We took the train from Seville to Cádiz, over on the Atlantic coast. We thought Cádiz, reputed to be the oldest continuously occupied city in Europe, would be worth an overnight visit.
Due to a silly little mix-up on our part, however, when we booked a hotel, we mistakenly selected the Province of Cádiz and wound up staying almost 40 kilometers (more than 20 miles) away from the City of Cádiz.
But what a fortuitous mistake this proved to be!
As we came to learn, the city we inadvertently had selected, located conveniently along the rail line between Seville and the City of Cádiz, was Jerez (sometimes spelled “Xeres”), also known as Jerez de la Frontera (“Jerez of the Frontier”).
Jerez is the sherry capital of the world, and an absolutely charming old city with a glorious past of its own.
It was only as the train pulled into the train station at Jerez, about two-thirds of the way between Seville and the City of Cádiz, that we suddenly realized this was the city where our hotel was located.
Yikes! Abruptly, we grabbed our bags and disembarked from the train.
After getting our bearings — and ascertaining with chagrin that we were still a long distance away from the City of Cádiz, our intended destination — we walked a little dispirited from the railroad station to our hotel.
Our impression along the way was that Jerez seemed like a nondescript town with little to recommend it.
Things began to look up when we arrived at our hotel, the Casa Grande, located on a grassy square, just on the fringe of the historical city center in Jerez. It was beautiful, pristine and charming, and the staff there welcomed us warmly. The lobby was bathed in natural light. Our room was quiet, cool and beautiful.
It was bright, mid-day, but we shut the shutters and took a short nap.
In keeping with our original plan, we then walked back to the Jerez rail station and took a train to Cádiz, thus completing the journey we had started earlier.
An Afternoon Tour of Cádiz
After arriving in Cádiz, we first took a tour bus down along the beachfront, south of the city center. The beach is lined with modern apartment buildings and hotels. It looks a little like Miami Beach. The beach itself, facing the Atlantic Ocean, was very pleasant. We had a light lunch (pricey by Spanish standards) at a restaurant on the beach.
Then, at approximately siesta time, we toured around by foot in the historical center of Cádiz. We started in the cathedral and then roamed the streets, heading north toward a sea wall and high cliffs looking north.
Other than the parks and beaches, the city was very, very quiet — a little too quiet.
By the time we finished our self-guided tour and took the train back to Jerez, we concluded that we would not miss much by not staying in Cádiz itself. An afternoon tour was enough.
Friday Night in Jerez
The proprietress at our hotel in Jerez was a nice German woman who has lived in Spain for much of her life. She seemed amused to realize how little about Jerez we seemed to know when we consulted with her about where to go that evening.
Our hostess explained that our hotel was located right on the fringe of the old historical center of Jerez, and suggested several sites for us to see.
The main thing she recommended, and the first place we went, was a tavern, the Tabanco El Pasaje where they serve sherry from wooden kegs. It is also a venue for Flamenco music performances. (Full disclosure: We did not stay for the Flamenco show. We were hungry for dinner, and we had already seen a Flamenco performance in Seville. But this tavern was clearly the place for authentic Flamenco music, which is indigenous to Andalusia and ancient in its origins.)
The atmosphere in the sherry tavern was very friendly, and the anticipation of live music added to the sense of community.
We really enjoyed our brief visit to Tabanco El Pasaje, before leaving for dinner, outdoors, on an old square nearby.
We enjoyed a wonderful dinner outside at a restaurant on an old square, after a fairly long wait for a table. The wait was pleasant, though. Until our table was ready, we sat at a counter near the kitchen, sipping wine and watching all the beautiful Andalusian-style meals being prepared and served. It was quite an operation.
Jerez, we observed, is a popular tourist destination, but we seemed to be the only Americans in town that night.
After we were seated at our table, we saw a stork perched high atop a building (pictured here), one of many storks we saw during our visit to Andalusia.
Carthusian Horse Breeding Farm
On Saturday morning, we took a taxi out to Yeguada de la Cartuja, a horse-breeding farm located for the past five centuries (that is, since before Columbus sailed) on lands belonging to an ancient monastery outside of Jerez.
The horses are a special breed of Andalusian horse known as Cartujano. For centuries, they were meticulously bred by the monks. Each horse has a documented lineage dating back hundreds of years. Lately the horse farm has been ceded to a non-profit organization that continues the breeding operations and offers tours and shows to the visiting public.
Our visit included a guided tour of the stables and breeding room where the mares are impregnated. The main event was a most wonderful show in which the horses, guided by trainers who literally cracked the whip to get their cooperation, demonstrated their high levels of training and skills.
The show culminated with the release into the arena of dozens of young colts, who ran about in close order under the guidance of a trainer. Even at a young age, you can see the pride the horses take in their disciplined performance.
One can sense at this show the pride Andalusia rightly takes in its horse culture, with a continuous history dating back to medieval times.
At the end of the show, the mares were released into the arena, and within seconds every colt found its own mother and cuddled next to her.
These are magnificent animals, exquisitely beautiful and remarkably well trained.
An hour or so after leaving the horse farm, after picking up our bags at the hotel, we returned to Jerez railroad station for the train back to Seville. From Seville, we were scheduled to take a short flight to Marrakesh, Morocco.
We enjoyed a final tapas meal in a cafe at the Jerez railroad station. The tapas there were as good as any we had in our month-long visit to Spain.
It seemed that every aspect of our experience in Spain only served to deepen our love for one another. And as we traveled, we came to know and appreciate more and more about Spain itself.
Surely no two lovers on a tour of Spain have taken greater joy in one another’s company, or in the countless charms of Spain and the Spanish people.