Sherry and Flamenco
Puerto de Santa Maria is one of the three towns that form Andalusia’s Sherry Triangle (the other two are Jerez de la Frontera and Sanlúcar de Barrameda). Here, Spain’s famous fortified wine, sherry, has been produced for centuries.
A Short History
Hominids, ancient ancestors of humans, first arrived in Spain approximately 1.2 million years ago. Neanderthals were in nearby Gibraltar 50,000 years ago. 8,000 years ago, tribes from northern Africa settled in the region. In 1100 BC, the Phoenicians built the port city of Cadiz. Later, the Carthaginians ruled southern Spain, followed by a 700 year Roman rule.
El Puerto de Santa Maria was conquered by north African Moors in 711 AD. In 1260 Alfonso X of Castille drove out the Moors for the Spanish Crown.
Christopher Columbus visited the city prior to his first voyage to the New World and subsequently sailed from El Puerto on his second New World journey.
Wine has been made in Spain for over 3,000 years. But, it was the Moors who introduced distillation to Spain, the key innovation in the Sherry making process.
Distilled wine spirit, called destilado, is added to the wine which is then added to barrels, where it is aged and some of the liquid evaporates. As the sherry evaporates, some younger sherry is added, a process that continues until the desired age is reached.
After Sir Francis Drake sacked Cadiz in the 16th century, he brought sherry back to England and its popularity took off. British and Irish families founded sherry bodegas in Spain which is why you will find sherry labels with very un-Spanish names like Osborne.
Many sherry bodegas offer tours in English. Be sure to call ahead. But, the best way to sample sherry might be visiting one of the many sherry and tapas bars who offer glasses of sherry served straight from the barrel.
Lots of people travel to southern Spain for the warm weather and beaches. But, most go to the Costa del Sol on the Mediterranean side of Andalucía. The Costa del Sol is beautiful but also incredibly crowded.
Puerto de Santa Maria and Cadiz on the Atlantic Ocean side of the coast, while still popular, is much less crowded. You won’t find the huge resorts of the Costa del Sol in Puerto de Santa Maria, but that also means you find a hotel for a reasonable price.
The best beach is Playa de la Muralla in Puerto Sherry. It hugs a small crescent along the shore and there are several good places to eat nearby. My favorite is Blanca Paloma. They have a spectacular view of the Bay of Cadiz. There’s a bigger beach across the Guadalupe River and camping near the beach at Las Dunas de San Anton.
Or, take a trip to Cadiz. People refer to Cadiz as an island, but it’s really a peninsula connected to the mainland by a bridge. As such, you might be tempted to drive or take the bus to Cadiz. Don’t! There’s a wonderful catamaran, Bahia Cadiz that sails from Puerto de Santa Maria to Cadiz. And it’s cheap, about $3.
Upon arrival, you’ll be accosted by taxi drivers and bus tour operators. Avoid them and keep walking. Cadiz is small and you won’t get lost. Keep the water to your right and you’ll eventually see Baluarte de la Candelaria, a 17th century fortress. Continue along the shore to Parque Genovés for more spectacular views. Further on is the Santa Catalina Castle. While it looks like it was built in 17th century, the castle is actually a 20th century reproduction. We thought we had stumbled onto a set from the movie El Cid.
Unlike other parts of Spain where the parks can be dusty and unkempt, there are several in Cadiz that are wonderful for a stroll. We happened upon a wedding near a park in Cadiz. All the women dressed in their finest clothes with flowers in their hair and the men in their suits, we watched the procession for several minutes.
If you’ve come to Cadiz for the beaches, there are several good ones to choose from. La Caleta beach is small but the best known. Remember Halle Berry in her bikini in Die Another Day? That was filmed at La Caleta.
La Victoria is one of the biggest and busiest beaches, but also a lot of fun because of the beach sports and nightlife. Santa Maria del Mar is a better choice for families with children.
