We elected to spend a couple of days in the city of Jerez – located about an hour south of Sevilla – because of two unique attractions. It’s home to the Fundación Real Escuela Andaluza del Arte Ecuestre (Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art) and Bodegas Fundador, one of the oldest sherry-producing wineries in the world.
Getting to Jerez from Tavira is a challenge for a couple of reasons. First, no train service, and it’s a long, complicated bus trip. So we have arranged in advance for a private driver for the trip from Faro (where we will return the rental car) to Jerez. As you might expect, it’s a little pricey but hopefully worth it this one time.
The second challenge is meeting up with our driver Marco at the Faro airport. We have agreed on a pick up location in advance, but he’s nowhere to be found at the appointed hour. Attempts to call are unsuccessful. Once again, we luck out and just happen to meet another driver Paolo from the same company who hasn’t been able to locate his passengers (coincidentally another party named William). He goes out of his way to contact the office, who then passes along the information to Marco, and it all works out eventually. The trip goes smoothly, and we make it to Jerez just fine. (Not sure if things turned out as well for Paolo’s group.)
We check into our small B&B called La Fonda Barranco, located in the heart of historic downtown Jerez.
Immediately upon arriving at the B&B, we ask Alejandro at the front desk where we can purchase a new mobile phone SIM card that will work in Spain, thinking it’s a quick and easy errand. Well no, not today (Wednesday), at least not downtown, because of Semana Santa activities, so stores are already closed and will remain so for the next two days, which are bank holidays. Alejandro comes to our rescue, driving us in his personal car to the large Carrefour store outside the downtown core when his shift ends so that we can get what we need. So far, we’re really liking Jerez!
Semana Santa (Holy Week)
Our introduction to Semana Santa traditions in Andalusia is intense. A few days before our visit, we receive an urgent email message from the B&B:
Once we arrive at the B&B around 3 pm, Alejandro provides an in-depth orientation to Semana Santa traditions and symbolism in general and to Jerez activities specifically. Three processions are scheduled for tonight, all of which will pass through the cathedral, which is just a three minute walk from our hotel.
We venture out for a very late lunch/very early dinner, and of course we’re the only people in the restaurant, but the food is outstanding. The caprese salad includes ham, which we will soon learn is ubiquitous throughout Andalusia. We also have our first authentic paella, and it’s excellent once we get used to the heavily salted taste.
On the way back to the B&B, we stop to take in the sights and sounds of the first Semana Santa procession of the evening. According to Alejandro, this particular brotherhood has already been marching from their home church for hours and will finish in the wee hours of tomorrow morning – about 12 hours total. It’s a sight to behold!
Royal Equestrian School
Established in 1973, the Royal Equestrian School is dedicated to the preservation and promotion of purebred Spanish horses. In addition to extensive educational and training activities, two museums are located on the grounds – the Equestrian Art Museum and the Horse Carriage Museum, but the highlight for most visitors is Cómo Bailan los Caballos Andaluces (How the Andalusian Horses Dance), a live exhibition performed only on Tuesdays and Thursdays at noon. Advertised as “authentic equestrian ballet with choreographies . . . , genuine Spanish music and full XVIII century costumes,” it sells out well in advance, which is bad news for us.
We tried to purchase tickets online, but our U.S. credit cards were not accepted (this is a recurring theme that we don’t know how to solve) on the website. Our only option is to show up at the on-site ticket booth tomorrow and hope we can score last minute seats.
We arrive early, and though we’re not the first in line, we manage to snag two seats. Great location, too – the equivalent of the 50 yard line! It’s about 90 minutes until show time, so we walk around the beautiful grounds and visit the interesting equestrian museum, where we could easily spend more time. No photos allowed in the museum, but here are a few shots taken prior to the performance.
Unfortunately for our blog, photos and videos are also not allowed during the performance, and the rule is strictly enforced. The 90-minute show is beautiful and inspiring – well worth the visit to Jerez! Click on this link for program excerpts.
I’ve never tasted sherry and don’t know anything about it, but since we’re here within the sherry triangle of Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa María, and Sanlúcar de Barrameda, it’s the perfect time to learn. Jerez has numerous options for tours and tastings, and we opt for Bodegas Fundador, which is nearby and recommended by Pablo at the B&B.
Fundador, established in 1730, is the oldest producer of sherry wine in Jerez as well as the first producer of sherry brandy in Spain. We learn about both. The tour is conducted in English, and our guide is knowledgeable and enthusiastic. In a nutshell, sherry is wine made from white grapes that have been fortified with alcohol during the aging process. Sherry brandy, on the other hand, goes through a distillation process. At Fundador, both sherry and brandy are aged in American oak barrels painted black.
After the tour, we gather in the tasting room for samples of both sherry and brandy. We compare travel notes with Steve and Stephanie, a friendly Australian couple with whom we enjoy a lively conversation. Before leaving, we purchase a bottle of sherry for consumption during our time in Spain.
A Few More Photos from Jerez
We packed a lot into our quick and busy visit to Jerez, but it’s time to move on. Tomorrow – a short drive to Tarifa.
Initial Observations from Spain
Spain is one hour ahead of Portugal, and adjusting to the local time means it’s easier to sleep in, because sunrise is around 8 am. Sunset is around 9 pm, so it stays light much later than what we’re used to this time of year at home.
So far, we notice that fewer people understand and speak fluent English here than in Portugal. It appears that our rudimentary knowledge of Spanish will be tested during our visit.