I have to say I knew nothing about the town of Jerez except what I could see from a map of southern Spain. It is located about 36 km inland from the port city of Cadiz, but it made a perfect place to stop for the night as we drove through western Andalucía. We had spent some quality time in Seville on our first foray into Spain the previous September, so we wanted to have a quiet night and then bypass Seville altogether and continue on to what the Lonely Planet calls ‘The Road Less Travelled’, the autonomous region of Extremadura.
It would have been nice to slip over to Cadiz, the city from which Columbus launched his second and fourth voyages to the Americas. However, there simply wasn’t enough time to see it and to make the swing through the western portion of Spain before arriving in Madrid in time to meet our daughter Adia on April 24th. She is now halfway through her sabbatical leave from her job with Elections BC and she is taking advantage of the opportunity to meet up with us again to see places she hasn’t visited before. She spent three weeks with us over Christmas visiting Sri Lanka following a family wedding in India, and apparently, was game for some more quality time with her parents.
As we drove into Jerez, I read aloud from our guidebook and updated myself and Anil on the main attractions of the city. I learned that the word ‘Jerez’ is pronounced ‘hey-reth’ and that it is the Spanish word for ‘sherry’. Indeed, this is the main sherry producing region of Spain and there are over twenty ‘bodegas’, producing some of the world’s most popular brands, within the boundaries of the city itself. As we drove around looking for our wee hotel, I noticed signs for ‘Hidalgo’, Gonzalez Byass’, ‘Tio Pepe’ and ‘Harvey’s Bristol Cream’. I have to say, I didn’t recognize the first several brands, but my lips watered when I saw the Harvey’s Bodega. I now prefer dry sherries; but at one time, Harvey’s Bristol Cream was a favorite on a cold winter night by the fireplace.
To my surprise, we also learned that Jerez is the home to Andalucía’s famous horses and is a hotbed of flamenco music and dance. In fact, we had no problem arriving at the hotel without a reservation, but within a few days, the annual Horse Feria (Fair) was due to start and we would have been out of luck finding a hotel anywhere in Jerez at that time. We arrived in the mid-afternoon, so there was plenty of time to explore the city on foot before dark, and we were delighted to walk through leafy tree-lined streets and pick up a few provisions for a picnic the following day.
We liked the city so much, we decided to spend a little time doing the walking tour that was outlined in a brochure we picked up at the nearby visitor information center. We have to thank my sister Donna for getting us to rely less on our guidebook, and stop in at the tourist offices to pick up more current information on activities and events in the cities we visited. For some reason, we usually rely on the Lonely Planet to sift through all the information and filter out the mundane and the over-hyped attractions.
We enjoyed the walking tour and found the city peaceful and pleasant. There seemed to be a feeling of the calm before the storm though, as we detected people ramping up for the excitement of the ‘feria’ to come. The shop windows were full of flamenco dresses, lace shawls with heavy fringes and all the other accessories that make for a traditional costume. I noticed women buying hair ornaments and dancing shoes in the shops lining a small lane we passed through. I made a mental note to come back one day and witness the event.
After a nice lunch, we pointed our car northwards towards Seville, but took the ‘auto-via’ (highway) instead of the ‘auto-pista’ (toll road), so that we could enjoy the scenery a little more and not feel the pressure of the high volume of traffic on the major thoroughfare. We were getting better at understanding the various traffic signs and symbols and avoiding tolls where possible. For the most part, we weren’t having trouble driving in yet another foreign country and the little bit of Spanish we had picked up earlier was coming in handy on this, our second adventure in Spain.