Foodie Puerto de Santa Maria
Pizza on a Vespa
Puerto de Santa Maria has several high end restaurants like Aponiente where the Groundswell menu goes for 220€ per person plus another 90€ for wine. But, the thing to do is walk along Ribera de Marisco and sample seafood for several restaurants. The shellfish is incredibly fresh, coming from the local markets scattered along the waterfront.
If seafood isn’t your thing, Blanca Paloma has a second location inland from Ribera de Marisco. What they say about the Spanish is true. They eat dinner late. Go out at 8 o’clock and you’ll be dining with tourists. 9 is the earliest you’ll see a local. We saw families with young children coming in to dine at Blanca Paloma after 11pm on a weeknight.
We were mesmerized by the pizza delivery operation. Young men on vespas zipped in and out of the restaurant’s parking lot, picking up six or eight boxes before tearing off again, quicker than an Indy car at a pit stop. They were still going strong well after midnight.
If you go to Blanca Paloma be sure to try the crescentina. It’s a lightly fried dough topped with greens and raw vegetables and maybe some cheese. I’ve never seen it anywhere else and it’s divine in its simplicity and subtlety.
Nowadays you can find tapas, the famous small plates of food, in any town in Spain. But, tapas originated in southern Spain as a way to increase alcohol sales. Salty meats and snacks were served covering the glass of sherry to keep out fruit flies. These salty snacks made patrons thirsty who, in turn, ordered more sherry. While some tapas places may set out some olives or other small snacks gratis, at most tapas bars you will be charged by the plate.
Cool, funky, quirky, and delicious-that’s Bespoke, one of the best tapas joints in El Puerto. Their chef doesn’t stay tied to traditional recipes; instead creating innovative tapas along with popular favorites. And perhaps best of all, they have lots (and lots) of sherry choices.
There is also excellent tapas at El Faro de Cadiz. They also have an upscale restaurant next door, but the tapas bar is where you want to be, jammed in with the locals. La Candela has attractive décor to go with their top-notch tapas. The focus on local and fresh ingredients makes La Candela one of the top places in Cadis for tapas. Quirky and small La Sorpresa has been in business since 1956. Peppers, olives, tomatoes, garlic, and, of course, tuna. Big plus for the sherry served from barrels.
Jerez de la Frontera
Jerez de la Frontera, commonly shortened to Jerez (Spanish for Sherry), is the largest city in the province of Cadiz, and the birthplace of flamenco. As such, Jerez hosts the annual Flamenco Festival from the end of February until the beginning of March. The finest flamenco artists from around the world meet in Jerez to perform during the 2 ½ week celebration.
Jerez is also home to the Andalusian Centre of Flamenco, a cultural center and museum. Flamenco artifacts from the center’s collection are on display and videos of flamenco are regularly shown. In addition, scholars of flamenco and Andalusian culture can study the extensive archives. This is a great spot to go and ask about upcoming flamenco performances in Jerez.
Don Antonio Chacón Cultural Centre, named after the famous singer, is one of the best places to see flamenco in the city, although shows are not regularly scheduled. Peña Flamenca Los Cernícalos also often has shows on Saturdays. For regularly scheduled flamenco gigs, seek out Tabanco el Pasaje. The cramped bar hosts shows every Thursday through Sunday and the tapas is top notch.
Speaking of tapas, Jerez has a unique kind of bar called a Tabanco. You’ll see tabancos in other towns in Andalucía, but in Jerez, they’re everywhere. They’re kind of a cross between a tapas bar and a wine shop. You’ll find plenty of tapas and sherry served out of barrels. But customers can also buy jugs of sherry to take home. Tabanco Plateros, where the seating spills out on to the sidewalk, and Tabanco a la Feria, with its incredibly cheap drinks and tapas, are two tabancos to try, but there are dozens and dozens to choose from. That’s what is great about tapas and tabancos. If one place doesn’t strike your fancy, move on to the next and you’re only out a couple of bucks for a plate and a drink.
