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Posts from the ‘Day Trips’ Category

Seville | A Day Trip to Sanlucar de Barrameda

Sanlúcar de Barrameda is the small seaside town at the mouth of the River Guadalquivir – directly across from the Doñana National Park (you can cross on a small ferry) – just over an hour’s drive or bus ride from Seville. This makes it ideal for day trips or long weekends away from Seville, especially in summer, when the sea breezes keep it cooler than its bigger neighbour.

sanlucar (1)Plaza Cabildo

It’s history goes back at least to Moorish times, the Barrameda part of the name deriving from the Arabic for “water well of the plateau”, but it fell to the Christians in 1264. Its heyday was during the great age of exploration in the 16th century, and both Columbus and Magellan set sail from here. In the mid 17th century it went into decline, although its fortunes were somewhat revived by its role in sherry production.

sanlucar (3)Bodegas Barbadillo

Nowadays Sanlúcar is best known for prawns and manzanilla sherry, and it was these, among other things, that brought us there, but more of that later. We arrived mid-morning at the little bus station in the modern seaside resort part of town. From here many people will head straight for the beach, but we had a different objective. The beach could wait. First stop was actually a late breakfast, a simple but tasty Serrano on toast and coffee at any of the bars in the Plaza Cabildo, the pretty little central square in the Barrio Bajo, the lower town. Sitting in the morning sunshine in one of these quintessential Spanish squares, with its little fountain, statue of famous local person, and a couple of palm trees, with a coffee or a beer ready to hand, is one of life’s great simple pleasures. Another is visiting local food markets, and this was our next stop. The Sanlucar market is just off the central square, immediately beneath the steep hill up to the Barrio Alto, the upper town. As well as the main hall, stalls and small shops spill out into the adjoining streets, and the whole area has a pleasantly busy vibe. Highlights were the street seller selling live camarones, the little shrimps used in the tortillitas, and a brace of model clowns outside one of the small shops.

sanlucar (4)the famous Sanlucar prawns

From the market a short walk takes you up to the Barrio Alto and, for us, the main purpose of our trip – manzanilla sherry. More specifically a visit to one of Sanlúcar’s famous sherry bodegas. Bodegas Barbadillo has a number of locations around the city, but the visitor centre and museum is next door to the impressive 15th century Santiago Castle overlooking the lower town. Although it wasn’t my first visit to a bodega, the experience is always enjoyable. The atmosphere inside these high ceilinged rooms with their ranks of sherry casks is always special, and there’s always something new to learn about the arts of sherry making. And sherry drinking too, as the tour finishes with a tasting of some of the bodega’s sherries and young wines.

After the tasting it was time for lunch. We started with a quick snack of the famous Sanlúcar speciality tortillitas de camarones (shrimp fritters) at the equally famous Casa Balbino on the main square before moving on to the Puerta de la Victoria just up the street.

sanlucar (2)sunset on the beach

No visit to a seaside town is complete without a trip to the beach, and in Sanlúcar to the Bajo de Guia (Pilot’s Wharf), where in days of old ships going up river would pick up a local pilot to guide them through the tricky channels to Seville. Every August the beach here plays host to what are claimed to be the oldest horse races in Spain. We missed those on this occasion, but still got to sip our sherry cocktails at Cafe Azul looking across the river and watching the fishing boats heading back to the unloading quay a little further up the river. Sanlúcar, and especially the bars along the Bajo, is famous for its prawns, so after cocktails we headed to Casa Bigote for a sample.

I could happily have spent the rest of the waning afternoon sitting around looking at the peaceful view, but it was time to head back to the bus, and home to Seville.

Antequera | Day Trip

Most of you will be familiar with the names of the major cities and tourist destinations of Andalucia, even if you have never been to them yourself – Seville, Granada, Cordoba, Malaga, and probably Cadiz, Ronda and Marbella. But this region of Spain is full of less well-known towns and cities with their own charm, place in history, culture and things to see and do. So hands up if you’ve heard of Antequera, and a gold star if you can point to it on the map.

centre of andaluciaplaque in Plaza San Sebastian

For the rest of you, Antequera is the small city that is officially the centre of Andalucia (there’s a plaque in the Plaza San Sebastian), owing much of its importance to being at the crossroads (and crossrailways) of Seville, Malaga, Granada and Cordoba. This means that it’s easy to get to from any of these places, either by car or by train, compact enough to see on a day trip, and interesting enough to be worthwhile making the effort.

