Andalusia and The Sherry Triangle. Sanlucar, Jerez and El Puerto de Santa Maria, Cadiz.

Apologies for the lack of blog action dear followers. Been a crazy couple of weeks! After finally (and reluctantly) dragging our backsides out of tranquil Portugal, our home in the sand dunes since October, we flung ourselves headlong into the vibrant mayhem of old Andalusia. From beach to bonkers basically!

We had a slight hiccup on the way out as the Vets Surgery at Vila Real de Santo Antonio was closed and we needed to collect Dylan’s Titre Test Certificate and get his Passport stamped. The website didn’t mention that they were on holiday for carnival (big deal in these parts). The Post Office was also shut, same reason. We had to top up our toll card as we had received a text to say we’d exceeded our credit. Bugger! Best laid plans and all that. We’d only managed to do about 6 miles to Vila Real!! Another point we’d overlooked was that we were going into Andalusia just in time for one of their biggest holidays of the year, ‘Andalusia Day’. Even more of a bugger as our chosen site was likely to be rammed with Spanish and we were going to arrive a day later than planned. Much chuntering but not a lot we could do but sit it out until the next day. Rather than hang around in Vila Real we drove on a couple of miles to the more scenic Castro Marim, last town before the bridge into Spain. It’s a great free Aire and a super spot. The castle there is well worth a look. Some impressive medieval torture equipment, murder most horrid! We found a medieval themed ‘Taberna’ where we ate basic but yummy tapas and drank beer out of stone copas. You were invited to dress up in authentic costumes for photos. Believe it or not we declined! It was too darned hot! Next day we nipped back into Vila Real and got the necessities sorted. Janine and Graeme drove on ahead to reserve pitches at Sanlucar de Barrameda. The first point in the Cádiz Province of Spain’s ‘Sherry Triangle’. Farewell once again to beautiful, big hearted Portugal and Hola Espagna!. I really love this part of Spain. The landscape changes as you cross the bridge and lose an hour due to the time difference. Suddenly it’s all rolling hills and vineyards. The site we’d booked looked pleasant enough, 3km away from the town and right on a bus route. Just a nip away, €1.10 each way or €8.00 in a taxi. There were no hookups available as they had all been taken by the Spanish families by the time we arrived. Fair enough really, it was their Fiesta. Guess my hair will have to look like a stork’s nest for the duration! We were lucky to get a pitch at all. Always check holiday dates for the Country you are visiting!! I’m normally so on the ball with all that shizzle. I’ve become complacent, too much lazy living!! The weather was warm and sunny so it mattered not. The site is just a few strides away from a beach. It’s at the mouth of the Guadalquivir River Estuary. Not the prettiest beach ever but great for walking the dog.

Sanlucar de Barrameda

Sanlucar itself is built on the side of the wide river with the Donana National Park on the opposite banks. You can take a boat cruise or an all-terrain vehicle trip and see wild horses, boar, flamingos,buzzards etc. It’s Europe’s largest wildlife Sanctuary. There are apparently still some big cats roaming around out there too. Book at the Fabrica de Hielo building opposite the river jetty. Take binoculars!!

This is the first Sherry town of our Spanish adventure and is famous for its Manzanilla. Its a pale, incredibly dry fino with an almost salty tang. It goes just perfectly with seafood. and Sanlucar is the best place for seafood in Andalusia. Most of the tapas served here are fishy based. Their speciality is the tortillita de camarones, shrimp fritter. Delicious. The best seafood places if you want a meal rather than tapas are at the top end of town, the old Fishing District, ‘Bajo de Guia’ on the waterfront. Great views too. Good place to sit and watch the sun go down as the fleets of small fishing boats return with their catch. If you want tapas however, head into one of the various squares at the bottom of the hill below the former walled quarter. Some fantastic eating places and characterful old bars. There are several Bodegas to visit too. We chose the La Cigarrera in the old quarter. Interesting, enjoyable and we were able to sample their Manzanilla, Oleroso and Amontillado wines with slightly posher tapas!

Their carnival and Andalusia Day festivities lasted for almost a week. The entertainment was incredible. Top drawer! Every float was music themed, such talented singers, dancers and musicians. The costumes were out of this world. We were a little bit blown away. Just fabulous. Night times in the town were crazy, everybody joining in the celebrations, young and old alike. Fancy dress is encouraged. There was a wonderful atmosphere. The Spaniards really know how to party.