The Moors were driven from Spain 800 years ago, but some remnants of Moorish history remain. One of the most interesting is the Alcazar of Jerez de la Frontera, a castle built by the Moors about 1,000 years ago. The mosque in the castle is the only one left of the eighteen that once dotted Jerez. Climbing to the top of the castle gives great views of the city, but the highlight is the large garden in the courtyard laid out in pleasant geometrical designs.
And, for an extra couple of bucks, you can see the city projected onto a circular table in the castle. Two large lenses have been mounted atop the castle. They are maneuvered manually to reflect live images from the city below. It’s an odd and exhilarating experience to watch as cars whizz by and minute details of buildings in Jerez come into crystal clear focus.
Andalusia is the home of flamenco, the folk music and dance of southern Spain. Almost every city in Spain has flamenco performances, but to get the authentic experience, see it performed in Andalusia. Larger venues host flamenco, but we saw a sign tacked up that advertised a show at a small bar. Actually, it looked more like a low rent rec room than a bar. Chairs were set up in front of a makeshift stage and an enthusiastic crowd of what seemed like family and friends of the performers filled the room.
Several performers, each of varying skill levels, took their turn and received riotous applause from the partisan audience. They were all quite emotional in their interpretation, just as you would want to see.
At the back of the room was a busy bar. They were serving only two drinks; soda and Tinto de verano (red wine of summer). Called tinto for short, the drink is a combination of red wine and lemon lime soda. It’s a sort of simple sangria that the locals in southern Spain drink.
The wine is of no particular vintage; various bottles from Spanish vineyards were opened and mixed together with no reluctance in the same glass. This is not a drink to be lingered over but a summer drink to quench one’s thirst.
1 part red wine
1 part lemon soda (La Casera is the favored brand in Spain, 7 Up or Sprite mixed with carbonated water will do as well)
Serve over lots of ice and garnish with a lemon slice
· White wine can be substituted for red wine
· Rose wine can be used with lemon or orange soda
· Orange soda can be substituted for the lemon soda
· Rum is sometimes added to the Tinto
· Cola is said to be sometimes substituted for the soda. This is called calimocho.
Seville has the closest international airport serving most of Europe and the UK.
There is bus service throughout the area and a ferry runs to Cadiz (much more scenic than the bus). There’s also a bike service. Uber isn’t available but there are plenty of taxis. If you’re planning to road trip to other small towns, a car might be a good idea.
Index of Things to Do in Puerto de Santa María and the Sherry Triangle
Bodega Gutierrez Colosia
Sherry bodega. No reservations required for the tour. English tours usually at 11:15 weekdays and 1 pm Saturdays (check with bodega to confirm). Flamenco show available for extra charge.
Avenida de la Bajamar, n40, El Puerto de Santa María, Spain 11500
The most famous sherry bodega. English tours at 11am. Reservations required.
Calle Fernan Caballero 7, 11500, El Puerto de Santa Maria, Spain
Bahia Cadia Catamaran
Ferry from Puerto de Santa Maria to Cadiz. Quicker and much more scenic than the bus.
Las 7 Esquinas
Flamenco artists often perform. Reasonably priced tapas
Calle Jesus Nazareno 6, 11500, El Puerto de Santa Maria, Spain
Peña Flamenca Tomás El Nitri
Flamenco shows in El Puerto.
C/ Diego Niño, 1, El Puerto de Santa María, Spain
Castillo de San Marcos
800 year old castle built on the site of a mosque. The Caballero family owns the castle and has a winery next door.
Plaza Alfonso X El Sabio, El Puerto de Santa Maria, Spain
Jerez Flamenco Festival
Annual 2 ½ week festival in Jerez from late February through early March. Beware, prices, especially for hotels, spike during this period.
Andalusian Centre of Flamenco
Cultural center and museum dedicated to the art of flamenco in Jerez. Stop by and ask about local shows.