Antequera’s most important monument and tourist attraction is undoubtedly the Alcazaba, the Moorish fortress built on a steep hill on the southern edge of the town in the 13th century to protect the city from the Christians. After the city was conquered by the Christians in 1410 it served a similar purpose, only in reverse. Take the audio guided tour to learn about the history of the site (which goes back to Roman times), which although a bit hokey, featuring the voice of the prince who led the Christian forces, is still a mine of interesting history and anecdote. One of my favourite things, though, was watching the city being gradually revealed below me as I climbed the winding streets that lead up to the fortress. The strangely shaped mountain that you can see from up here just outside the town is the Peña de Los Enamorados (Lovers’ Rock), where two young lovers from rival Moorish clans are supposed to have thrown themselves to their deaths while being pursued by the girl’s father.

antequera from castleview of Antequera from the Alcazaba

The other thing you’ll notice is the profusion of churches and other large religious and civil buildings (look especially for the Golden Angel on top of the tower of San Sebastian, which is more or less invisible from ground level) for which the city is rightly noted. Most of them date from the period of prosperity that followed the fall of Granada and the discovery of America by Columbus (both in 1492). We discovered that opening times for these seem to be rather limited and random, but on any walk through the town centre you’ll discover at least a couple that you can go into, enough to give you a taster.

You should also make a point of visiting the Antequera Museum, one of the largest in Andalucia, which covers every aspect of the history and culture of the town. Find it in the Palacio Najera in the Coso Viejo Square.

If you have a bit more time you might want to visit the dolmens (burial mounds) of Viera and Menga, which are around 4,000 years old, and the most ancient evidence for the presence of people in this part of Spain, and the nature reserve of El Torcal, famous for its unique limestone rock formations.

porrathree versions of porra at Arte de Cozina

Antequera is also the home of the mollete (a soft flat bread roll), and porra (a local variant of the more famous salmorejo). For a great breakfast of toasted molletes or churros try Cafe La Fuerza near the bullring. You can find good traditional tapas at Rincón de Lola near Plaza Coso Viejo, and 5sentidos (recently opened by former Lola chef) offers trendy tapas, including a spicy Bloody Mary with cockles. At Arte de Tapas and Arte de Cocina (tapas bar and restaurant respectively), the menus feature revivals of old recipes, some dating back to medieval times, and chef Charo Carmona will also give you the recipes for you to try them at home. The tasting menu at Arte de Cozina is spectacular but be sure to book ahead.

Cordoba | Day Trip from Seville

After Seville and Granada, Cordoba is probably the most famous of the romantic Andalucian cities of southern Spain. More than a thousand years ago it was the capital of the caliphate of Spain and one of the most important cultural centres in Europe, with a complex heritage of art and learning derived from the Moors, Jews and Christians, who lived here with a degree of religious tolerance remarkable for its time. You can still see this heritage in Cordoba today.

At this time of year especially, many of the city’s patios and alleys are filled with a myriad of flowers in brightly coloured pots. No visit to Cordoba would be complete without a visit to the symbol of the city, the Mezquita (the Grand Mosque, which is now a cathedral), with its vistas of horseshoe arches that entrance the eye, and an atmosphere of tranquillity despite the number of visitors. Also nearby are the Alcázar of the Christian kings and the Roman bridge across the river, which is still in use.

Between the cathedral and the remaining stretch of the western wall is the old Jewish quarter, a neighbourhood of narrow winding streets and courtyards full of mementoes of the Jewish presence here. You can visit the old synagogue, the Sephardi house and the zoco, or market, where you can find some of the traditional artesan shops selling the silver jewellery and leather goods for which Cordoba is famous.

Take time out to enjoy some of the traditional food, too. Cordoba is the home of salmorejo, the thick tomato soup often served with a garnish of jamon, of the flamenquin (rolled pork and cheese fried in a coating of breadcrumbs), and of fried eggplant with a sweet cane syrup sauce.

You can take a day trip from Seville to Cordoba by bus, with an Andalsur tour guide to take you to the Mezquita, and through the historic centre of Córdoba. Included: transfer by bus, entrance tickets and tour guide. Day trips from Seville are available every day and you can book a Cordoba city tour together with your Seville veoapartment.

