7 ways to enjoy Jerez and its surroundings

August 1, 2012 at 8:14 AM

Andalusia is a region of passionate extremes – tiny white villages clinging to mountain sides, beaches thundering with Atlantic waves, old bull rings and powerful flamenco music highlighting its passionate nature and a history reaching back into long lost time. One of the most fascinating towns in this area is Jerez, almost, but not quite on the edge of Spain’s southernmost tip. Here are a few things to do to get a real flavour of the town.

1. Step back in time at the Alcázar Palace

Alcazar in Jerez

This large imposing collection of buildings dominates the town, yet once inside its defensive walls, all is peace and tranquillity. Originally built in the 11th Century, the fortress has been added to and adapted by many rulers but is still essentially an Arabic legacy. The mosque and gardens are places to relax and for a quirky view of the surrounding area don’t miss the Camera Obscura.

2. Find out how sherry is made

The word ‘sherry’ is a corruption of ‘Jerez’ and this is its home. Tio Pepe is possibly the most famous name and they have an excellent, if rather commercialised tour. I prefer the newer but more personal ‘Bodega Tradicion’ where you can taste a superb range of sherries and see a small but perfectly formed collection of art at the same time.

3. Take tapas at lunchtime at one of the many bars

Spanish meal in Jerez

These little tastes of Spain are best tried at one of the many little bars and restaurants dotted around the town. El Gallo Azul has a very extensive selection.

4. Indulge all your senses in the Hammam Andalusia

The scents of exotic oils from far away places combined with expert massages and various bathing pools soon soothe away any stresses and strains in this traditional Islamic Bathhouse.

5. Marvel at the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art

Spaniards are famous for their horsemanship and this is possibly the best place int eh country to see it demonstrated. As well as regular shows of the well-trained white horses, there is a Museum, Carriage display and various lessons on offer.

6. Go to a Flamenco Show

Flamenco show in Jerez

Jerez and the nearby villages is the home of flamenco and there’s an excellent route round the old barrios showcasing its history. Guitar music, combined with explosively passionate singing and dancing is a must-see – take time to see one of the many peñas (I can recommend the show at the La Taberna Flamenca) and if you really want to experience just how difficult it is, book a flamenco lesson – it’s exhausting.

7. Cool off in the Cathedral

Huge ceilings, majestic carvings and impressive stained glass, this mainly 18th century cathedral is built on the site of Jerez’s main mosque

Although there is plenty to see and do in this lovely old town, one of the most pleasurable is to simply find a table at a simple restaurant, order a glass of chilled sherry and do what the locals do – relax and watch the world go by.

Zoë Dawes lives on the Cumbria/Lancashire border and loves looking at the world from a different angle. Follow her travels in the UK and abroad on her award-winning blog The Quirky Traveller and @quirkytraveller on Twitter.

10 secluded beaches in Spain

July 16, 2012 at 6:44 AM

Who doesn’t love endless blue skies, sunshine, turquoise water and the feeling of soft warm sand beneath your feet? If your idea of the perfect holiday is lounging around on a beach, then Spain is the country for you. Spain has some amazingly beautiful beaches, but even the most perfect beach can be ruined when it’s overrun with tourists. If staying in a holiday rental in Spain and you’re looking for a quiet escape, check out these 10 secluded beaches.

Cala de Algaiarens, Menorca

Algaiarens beach in Menorca

The golden beach of Cala de Algaiarens is located on the Spanish island of Menorca. The picturesque cove is surrounded by rugged slopes and can be hard to reach, which means that it is not very crowded even during the summer. The picture-perfect beach has soft golden sand and crystal clear water that is perfect for snorkeling and exploring underwater caves, however waves can sometimes be quite powerful so it isn’t ideal for families with small children. Cala de Algaiarens is on private property and there is a €4 admission fee. If you’re staying in a holiday villa in Ciutadella, to reach the beach, you’ll nee to head for Cala Morell on the Ronda Norte. At Torre d’En Quart, look for signs to Algaiarens until you see signs for La Vall.

Playa de Rodas, Islas Cíes, Galicia

Rodas beach in the Cíes Islands

The spectacular crescent-shaped beach of Playa de Rodas is located on the island of Islas Cíes, off the coast of Galicia. The water is warm, calm and crystal clear, making it perfect for swimming and snorkeling. When you’re not in the water you can stretch out on the soft white sand or build sandcastles with the kids. It’s a tranquil retreat that is accessible by ferry from Vigo or Baiona. The ferries take 40 minutes to reach Islas Cies and they only operate from early spring to late summer.