The site we stayed on, AC Sanlucar, is a short bike ride away from another lovely little seaside resort, Chipiona. It took us about 15 minutes to cycle there, all on an off road track. we found a good wildcamping spot too. One to return to. Fabulous beach for rock pooling.

We left the site after our booked 4 nights and went to wild camp on the river beach right on the edge of Sanlucar town. We didn’t feel like parting with the place just yet so we decided to hang around another couple of days. I wanted to visit the little market to buy Chorizo and Saffron AND I was allowed the plastic to go Birthday shopping (little birthday happy dance 💃). When we finally left, we had been to just about every bar, eaten a million different tapas (at least) and shopped til we dropped. Great time was had by all!!

Moving on then. Now for the most exciting bit, (drum roll please), my birthday destination choice and in my opinion, the most vibrant City in Spain. Are you ready lovely people for Jerez!!! I’m hugely giddy to be back here. Disappointed we couldn’t get in sooner as my dear friend and former work colleague (office partner in crime), Edgar, had been holidaying in Seville with his Partner Roman and had visited Jerez just a couple of days previously. Would have loved to have taken him to see the Flamenco etc! Oh my days, I just LOVE this town! Buzzing to be back! Anyway, as before, we stayed at La Morada, a secure Aire just outside the hub but right on the bus route, literally a 5 minute ride into town. Great Aire this and lovely people who runs it. Can’t do enough to help. You get sherry on arrival, what’s not to like!!I was itching to get cleaned up, do the laundry then hit the town for the afternoon Flamenco Show at El Pasaje. Janine and Graeme (aka Team GB) were equally enthusiastic! Let’s do this!

Jerez de la Frontera

Jerez is very typical ‘old’ Spain. It’s the home and heartland of Sherry, (hence the name derived from Xerez pronounced Sherrish by the Moors), and also of Spanish brandy. Lots of old money here. The outskirts are modern and quite ugly but don’t be put off. The town centre is full of character and charm. Incredibly beautiful bronze statues, fountains, palm lined squares and a number of Renaissance and Baroque palaces and churches. The architecture is simply amazing. The Alcazar with its Roman style bathhouse constructed in the twelfth century has been perfectly restored now, the gardens are a magnificent sea of colour. The eighteenth century cathedral of San Salvador is a mixture of Gothic and Renaissance styles. The freestanding bell tower was actually part of an earlier fifteenth century Mudejar castle. There are several Bodegas, many names you’ll recognise, Harvey’s, Sandeman etc., the biggest and most popular being the Tio Pepe Gonzalez Byass. It’s almost a small town all of its own, it’s huge! Well worth the entry fee. I would recommend the tasting ticket with tapas, it’s around €19 per head.

I just adore Flamenco. Spanish guitar, rhythmic clapping and stamping, flamboyant dance, passion, colour and just the sheer energy of it. It’s so dramatic! It really moves me. I can’t get enough. It makes my heart pound out of my chest. This place is the soul of it all ! The Gitano or Gypsy quarter is where the best musicians seem to hail from. In the white walled Barrio de Santiago, north of town. Not the safest place to wander around at night which is a shame as apparently the best music bars and clubs are here. It’s a bit like the Wild West.

The Flamenco Museum is interesting to visit and entry is free. Be sure to watch the short film. There are many traditional dress and shoe shops along the cobbled streets leading away from the former Palacio which houses the museum. I want shoes in every colour with ‘clicky heels’ and I’ll take the red castanets please!!

My favourite thing to do in Jerez is to hit the Tabancas. The back street atmospheric old bars serving Sherry straight from the barrel and rustic tapas, often with musicians playing afternoon and night. The dishes are inexpensive and traditional. Make sure you sample the chicharrones, ridiculously tasty bits of pork, the Rinones, (kidneys in sherry) and Rabo de Toro, (Oxtail). All just too yummy. They go very well with Cream (pronounced Crayem), a darker, medium-sweet Sherry. If you have a sweet tooth be sure to try the Pedro Ximenez too. Liquid raisins. You can pick up a map of the seven main Tabancas from Tourist Info. El Pasaje has live Flamenco daily at 2pm and 9pm. It gets packed so get there early!! we saw a few shows there. My favourite was a very talented young male dancer. He was totally fabulous. I actually cried. It took my breath away. Banderillas does better quality food and has a fab atmosphere. Do book ahead if you want a table rather than a seat at the bar.