Jerez – Xèréz – Sherry (and Horses)

This week we’re going to take a look at what’s going on in and around Jerez, which can be easily reached from Seville by train or by car, and makes a great destination for a day out. As we all know, Jerez de la Frontera (to give it its full name) is the centre of the Sherry region, and is also world-famous for its horses. Not surprisingly, both of these figure prominently in the Jerez Spring Fair, La Feria del Caballo, which this year is between May 11 and May 18, immediately following the Seville Fair.

feriaFeria del Caballo in Jerez de la Frontera

The Jerez fair is probably the oldest of Andalucia’s horse fairs, with roots going back to the 13th century, and it’s also my favourite. For a start it’s held in a pretty public park, Parque González Hontoria, rather than a glorified parking lot like many other fairs. There’s more space, the great majority of the casetas, including those of the big sherry houses, are open to the public, and the whole thing has a more relaxed, almost genteel, feel to it. The horse and carriage parades are fabulous, even for non-horsy people like me, and for the aficionado there is a commercial horse show and market, Equisur, alongside the main fair. And if you do want a bit more noise and excitement there’s always the nearby Calle del Infierno (Hell Street) with all the familiar fairground attractions.

After Jerez, it’s the turn of the second of the sherry towns, El Puerto de Santa María, where the Feria de Primavera and Vino Fino runs from May 21 to May 26. As well as the fair, try and fit in a visit to one of the old bodegas, which are fascinating places.

sanlucar bartapas bar with sherry casks in Sanlucar de Barrameda

It’s immediately followed by the last of the sherry towns, Sanlucar de Barrameda, whose Feria de Manzanilla kicks off at midnight on May 27 and lasts until June 1. Apart from the usual “fun-of-the-fair”, including horses, bullfights and manzanilla sherry, Sanlucar is also a seaside town with a nice beach, a traditional central square with lots of restaurants, and a small but historically important old town, the Barrio Alto.

To while away the time in between you might like to pay a visit to the Vinoble International Exhibition of Noble Wines,  a biennial event in Jerez for fortified, dessert and sweet wines, this year running from May 25-27. This coincides with Jerez being named the European Wine City for 2014 and is the premier international event of its kind, and apart from local producers also attracts exhibitors from around the world. Have fun and find out about some unusual and excellent wines at the same time. To make it a real win-win, the venue is the  Alcazar de Jerez, a stunning combination of Moorish fortress, mosque, palace and gardens.

vinoble 2014

Last, but not least, if all this has whetted your appetite for all things sherry, June 2 to 8 is International Sherry Week, with sherry events both locally and in 20 countries around the world. There are over a hundred events in Spain alone so have a look at the website for those taking place in and around Seville.

Seville | The Sherry Triangle

Deep in the southwest of the magical kingdom of Spain lies a mysterious region known to its intrepid explorers as the Sherry Triangle. Unlike its Bermudan namesake, however, it is not most famous for things that disappear (though people venturing in have been known to never emerge again), but for what comes out of it.

Different layers of barrels are used for blending older and younger wines

Different layers of barrels are used for blending older and younger wines

Now, right now you may be thinking – Sherry? That’s that dark, overly sweet stuff that Grandma serves up on Christmas day, isn’t it? Well, yes… and then again, no. Sherry is actually any wine made in the Sherry region (officially the area regulated by the commission that oversees the production and quality control of wines labelled Jerez-Xeres-Sherry), a roughly triangular area between the towns of Jerez, Sanlúcar de Barrameda and Puerto de Santa Maria, that produces some of the world’s most complex and unique wines.

Wine has been produced here at least since Roman times, and has seen many ups and downs in its quality and popularity since then, but it’s currently having something of a renaissance, not only in Spain, but also in other European markets. The English, in particular, have had a long love affair with sherry that dates back to Elizabethan times, when it was known as sack (probably from the Spanish verb sacar, meaning “to take out”) and was referred to by Shakespeare in several of his plays.

Almost all sherries are made from the palomino variety of grape, which is particularly well suited to the triangle’s light chalky soil, the albariza, though sweet dessert sherries may be made wholly or partly from Pedro Ximenez or Muscatel. After fermentation, the wine is fortified, and then may be aged under a layer of yeasts, called flor (making fino or manzanilla sherries), or exposed to the air (oloroso sherry), or both (amontillado and palo cortado sherries), in a system of barrels known as a solera, in which wines of different ages are blended together.

Different types of sherry from dry (left) to sweet (right)

Different types of sherry from dry (left) to sweet (right)

Most sherries are exceptionally dry, and are an excellent accompaniment to the famous Spanish hams and cheeses (and almost anything else!), and there is no gastronomic experience more quintessentially Spanish than sitting in a traditional style bar somewhere in southern Spain, eating jamon with a manzanillo or fino sherry. If you haven’t tried it yet, put it on your to-do list immediately.

If you’re already an aficionado, or just interested in wines, you might like to take a day trip to Jerez, and tour one of sherry bodegas, where you can learn more about how it’s made and some of the traditions that have grown up around it. You can find a list of bodegas that give tours through the Jerez Tourism board.