“Are you going to Seville?”
That’s the most-asked question we’ve had since we announced that Jerez was one of our destinations for Grantourismo. The fact that people are asking that question is one of the reasons that we are here in Jerez – a town we’re quickly growing very fond of.
When people think of Andalucía, it’s generally the ‘highlights’ that they’re thinking of. The guidebooks’ ‘Top 5’ destinations in southern Spain. You have Seville and the Giralda, Granada and the Alhambra and then Córdoba, Cádiz and Málaga. Don’t get us wrong, we’ve visited and love those places and would go back in a heartbeat.
But Grantourismo isn’t a greatest hits tour of the world. Although we are staying in some of the tourism Meccas such as Paris and New York, we don’t want to always be surrounded by guidebook-wielding tourists at every turn.
While it is possible to escape the hoards in cities like Seville, we wanted to visit places where not feeling like a tourist doesn’t involve the same amount of research as a PhD dissertation – places without the distraction of endless ‘must-do’ sights and activities. And Jerez is one of them.
Even during the Festival of Jerez, which is on at the moment, we’ve barely seen any people walking the streets with a map. There’s no overt commercialism about the festival either – even the box office is just a tiny window at the main venue.
Visitors return here year after year because of their interest in flamenco, the sherry or the beautiful Andalucían horses – or a combination of all three! The town is very well set up for tourism. Signs for the sherry route abound. There’s public Wi-Fi (with some strings). The town marches to its own idiosyncratic beat – one that tourists expecting a swathe of ‘tourist’ sights with opening hours will find as foreign and impenetrable as the complex rhythms of flamenco.
With a lack of artifice and layers, a dearth of ‘must-do’ sights and an easily walkable town (although it’s probably a whole lot easier when they’re not having the most rain ever recorded), superficially at least, it’s easier to get to live like locals here than say in Seville. While for many people Jerez isn’t a ‘Top 5’ destination – often relegated to a one-hour sherry stop or horse show on a day trip – for the visitor who wants to get under the skin of a culture, you’re at an advantage in Jerez.
Jerez, however, doesn’t give up its secrets easily. It’s a place where you need to get to know the locals to get a real feel for the pulse of life. But when you do, it is seductive.
One of the bar staff whispered about us to a local friend we were with the other night, “they’ll end up staying here, you can tell”. She’s probably right – maybe we would if we could. And that’s one of the things that Grantourismo is all about – getting the feel for living in a destination. Even if it’s just for two weeks!