As part of my birthday celebrations we booked tickets to see the Royal Andalusian Dancing Stallions. It was Greame’s birthday too, he and Janine were more than happy to come along. Do pre book via the website. It’s cheaper. We went to the afternoon show. Allow yourself time to visit the palace, museum and watch the horses training. It’s all interesting stuff and you really don’t have to be horsey. The show itself is magnificent. The animals are majestic. An incredible show. Again, I was reduced to tears. What a fantastic birthday week I’ve had. It was just great to have our two oldest friends with us to celebrate and they loved Jerez almost as much as I do. Thanks guys. You made it so special.

I didn’t want to leave! It’s been a total blast! Time was ticking on though and we still needed to see El Puerto de Santa Maria, the Port of Cadiz. We had also picked up a puncture so needed a couple of new front tyres fitted. Pablo at La Morada kindly fixed that up for us and we got it sorted en route. More expense but totally necessary.

Off we tootled, we had booked on to Las Dunas, an ACSI Campsite. We were happy to discover on arrival that our old mates, Kev and Annie, were also here. As we parked up, out of the blue more pals, Naim and Arlette from Jersey pulled in! Small world or what. Reunion drinks were called for! We’ve missed these guys! We booked in for 4 days. It’s a nice site with a beach opposite. Not exactly a beautiful beach as you are looking over at the City but clean nonetheless and the dog was happy. We got a good pitch amongst a group of extremely friendly Belgians. The weather was gorgeous. The town of Santa Maria was a short walk or cycle ride away. The old quarter is surprisingly beautiful. I really didn’t expect such a majestic Castle in this small town. We rode along the river and turned in just after the Catamaran dock. The thirteenth century castle, well Fort actually is built on the site of a Moorish watchtower and mosque. It’s turrets are unusual in that they bear inscriptions made by Alfonso X who built the castle proclaiming his devotion to the Virgin. El Puerto was renamed after her. Today the Castle is owned by the Luis Caballero Bodega. The great hall is stacked with sherry butts. Tasting Tours are interesting and worth every penny of the €10 entrance fee and you get to sample several of the wines produced including their excellent, rice dry, Fino. The Tourist Information building stands in the square opposite the castle, housed in one of the handsome palaces, Palacio de Aranibar. The main square Plaza de Espagna is fronted by the commanding Gothic Cathedral, Iglesias Mayor Prioral. We sat and had breakfast opposite whilst admiring the view. Do take time to explore inside. It’s pretty amazing. A few blocks south is the Plaza de Toros, the third largest bullring in Spain. It’s open to visitors. A couple of young wannabe Matadors were training when we arrived. Whilst I could never condone bull fighting, the history and tradition behind the sport fascinated me. This place has hosted all the great names. I thoroughly enjoyed our visit. Next stop was the Osborne Bodega. As you drive through Spain there are hundreds of huge black ‘Toros’, towering Bulls perched on hillsides. The Osborne symbol. They are the largest producers of Spanish Brandy. The Tapas Bar here was far more contemporary. Proper posh. A good tour. Different, more upmarket than we’d seen previously. Their Fino was lighter and slightly floral tasting. We bought brandy and fino to add to our ever-growing booze collection. We ate tapas afterwards at Bar Vicente, a very traditional and wonderful old place, steeped in history. Tried the pig cheeks, oh my days, so delicious!!

So far we are really impressed with El Puerto. It has a lovely vibe to it. Tomorrow we plan to take the Catamaran over to the City itself. Cadiz!

