzalez Byass, it sells more sherry than any other label. The bodega is extensive, so visitors are taken round the complex on a small train, which trundles past the warehouses and gardens, stopping from time to time so that passengers can explore the cellars, and see La Concha, the unusual pavilion designed by Gustave Eiffel for a royal visit. Glasses of Tio Pepe and Croft Original are offered at the end of the tour. Regular guided visits in English take place every day from 11.30am-5.30pm (until 2pm on Sunday) and cost €14 (10). An extra €5 (3.60) buys a plate of tapas to accompany the sherry.

Window shopping

Jerez's main shopping drag is Calle Larga, and the street which continues from it, Calle Lanceria. Anyone looking for a souvenir should head for La Vinoteria (18), at the far end of Calle Lanceria, which stocks an extensive selection of sherries.

An aperitif

El Gallo Azul (19), the circular building at the southern end of Calle Larga (00 34 956 32 45 09) is an ideal place for an early-evening glass of well-chilled fino. Pick a few tapas from the menu, or go to the bar and choose from the selection of morsels displayed on the counter.

Dining with the locals

There are few more reliable dinner choices than Gaitan (20), at Calle Gaitan 3 (00 34 956 34 58 59), an award-winning establishment that has been in the same family for more than 40 years. The menu makes good use of the local wine, and also features locally caught fish. Main courses start at €15.50 (11).

Sunday morning: go to church

In a city of many interesting churches, the cathedral of San Salvador (21) is the most important. From the outside, the ornately carved faade facing the Plaza de la Encarnació* is particularly striking; the bell tower stands to the right, separate from the main building. Inside the cathedral is spacious, and is divided into five aisles. The warm stone is largely unadorned, with the ornamentation concentrated in the many side chapels. Unlike other churches in the city which open only for mass, the cathedral opens to visitors from 11.30am-1pm and 6.30-8pm Monday-Saturday; 11am-2pm and 7-9.30pm on Sunday.

Out to brunch

Bar Juanito (22) (00 34 956 33 48 38; www.bar-juanito.com) is a relaxed, family-run place. Located on Calle Pescaderia Vieja, it offers plates of cheese, local hams, fish dishes and hot, meaty fare.

Take a view...

...from the Camera Obscura inside the Villavicencio Palace (23) that forms part of the Alcázar, or citadel complex. The second-oldest in Spain that honour falls to the one in Cádiz the Camera Obscura is combination of lenses and mirrors that can be adjusted to give a real-time view of life in the city, its inhabitants going about their business completely unaware that they are being watched. There are plenty of other interesting features within the Alcázar, including a mosque, a hammam and a mill for pressing olives. The Alcázar (00 34 956 34 17 11; www.turismojerez.com) opens 10am-6pm Monday-Saturday, 10am-3pm on Sunday and the admission fee of €5.40 (3.85) includes entrance to the Camera Obscura.

Take a ride

Jerez is easy enough to walk around, but if you prefer to be driven, with a commentary thrown in, take a ride on the little train (00 34 902 01 22 03; www.jerevision.com) that meanders through the city. At certain times of day the tour concentrates on the flamenco, equestrian or viticultural heritage of Jerez. Trips start from the Plaza del Arenal (8), last 45 minutes and cost €4 (2.85).

Icing on the cake

Flamenco is an important part of life in Jerez, and even if you are not visiting during the festival, there are several places to experience the intricacies of a performance. La Taberna Flamenca (24) is at Angostillo de Santiago 3 (00 34 956 32 36 93; www.latabernaflamenca.com); it opens daily for dinner from 8pm, and this is followed by a display of music and dancing that is enjoyed as much by locals as by visitors. For a performance on its own, try the Don Antonio Chacon flamenco cultural centre (25) at Calle Salas 2 (00 34 956 347 472) which opens noon-3.30pm and 8pm-midnight daily.

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