Somewhere for the Weekend: Jerez

Join the fiesta in this Andalusian city, when the sherry flows, the horses prance, and the ancient streets echo with flamenco, says Kate Simon


WHY GO NOW?

WHY GO NOW?

It's fiesta time, and not content with one party, Jerez (pronounced "hair-eth") is throwing three at once during its autumn festival or Fiestas de Otoño (until 24 September). The main bash marks the grape harvest, but horses and flamenco are also celebrated – the three main preoccupations of this southern Andalusian city. Events take place across the city, spilling out on to the streets and squares, with grape-harvest processions and sherry-tasting, song-and-dance spectaculars and horse "ballets" and races (the 2002 World Equestrian Championships are being held there now, too). Events are too numerous – and sometimes too spontaneous – to list, so for times and venues contact the local tourist office (see below), otherwise keep your eyes peeled and follow the crowd.

DOWN PAYMENT

Buzz (0870 240 7070; www.buzzaway.com) offers the only direct flights from the UK, departing Stansted on Saturdays between 31 March and 26 October, with a journey time of three hours. Alternatively, you can take a rather longer route via Madrid or Barcelona, year-round with Iberia (0845 6012854; www.iberia.com), from Heathrow, Gatwick and regional airports, but the trip can take up to six hours. The only way to get from the airport to the city centre is by taxi, a short hop of eight miles that costs about €10 (£7). This weekend, Buzz is offering flights for £263 return, but you will have to come back the following Saturday.

INSTANT BRIEFING

Jerez feels more like a town than a city. The main artery, Avenida Alcalde Alvaro Domecq, leads into the centre, a higgledy-piggledy maze of streets that become so narrow they threaten to scrape the car wing-mirrors of anyone foolish enough to drive in and get entangled in Jerez's hellish one-way system. The old city is where you are likely to want to spend most of your time, and the relatively small scale of the area means that it is easy to explore on foot. Indeed, it's a perfect city to wander aimlessly in, but if you want to get to a specific place, use a map and follow it carefully lest you be swallowed up by the labyrinthine streets. To get your bearings, you could take a bus tour. They run every half-hour from 10am to 8pm, with a break for siesta between 2.30pm and 4.15pm. A day ticket costs €8 (£5), which you can buy on the bus, and it allows you to hop on and off at will. There are 11 stops, including one on the central Plaza del Arenal. For maps and information, the tourist office is at Calle Larga 39 (00 34 956 331 150; www.webjerez.com, open 10am-2pm and 5pm-9pm, Monday to Saturday, 9am-3pm, Sunday).

REST ASSURED

Hotel Jerez, Avenida Alvaro Domecq 35 (00 34 956 30 06 00; www.hoteljerez.com), is one of the best addresses in town, set in tropical gardens a short walk from the centre, with indoor and outdoor pools. Doubles are €135 (£90) per night, with breakfast at €11 (£7) per person. The Hotel Doña Blanca, Calle Bodegas 11 (00 34 956 34 87 61; www.hoteldonablanca.com) has doubles from €71 (£47), plus breakfast at €7 (£5). The Nuevo Hotel, Calle Caballeros 23, (00 34 956 33 16 00; www.nuevohotel.com) has doubles from €35 (£21), and breakfast at €4 (£3).

MUST SEE

A weekend is plenty of time to get well acquainted with Jerez – but that doesn't mean that there is a dearth of sights to see or things to do. Any trip here should include a tour of one of the numerous sherry houses. They last an hour or so and take visitors through the awesome and aromatic cathedral-sized bodegas in which the casks of sherry and brandy are stored, and the production process is explained as you go. All good tours will, of course, take time out for some tasting and wind up in the shop. One of the biggest and best is Gonzalez-Byass, Calle Manuel Maria Gonzalez 12 (00 34 956 35 70 00; www.gonzalezbyass.es). It costs €7 (£5) per person to see the highlights of the makers of Tio Pepe and Soberano, including a bodega designed by Eiffel and rows of casks signed by VIP visitors, including Orson Welles.

Across the road from Gonzalez-Byass is one of the city's finest buildings, the Alcazar, on Alameda Vieja (00 34 956 31 97 98). Built by the Moors in the 12th century, it has an intriguing octagonal tower and its grounds contain baths, a mosque and the Palacio de Villavicencio, with its own camera obscura. The Alcazar is open 7am-8pm, Monday to Saturday; 7am-3pm Sunday, and entrance is €1 (60p). If you also want to see the camera obscura – open from 10.30am to 7.30pm – a combined ticket costs €3 (£2).

Jerez is famed for its flamenco heritage – one of its greatest exponents, Lola Flores, was born in the San Miguel district of the city. To find out more, visit the Andalusian Flamenco Centre, Plaza de San Juan (00 34 956 349 265; http://caf.cica.es), a museum set in a fine 18th-century palace in the heart of the Santiago gypsy quarter. Open 9.30am-2pm, Monday to Friday, entrance free.

Horse-lovers should head for the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art, Avenida Duque de Abrantes (00 34 956 31 96 35; www.realescuela.org), where you can watch these amazing animals being put through their balletic paces on Thursdays at noon. Entrance from €12 (£8).

MUST BUY

Sherry, obviously. There's plenty to choose from, but fino, pale gold and bone dry, and oloroso, an amber-coloured, fruity little number, are the local brews. Don't ask for a fine vintage, there's no such thing, because sherry is always a blend. The bodegas' brandies are excellent, too. Flamenco fans should head for the shops along Calle Francos, where you can kit yourself out in authentic gear.

MUST EAT

In true Spanish style, they eat late in Jerez, with lunch from 3pm and dinner from 10pm. If you're on a budget, or want a snack, there are plenty of good tapas bars. Try the award-winning Bar Juanito on Pescaderia Vieja, off the Plaza del Arenal, or one of the bars in Plaza Rivero behind the Alameda Cristina. If you want something more formal and can pay the price, the city has a few good restaurants. El Bosque, Avenida Alvaro Domecq 26 (00 34 956 30 33 33) serves traditional Andalusian food in a romantic woodland setting, a short walk from the centre. From €30 (£20) per head. La Mesa Redonda, Manuel de la Quintana 3 (00 34 956 34 00 69) specialises in game and is raved about by foodies. From €30 (£20) per head. Tendido-6, Calle Circo 10 (00 34 956 34 48 35), behind the bullring, specialises in, you guessed it, bull meat, although the ring itself sees few fights these days outside festival time. From €20 (£13) per head.

INTO THE NIGHT

Nightlife is based around eating and drinking. If you want to take in a flamenco show with dinner, try El Laga de Tio Parrilla, Plaza del Mercado (00 34 956 33 83 34), open every night except Sunday. It's not cheap, around €40 (£27) per head and €12 (£8) per drink. If you're lucky, you can find a more authentic atmosphere in the folk clubs, or peñas, of the gypsy quarters of Santiago, north of the old city walls, and San Miguel, to the south. But remember, these gigs are essentially private gatherings.

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