El Puerto de Santa Maria

The boat leaves from Muelle del Vapor in the Estuary of the River Guadalete. It’s around a 25 minute trip and costs €2.80 each way. You can take a train or bus if you prefer. We enjoyed the boat option. We were delayed slightly as a man in a protective white suit was busy disinfecting everything before we were allowed to embark. This was our first real sign of Covid 19 in Spain. The beginning of the end. We arrived in Cadiz just as the Tourist Information Office was barricading it’s doors. Whoa, this Corona business is hotting up. We were given a town map but told that all Museums and public buildings were now closed until further notice. Wake up world, this shit just got real. Feeling slightly deflated we got on with exploring Cadiz. It has a different feel. I would never find my way around here without a map although every road seems to lead back to the sea. There are so many narrow streets and alleyways leading to grand open squares full of flowers and street cafes. Crumbling but beautiful turreted buildings are painted in pastel colours. It has an air of mystique. Hard to explain but we all loved it. It feels old, very atmospheric. Like a step back in time. The shops were a bit more upmarket. Lots of beautiful shoes so ladies, take your pennies. Cadiz claims to be the oldest city in Europe. It is still one of Spain’s most prominent ports. We made our way to the market building and the Plaza de las Flores. It’s an absolute riot of colour, stall after stall of flowers. An amazing fragrance hangs in the air. The handsome pillared market building was teeming with everything from fresh fish. meat, cheese, wonderfully aromatic spices from Morocco, exotic teas and world beers. The foodie end had an array of outside tables and tapas takeaways. It was crazy busy with a lively vibe. Noisy and fun. We bought a selection of hot and cold dishes, beers and glasses of ice cold fino. The food was spot on, absolutely delicious. Really enjoyed it. After lunch we wandered over to see the cathedral. It’s huge and very grand. We unfortunately couldn’t get inside, another Corona closure, but I’m told it’s pretty spectacular. Right in the middle of town is a Roman Theatre which has been excavated and preserved. We only got a peak through the barriers sadly. Closed.

Our time here was running out quickly as the boat back to port was due. We had nowhere near finished with Cadiz and planned to return in a couple of days. That was not to be. The very next day saw a total, strictly enforced, lockdown in Spain. Movement was banned and we were stuck on site. Literally everything closed down except for supermarkets and pharmacies. Streets were sprayed daily with bleach. You were only allowed out for essential groceries, one person at a time. Beaches were cordoned off. We couldn’t even congregate in groups on the campsite (although we did get one last party in before Kev and Annie departed). Blimey. Never experienced anything quite like this. Police patrolled the town constantly to ensure everyone adhered. Hefty fines were handed out for non-compliance. Corona had well and truly arrived. We all hunkered down. The weather was glorious. Supplies here were plentiful. Guess there are worse places to be stuck. Our Eurotunnel crossing wasn’t booked until 9th of April. Then came the next blow. President Macron was closing the border into France. Portugal followed suit. Hotels and campsites started closing. We needed to get the flock outta Dodge. We found out that we would be allowed to cross the border with a government form of declaration basically saying we needed to get home. The campsite reception kindly printed us all a copy. We mapped the quickest route and set off. It was an eerie drive. The roads were empty apart from Motorhomes. Our first stop off near Caceres was fine. We had just pulled in for fuel when we noticed our travelling buddies and fellow Campsite Wardens, Nic and Stuart, just in front of us in the queue. Hey we got ourselves a convoy!! We got off to an early start next morning. We had intended to do around 280 miles. The first Aire we arrived at was unfortunately closed. And the next. And the next. We were getting a bit frazzled by now. This was really not fun. We pulled into a fuel station and had a rest and a bite of lunch. It was just after 2pm. We made the joint decision with Jan and Graeme to drive on and cross over into France before dark. Ten hours of driving that day. Nic and Stu and Jan and Graeme both received phone calls en route to say their jobs had gone. My mum had had a fall and I couldn’t get any care support out to her. This was a bad day. Anyway, we got over the border without issue. It felt better to be back on familiar territory. We headed for Soustons Plage Aire on the south west coast. Thankfully it was open and the tranquil shores of Lac Marin were a very welcome sight.

So that’s where we are at folks. Trying to sort out a Vets appointment for the Dog’s return passport treatment. Our crossing has been brought forward to the 31st of March. All campsites have closed in UK. It’s very tempting to just hide here until this nonsense is over as we now have nowhere back home to park the van. Tricky. On a plus note though, we are safe and have everything we need. For now.

It’s a hell of a situation World wide. You Brits need to take a lead from the rest of Europe. This is serious. People are dropping like flies out here. The issue is not so much lack of hospital beds now but not enough mortuary space. Bodies are being stored in churches. It’s horrendous. I shall leave you on that sobering note dear friends. Please, do the right thing. None of us have ever experienced a global disaster on this scale. Time to pull in the same direction and be better humans. Keep your loved ones safe. Do the social distancing thing. Hopefully next time we speak, we shall be back on British soil and this thing will be under control. In the meantime much love to you and yours. Virtual hugs and kisses. The best kind right now ❤️

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