Playa del Silencio, Oviedo

Silencio beach in Asturias

If you’re looking for peace and quiet, then Playa del Silencio (Beach of Silence) is definitely the spot for you. Located on the Asturian coast, to the northwest of Oviedo, near the fishing village of Cudillero, the tranquil beach is inexplicably quiet even in August and September. The golden brown sand-and-stone beach is the perfect place to enjoy the exquisite view, or you can snorkel in the calm, sheltered water of the bay. From the car park you need to walk approximately 10 minutes along a coastal path. Steps twist down pine-covered cliffs to the cove below.

El Palmar Beach, Cádiz

El Palmar beach in Cádiz

It may not be located in a quiet cove like most of the secluded beaches on this list, but El Palmar is as deserted as they come. The wind-swept golden sandy beach goes on as far as the eye can see, but there are no high-rise hotels or fancy restaurants in sight. The wind makes it the ideal spot for surfers. When you want a break from riding the waves there are a few small bars that serve wine and snacks. It’s a great place for the kids to build sandcastles, but bring an umbrella, because there is no shade in sight. The beach is located near Vejer de la Frontera on route A-48, between Tarifa and Cádiz.

Playa de Estorde, A Coruña

Estorde beach in Galicia

Playa de Estorde is situated in the Galicia region in the northwest of Spain, to the west of the small town of Corcubion. The long beach has fine white sand, and calm, clear water, perfect for families traveling with children. The shallow water is the perfect place to swim or snorkel. Playa de Estorde is a quiet beach that only gets busy on Sundays when the local community comes out to soak up the sun.

Calo des Moro Beach, Majorca

Calo des Moro beach in Majorca

On the southeast coast of the Spanish island of Majorca you’ll find the small, secluded beach of Calo des Moro. Imposing cliffs create a dramatic backdrop for this beautiful beach where turquoise water laps at soft white sand. The sand slopes gently into the shallow water, making it ideal for families with small children. The clear water is also ideal for water sports such as diving and snorkeling. During July and August the beach can get very crowded, but for the rest of the year Calo des Moro is a haven of tranquility. The beach is only 6km from the town of Santanyi, and is easily accessible.

Aiguablava, Girona

Aiguablava beach in Girona

Aiguablava is located in northern Costa Brava, in a beautiful little cove nestled between steep cliffs. Relax on the sandy beach, go sailing, take a dip in the calm, shallow water, or eat freshly caught squid at one of the small fish restaurants overlooking the beach. Although the beach is popular during July and August, it’s remains far quieter than most other Costa Brava beaches. It’s the ideal place to spend a sunny day if you’re staying in a Begur or Girona holiday rental.

Cala d’en Serra, Ibiza

Cala d'en Serra in Ibiza

Although the island of Ibiza may be synonymous with parties and crowds, there are also some idyllic, peaceful spots where you can relax and enjoy the amazing scenery. Cala d’en Serra is one such spot. This little piece of perfection is situated in a sheltered cove on the north coast of the island, overlooked by rugged cliffs and quaint fishing huts. Although it’s popular with the locals the beach seems to have slipped under the radar of most tourists, which makes it the perfect place to soak up the sun, even during peak season. The beach has golden sand and fine pebbles, and the water is calm, making it ideal for snorkeling and swimming. To reach the beach follow the sign on the main road just north of Portinatx, where there is a dirt track that leads down to the beach.

Das Raias Muxia, A Coruña

Das Raias beach in Muxia

Located near the small town of Muxia in the northwest of Spain, is the delightful Playa Das Raias. This tiny, unspoilt beach is a little piece of heaven. The soft white sand beach is surrounded by lush vegetation and is the perfect place to work on your tan or swim in the calm water. There are a few rocks that peep out of the sand here and there, so be careful if you’re traveling with children. Das Raias beach is 10 minutes from Muxia, along the road that leads to Ponte do Porto.

Cala Gracioneta, Ibiza

Cala Gració i Gracioneta in Ibiza

This secluded, rustic beach is located in a small cove next to the touristy Cala Gració. The fine golden sand and warm shallow water make it the perfect place to relax. There is also plenty of shade and the El Chiringuito bar on the beach serves excellent paella. The beach is located 2km north of Sant Antoni de Portmany. There are buses that go to Cala Gració. From there, follow the rocky headland into the next bay.