Plaza de San Juan 1, Jerez de la Frontera, Spain
Don Antonio Chacón Cultural Centre
Good place to see flamenco, but shows are not regularly scheduled. Best to ask at the Andalusian Centre of Flamenco about any upcoming performances.
Plaza Plaza San Juan, Jerez de la Frontera, Spain
Peña Flamenca Los Cernícalos
Flamenco shows on Saturday (usually).
Calle Sancho Vizcaíno, 25, 11401 Jerez de la Frontera, Cádiz, Spain
Alcazar Jerez de la Frontera
1,000 year old Moor castle and garden in Jerez.
Alameda Vieja, Jerez De La Frontera, Spain
Jerez Free City Tour
Walking tour of Jerez.
Plaza del Arenal, Tourist Office, 11403 Jerez De La Frontera, Spain
Index of Food & Drink in Puerto de Santa María and the Sherry Triangle
Funky tapas bar near the ferry terminal. Lots of sherry choices as well.
Calle Bajamar 36, 11500, El Puerto de Santa Maria, Spain
Pizzeria with two locations. The Puerto Sherry restaurant has outdoor seating with sweeping ocean views. It is a short walk to one of the best beaches in the area, Playa de la Muralla. Their second location, in Puerto de Santa Maria, has a more extensive menu. Get their amazing fried dough “crescentina.”
La Bodeguilla del Bar Jamon
The most popular tapas place in El Puerto.
Calle Misericordia 5, 11500, El Puerto de Santa Maria, Spain
El Faro de Cadiz
Excellent tapas in Cadiz.
Calle San Felix 15, 11002 Cadiz, Spain
Tapas made with fresh local produce.
3 Calle Feduchy 11001 Cádiz España – 11001 Cadiz, Cádiz
Great tapas with sherry served from wooden barrels.
Calle Arboli 4, 11005 Cadiz, Spain
Fantastic and cheap vegan restaurant in Cadiz.
Calle de San Antonio Abad n0 5, 11005 Cadiz, Spain
Tabanco el Pasaje
Cramped and lively bar with excellent tapas and regular flamenco shows. In Jerez.
Calle Santa Maria 8, 11402 Jerez De La Frontera, Spain
Sherry served from the cask at this adorable Tabanco in Jerez.
Calle Algarve,35, 11403 Jerez De La Frontera, Spain
Tabanco a la Feria
Cheap drinks and tapas.
Calle Algarve,35, 11403 Jerez De La Frontera, Spain
Tapas and restaurant where locals hang out.
Calle Circo 12-14 | La Misma, 11405 Jerez De La Frontera, Spain
Index of Shopping in Puerto de Santa María and the Sherry Triangle
Joyeria Antonio Collantes
Original, high-end jewelry.
Calle Isabel La Catolica 9, 11004 Cadiz, Spain
Alandalus Club – Gourmet Selection
Deli and store featuring organic and local products.
Calle del Marques de La Ensenada 13, 11008 Cadiz, Spain
Index of Places to Stay in Puerto de Santa María & the Sherry Triangle
Hotel Duques de Medinaceli
Converted 18th century palace.
Plaza Jazmines 2, 11500, El Puerto de Santa Maria, Spain
Monte Puertatierra Hotel
Modern, trendy hotel on the main drag in Cadiz.
Avenida Andalucia 34, 11008 Cadiz, Spain
Hotel La Catedral
Prime location opposite the cathedral. Rooftop terrace and pool with a large ground level indoor and outdoor bar.
Plaza Catedral 9, 11005 Cadiz, Spain
Former home of the famous Garvey winemakers. The hotel overlooks Plaza de Rafael Rivero.
Calle Torneria 24, 11403 Jerez De La Frontera, Spain
Hotel Casa Grande
Elegant, if dated, hotel with a lovely patio and roof terrace.
Plaza Angustias 3, 11402 Jerez De La Frontera, Spain