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JEREZ DE LA FRONTERA

This article on what to see, do and where to eat and stay in Jerez by Sorrel Downer was first published in The Guardian. For the full article, great pictures, and additional tips and recommendations by readers, head to The Guardian travel section.

Spain’s gastronomic maridaje – the marriage of food and wine – is a definite threesome in Jerez de la Frontera, where all life is fuelled by sherry and tapas, but marches to a flamenco beat. The annual flamenco festival is its peak – not only for larger ticketed events, but also for free performances in the peñas (social clubs), tabancos (old-style bars), and late at night in the plazas. In fact, all the city’s many festivals and ferias are accompanied by a flurry of flamenco activity – it’s just that, rather frustratingly, it’s not easy to sweep in and locate it.

Where to hear flamenco
Several of the tabancos actually have regular, scheduled events (and flyers for one-offs elsewhere). Best-known, and popular with locals and tourists, is Tabanco el Pasaje (C/Santa María 8) where guitarist and singer face the cramped bustle from Thursdays to Sundays. Another good option is Tabanco el Guitarrón de San Pedro (C/Bizcocheros 16) with performances on Saturday afternoons, participation flamenco on Sunday nights and, amazingly given the tight space, a cadre (guitars, singing and dancing) on Thursday nights. As Mireia Dot Rodriguez, the tabanco’s co-owner, points out: “Flamenco is something you feel on your skin, in your senses, not watch from a distance.” So that’s all right.

The peñas are home base for many of today’s flamenco greats, and it’s worth passing one of the bigger ones over the weekend to see if it’s open. Try Centro Cultural Don Antonio Chacón (C/Salas 2) or Peña Flamenca Los Cernícalos (C/de Sancho Vizcaíno 25) in the Gypsy barrio of San Miguel.

What to do
The many cobbled alleys, plazas, baroque churches and bars make exploring old Jerez a joy, and well-positioned street maps displaying recommended routes keep it easy. However, Plaza del Arenal (home to the tourist information office) is a useful reference point. For general ambling, head north-west from here to the old barrio of Santiago and south-west to San Miguel. Just to the south, there’s the Alcazar de Jerez, once a frontier of the Islamic kingdom, its thick city walls built to keep the Christians out. They didn’t and, in 1264, the overlay of monasteries, palaces and churches began. This fortress, home to caliphs then Christian governors, its mosque converted into a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary, says it all.

Or stroll 20 minutes north to the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art (realescuela.org, adults €21, children €13) in which dancing horses put on an impressive show every Tuesday and Thursday (plus Fridays in August and September). You don’t have to be horsey to appreciate the history, skill, architecture and hats, although it helps. Or watch men controlling powerful machines down at the Circuito de Jerez (circuitodejerez.com). The city is World Capital of Motorcycling 2015.

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