The pure-bred Spanish horse is a key element of Jerezano culture. To see these magnificent animals and their highly skilled riders in action, head to the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art – the most prestigious academy of its kind in Spain. The 90-minute shows staged every Thursday, entitled “How the Andalusian Horses Dance”, do not deceive with their title: these horses really can dance. Read our introduction to Jerez’s equestrian ballets here.
Jerez is the only place on the planet where sherry can be made, from the white palomino grapes that grow in the region’s loose, chalky soil. For a truly fascinating experience, book yourself on a tour of the wineries that have made this gorgeous city famous: Gonzalez Byass and Tío Pepe (both founded by the same entrepreneur in 1835). You’ll learn how sherry is made and all about the different variations. Bodegas Tradición, a smaller producer, is also home to a stunning art collection.
As is fitting for a city steeped in sherry and wine production, Jerez celebrates the beginning of the grape harvest every September (this year from the 1st to the 17th). The Feria de la Vendimia is a two-week fair boasting a market of world-class local produce, flamenco recitals, displays of horsemanship and wine and sherry tastings. It kicks off with the Treading of the Grapes (Pisa de La Uva), a unique event that’s staged on the steps of Jerez’s mighty Baroque-Gothic cathedral.
Jerez’s other annual festival is the Feria del Caballo, or Horse Fair. Held at the beginning of May (5th-12th this year), this is arguably southern Spain’s most inclusive and colourful fiesta: unlike elsewhere, all the party marquees (casetas) are open to the public (most of those at Seville’s famous Feria de Abril, by contrast, are invitation-only). Yellow sand, gleaming black horse hide, green palm trees reaching into dark blue sky and many-hued flamenco dresses combine to provide a feast for the eyes.
The oldest barrios of Jerez have a unique personality and ambience, calling to mind the buttoned-up stateliness of Seville as much as the charming shabbiness of Cádiz. Don’t leave without getting lost in the streets around Plaza de la Yebra and Plaza de la Ascunción (both must-visits in their own right), exploring the residential neighbourhoods behind Plaza del Arenal, or venturing into the flamenco quarter beyond Plaza de Belén known as Santiago.
You’ll know when you arrive into Santiago: the tourists fall away, the buildings take on a scruffier appearance and you start to hear the lilting, passionate sounds of flamenco drifting from the windows of whitewashed houses. Some of this singular art’s leading stars grew up here, including the singer and dancer Lola Flores and the singer José Mecé. Perhaps you’ll hear the next Andalusian flamenco sensation practicing at home as you wander these historic streets.
Jerez is unique in Spain for abounding in tabancos, as its many sherry-specialist bars are called. Without doubt, the tabancos are where to be if you want to drink with the locals and touring the best of them is a great way to spend an evening here. Be sure to enjoy a fino in Tabanco San Pablo – a lovely, dark old place that exudes historical charm – and catch the live flamenco at Tabanco El Pasaje, where they chalk your bill on the wooden bar. For a more modern vibe, Tabanco Plateros is a must.