There's more to ancient Jerez than sherry and sunshine

PUBLISHED: 13:42 22 June 2007 | UPDATED: 14:34 07 September 2010

The luxurious Palmera Plaza hotel

The luxurious Palmera Plaza hotel

While most people go to Jerez to enjoy its famous sherries, Jonny Weeks finds there is more to the town than fine finos and lovely olorosos Mention the words Harvey s Bristol Cream to any of the locals in the charming Andalucian city of Jerez and, from

While most people go to Jerez to enjoy its famous sherries, Jonny Weeks finds there is more to the town than fine finos and lovely olorosos

Mention the words Harvey's Bristol Cream to any of the locals in the charming Andalucian city of Jerez and, from those who speak a line or two of English, you might invoke a wry smile.

Not that they object to the idiosyncrasies of foreign taste in this quaint quarter of southern Spain - it's just that they know so much more.

As the name indicates, Jerez de la Fontera is the historic home of sherry and boasts the finest vineyards in the world. But, if you're something of a novice like me, you probably won't know your finos from your olorosos.

A tasting trip to one of the city's respected sherry houses (bodegas) is therefore the perfect way to begin a holiday in Jerez. It offers you the chance to sample the various styles and discover how the ingredients were grown, barrelled, fermented and fortified with brandy in a delicate process lasting up to 40 years.

I started out at Bodegas Tradicion, a small bodega where vast, gloomy cellars are stacked to the rafters with vintage oak barrels. The host was only too pleased to supply me with glass after glass of his finest produce - namely, light aperitif-style finos and soft, nutty amontillados, many of which bore closer resemblance to luxurious white wines than I would have expected.

He then offered one or two toffee-flavoured olorosos and a glass of Pedro Ximenez, leaving my legs a little wonky and my young palate with an unwelcome sickly taste as I departed.

Fortunately for me, Jerez has much more to offer than sherry.

Couched 12km from the south west coast of Spain - less than an hour's drive from the bustling city of Sevilla and a 15-minute drive from the seaside - it is a relaxing and proudly traditional Spanish city, blanketed by warm, consistent daylight.

Cobblestones and narrow alleyways trickle through the compact shopping district where a small selection of boutiques and known retailers such as Mango, Zara and Sfera are interspersed with innumerable cafés.

On a roundabout to the north of the city centre stand a number of garishly bright sculpted horses, indicating the city's second big attraction - its proud tradition of equestrianism.

The Fundacion Real Escuela Andaluzia Del Arte Escuetre is the home of dozens of horses and professional riders whose flair and precision can be witnessed during daily 40-minute displays.

It's hard not to marvel at these displays. But you may question the necessity of making a horse march in diagonal lines and skip - yes, skip - on the spot for the sake of entertainment.

Staying at the renowned Prestige Palmera Plaza Hotel, a stone's throw from the equestrian school, allows you to enjoy all that Jerez has to offer in the comfort of five-star luxury.

Prestige is the only deluxe hotel in the city and is all the more inviting because of its proximity to the main streets and sights - just a leisurely 10-minute walk, to be precise.

Its four-storey lemon-coloured walls are set around a delightful, tropical courtyard. And, in various enclaves between the residential wings, you can find a tennis court, swimming pool, gymnasium and sauna. The double room I stayed in was comfortable although not entirely spacious or decadent. At least the faux balcony and French windows allowed me to bask in afternoon sunshine during a welcome siesta on the couch.

Dining at the hotel's restaurant, El Marques, in the evening proved to be an opportunity worth taking. It has developed an innovative sherry-complemented menu - a new glass with each course.

The meal portions were small but the quality and flavour excellent - although I felt there was a distinct lack of intimacy or atmosphere in the dining room which detracted somewhat from the experience.

Jerez is a moderately-priced taxi journey from several fine beaches which are certainly worth visiting for an afternoon or a day.

Alternatively, you may choose to stay in Jerez and play 18 holes at Sherry Golf Course.

The evening could then be spent at the striking cavernous lair that is Tablao del Bereber. This is a marvellous venue to go to for drinks and a meal, before it turns into a nightclub in the very early hours.

But be warned, the Flamenco performance I witnessed during dinner was truly bizarre - more camp theatre than sexually-charged dance.

A few days is all that is needed to enjoy Jerez - but therein is its beauty. A long-weekend trip is ideal and made simple by the frequency of budget flights from Gatwick to neighbouring Sevilla, or direct flights from Stansted to Jerez (the latter being far easier if you cannot spare additional time to stop off in Sevilla).

Few tourists stray into Jerez, meaning the sights and sounds of this unspoilt city can be absorbed without feeling as you're part of the British tourist herd.

It is a simple, peaceful place suitable for those with good taste.

And by the time you've sampled a glass or three of genuine Jerezian sherry, you too will be smiling knowingly along with the locals.

Jerez averages 300 sunny days per year with an average temperature of 17 degrees celsius.

Prices for a double room at Prestige Palmera Plaza range from 96 euros per night (room only) to 104 euros per night (with breakfast).

There are direct Ryanair flights from Stansted to Jerez. Alternatively, Clickair flies from Gatwick to Sevilla.

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