Wilma Crowther-Bellas reveals why Jerez is such a fabulous day out for the family in summer
MOST people come to visit Jerez for its sherry, flamenco or horses. We came here for its alegria.
Looking for the perfect spot to relocate in Spain after marrying, raising kids and settling down in suburban Surbiton, it was a case of simply narrowing down our options.
Being from Galicia – the wettest part of Spain – there was no way my husband wanted to swap the drizzle of south west London for the rain clouds of north west Spain.
But with two young children Ambar and Antonio – and with careers to consider – there were plenty of other factors to mull over.
First and foremost we wanted the sun (so the north was out). Secondly we wanted the sea (both the south and east coast were looking good), thirdly an airport and international schools for our children (the shortlist threw up Barcelona, Malaga and Jerez).
But then came the clincher. We didn’t want the crowds and bingo! Jerez hit the jackpot. Jerez? So where’s that then? I asked my husband.
“Take a look inside the main market and take in the noise, the bartering and friendly rivalry”.
Next came the exploratory visits. First on our own, then with the kids, next the parents, and guess what? We ALL fell in love with the city.
Admittedly we were slightly taken aback by how expensive property is here, and Jerez was meant to be one of the most economical cities in Spain to buy.
The guide books certainly didn’t warn us that prices were not too dissimilar to London’s suburbs. And we soon learnt the reason why.
Jerez is, quite simply, the land of milk and honey; the home of the old latifundia and the wealthy bodega owners, Domecq and Gonzalez Byass, to name a few.
Nevertheless, we couldn’t help but fall in love with the palm-tree-lined streets, its crystal-clear blue skies and its stunning unspoilt beaches just a 30-minute drive away.
And to top it all there is a great airport and two international schools to choose from.
Its appeal was so great that not only had we soon bought a townhouse here, but my parents fell for a plush roof- top apartment too.
But that’s enough about why I am here. As a visitor there is so much to marvel about Jerez.
You may have heard of Jerez for its sherries, horses and flamenco but Jerez has a lot more to offer.
For the first time visitor first port of call around mid-morning should be Plaza Arenal, right in the centre of the old town.
Jerez’s huge square – lorded over, perhaps surprisingly by a statue of General Franco’s former hero Jose Primo de Rivera – is a great place to watch the world go by.
Stop at one of its churros stalls by the local Mercado and order some by weight. Relax, you have just started your day and will need to learn to slow down, as one thing I have learnt while living here; the pace of life is rather slow.
Then head for one of the many bodegas before lunch.
The tours are unexpectedly interactive. Pick of the bunch is without a doubt that at Lustau, where they intend to send every visitor out as an ambassador for its fabulous range of internationally known sherries.
Nearby is Bodegas Valdivia which invites the unsuspecting visitor into a dark tunnel-like room where a video puts you face to face with life-size dancers and horses. And while the adults are immersed in an educational tasting, the children are entertained by the bodega’s enchanting pixies (or duendes as they are known).
Now it’s time for lunch. Let’s see. Make your way back to the centre. It is filled with restaurants offering typical grilled fish a la plancha, Iberian meats and paella.
Start off with a cool gazpacho… highly recommended in the midday heat.
By far the best choice for somewhere to eat in the centre is the stylish Sabores restaurant in Hotel Chancilleria, found off the beautiful tree-lined Calle Porvera.
It will certainly tickle your taste buds with its modern Andalucian cuisine, al fresco gardens and charming hosts Antonio and Joanne.
If you come back for dinner – or perhaps if you stay in its well-appointed, sustainably designed rooms – make sure to visit its newly opened roof-top terrace and gaze at the stars while taking advantage of its summer offer of a free bottle of wine.
Other places to visit? The list is endless…the Alcazar is Jerez’s Moorish quarter, the Escuela Ecuestre is where you can be enchanted by the famous dancing horses, there is the local zoo and its botanical gardens.
A keen shopper? Or just looking for a souvenir? Head to the fabulous Zoco de Artesania. It is Jerez’s true hidden gem and, to be fair, pretty hard to find.
Aim for the Police Station and start asking for directions. Once there, you will be spoilt for choice as you meander around its Moroccan-inspired craft shops.
As night falls, take your pick from any one of the grand hotels that awaits you. Los Jandalos chain of hotels invite you to spend a rewarding session in its spas after a hot day outside. Take advantage of its two-for-one offer.
Then there is always the Hotel Casa Grande, a former family mansion now tastefully restored with fifteen stunning bedrooms. Its owner, Monica, is a charming and refined woman only too happy to help.
Meanwhile the Hotel Bellas Artes, in the Plaza del Arroyo, makes a beautiful romantic getaway. It is currently offering ten per cent off its prices to our readers. Enjoy a cool evening on its roof terraces and take in the stunning view to the cathedral.
Come and see it for yourself, take in the sights, savour the food and try its beaches, you’ll soon agree, that ‘My Jerez’ truly DOES have it all.