15 May, 2023 @ 14:07
3 mins read

Short Break: Jerez, Little City of Stars

Jerez de la Frontera, Cadiz

TOM Jones is singing, celebrity chef Jordi Cruz is cooking, and you’re staying in a palace. No, you’re not Marbella or Barcelona or a weird dream, but Jerez.

For many years, the hot city in the province of Cadiz was overshadowed by its famous neighbours – the smaller city of Cadiz to the south, and Sevilla to the north. Well, not any more!

Over the past five years there has been a flow of investment, a flurry of activity and a shift in attitude. Jerez exudes new pride and it is starting to feel contemporary – or kind of.

This is a historic city, with Arab walls and an impressive Alcazar, ancient cathedral, and narrow, cobbled streets. With its festivals, bodegas, flamenco and dancing purebred horses at the world-famous Real Escuela Andaluza de Arte Ecuestre, there can hardly be anywhere where people protect and embrace the traditional Andalucian lifestyle more enthusiastically.

But clearly Jerez got the green light to build on that history – to move on and add new layers, without detracting from what makes the place special. The upgrade started with the opening of the first of several five star hotels, the Barceló Montecastillo Golf with its Jack Niklaus designed golf course in 2010, and really picked up the pace with the launch of the Tio Pepe Festival in 2013.

Tio Pepe Festival 2023

Tio Pepe Festival Jerez
Tio Pepe Festival Jerez

International singing stars have headed to Jerez and graced the stage inside the Bodegas González Byass every year since. This year, Tom Jones is among the headliners, alongside Spanish national treasures Raphael, Malú, and the very busy Andrés Suaréz.

The 2023 festival runs from July 1-August 31 and tickets are on sale now. So, if you are looking for an excuse to visit Jerez, visit the Tio Pepe Festival site and choose between major concerts, nights of flamenco, comedy events, and the Cenas de las Estrellas, the Dinners of the Stars.

While the star-chef dinners at the winery come at an appetite-quenching price, Jordi Cruz will be cooking for lucky attendees on August 11 as part of Cenas de las Estrellas programme. Miguel Caño of Nublo Restaurant in La Rioja is jetting in to cook on August 8, while Madrid’s prestigious Zuara Sushi restaurant takes over the González Byass restaurant kitchens on July 28 and 29.

Where to eat

But Jerez has plenty of talented chefs of its own. The foodie scene has really changed; whereas a decade ago, young, ambitious chefs would move to a more sophisticated city where there was already a demand for innovative food, they’ve stayed, taken a gamble, and built that demand locally.

Try Lú, Cocina y Alma (on Calle Zaragoza, 2) –chef Juanlu Fernández was the first in Jerez to get a Michelin star in 2018 – and Mantúa, just a few steps away in Plaza Aladro, which got its star in 2019.

You could eat at a fine restaurant night and day for several days at prices that won’t break the bank. Others that should be in your list include Avanico (which holds a Michelin Bib Gourmand), A Mar, Albalá, Akase  and La Carboná.

Where to stay

In keeping with the starry theme, there are several new-generation five-star and four-star hotels to choose between, as well as the small affordable boutique hotels, full of charm.

Hotel Casa Palacio María Luisa

Casa Palacio Maria Luisa Jerez
Casa Palacio Maria Luisa Jerez

For a full-on deluxe short break, try this historic palace at the heart of the city. The first and only Five Star Grand Luxury Hotel in Jerez opened in 2018 in what used to be the home of a local aristocratic family, and then the Jerezano Casino where high society used to meet. The meticulous restoration and conversion work was done in conjunction with City Heritage and the result is a little 21-room gem.

Hotel Bodega Tio Pepe

Jerez Sherry Hotel

Better known as the world’s first sherry hotel, this is as grand and emblematic as the winery itself. A four-star hotel, it opened in 2020 and boasts an outdoor pool, gardens and fitness centre.

Villa Jerez

A five-star boutique hotel, this gives you some of the old world spirit plus hydro-massage baths and other mod cons. Central location makes this a solid choice.

Hotel Suites Alfonso X

The brainchild of four young local entrepreneurs, this brand new option close to Teatro Villamarta once again blends the grandeur of an old building with cool, contemporary touches.

What to do

There are constant events throughout 2023 to celebrate the star of stage and silver screen, Lola Flores, who was born in Jerez 100 years ago this year, and an introduction to her life and work at the Lola Flores Cultural Centre.

Jerez is not short of palaces –visit the mighty Alcazar, and the relatively modern in comparison Palacio Domecq and Palacio Virrey Laserna.

Tio Pepe is not the only sherry in town. Tours are available at several bodegas, including Lustau and Williams & Humbert. And for more sherry (beer is also allowed), try the self-guided Ruta de Tabancos that will steer you round a bar-hopping tour of the most traditional drinking spots in the heart of the old city.

All details and maps available from Jerez Tourism.

Tio Pepe Festival Highlights

Sorrel Downer

Sorrel is a journalist based in Spain who writes for The Guardian, and whose bylines include The Telegraph, The Times, Financial Times, Conde Nast Traveller, Business Life, Business Insider, Reader's Digest, Evening Standard, and the BBC.

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