Steeped in sherry, horses and flamenco, the city of Jerez de la Frontera should not be missed if you’re travelling to southern Spain. Read on for 11 reasons to visit this gorgeous Andalusian city at least once in your lifetime.
Despite is beauty and the worldwide fame of its sherry, Jerez is often overlooked by visitors to Andalusia, the majority of whom tend to target Granada, Córdoba and Seville instead. Its status as something of an underdog city will appeal to travellers who like exploring places off the beaten tourist track, and those who do visit will find plenty to enjoy.
The city’s most famous and sought-after export is sherry, specifically the González Byass and Tío Pepe brands (the former of which owns the latter). González Byass was founded in 1835 by Manuel Maria González Angel (later joined by his English agent, Robert Blake Byass), a statue of whom stands outside the sherry’s beautiful bodega in the city centre. Tours of the cellar and sherry tastings are available.
The pure-bred Spanish horse (pura raza Española) is as inextricable from Jerezano culture as sherry. These magnificent animals are among the finest horses in the world (Jerezanos, naturally, say they are the finest) and are specially trained for the spectacular equestrian ballets staged by the Real Escual Andaluza del Arte Ecuestra (see the events calendar for show times). You can read our in-depth look at this must-see show here.
It won’t take you more than about 10 minutes to be completely seduced by Jerez’s old town. Check out Plaza de la Yebra, home to a romantic cluster of tapas bars that are popular with the locals, and admire the elegantly dilapidated 15th-century church on Plaza de la Ascunción. For morning coffee or early evening drinks, try Plaza del Arenal, once the grand setting for bullfights and equestrian displays.
To drink like the locals in Jerez, head to one of the old-school sherry bars. Known as tabancos, these characterful places specialise in the city’s signature tipple, serving everything from dry, clear finos to dark and sweet olorosos. Visit the wonderful Tabanco San Pablo for a highly concentrated hit of Jerezano culture, or seek out Tablanco El Pasaje for its intimate live flamenco.
As its name suggests, the first of Jerez’s two annual festivals is dedicated to the city’s equine stars. The Horse Fair, which runs for a week early May (5–12 this year) is a intimate and joyful celebration that takes place on a palm fringed fairground – recinto – on the outskirts of the city. Grab a rebujito – a fino sherry mixed with 7UP – and watch the locals show off their beautiful horses.
Though understated compared to the majestic Alcazars of Córdoba and Seville, Jerez’s Moorish residence and defence complex is still worth a visit. Originally dating from the 11th century and extensively rebuilt in the 12th, the fortress’s most notable remaining features are the walls and the 14th-century octagonal Ponce de León tower. An attractive, tranquil park spreads itself out on the Alcazar’s northwest side.
Constructed as a collegiate church between 1695 and 1778, this mighty gothic-baroque building was only officially designated a cathedral in 1980. Uniquely, the tower stands apart from the main structure: it is the only surviving feature of the smaller church that was demolished to make way for the cathedral. Inside, you’ll find La Virgen Niña by the 17th-century Spanish painter Francisco de Zurbarán.
The second of Jerez’s annual festivals is the delightful Feria de la Vendimia, or Grape Harvest Festival, which takes place in September (this year from September 1 to 17). Originally celebrated to mark the beginning of the grape harvest – so crucial to Jerez’s wine and sherry industries – it now features equestrian shows, flamenco performances and a street market. Don’t miss the Treading of the Grapes (Pisa de la Uva), which usually occurs on September 8 on the steps of the cathedral.
Many aficionados will tell you that Jerez is the true home of flamenco; certainly, some of its most famous modern practitioners hail from here, including the dancer Lola Flores and the singer José Mercé. You can learn more about this singular art at the city’s superb Andalusian Flamenco Centre and enjoy live performances at the annual Flamenco Festival, held in late February or early March.
The gypsy-flamenco barrio of Santiago occupies the northwestern chunk of Jerez. A whitewashed labyrinth of beautifully scruffy townhouses and attractive squares, this was where flamenco star José Mercé was born; indeed, he earned his nickname by singing in the choir at the local Merced church. Strains of the art form’s distinctive voice and guitar drift through the narrow streets as you wander.
Discover the unwritten history of flamenco, from its origins to its musical structure.