Try manzanilla in Jerez and you might not bother with the real thing from Sanlucar. What a mistake that would be. “Under the influence of sea and river,” says the label. And under the influence you will be once you’ve tasted the contents.
It’s a short, very cheap bus ride from Jerez, with nothing much to commend the outskirts – unless you notice all the signs that say “Bodega.” The bus station is close to the centre but with only an Aldi supermarket to take your attention. Walk past the monumental casks and the statue and you find the dual-carriageway Calzada de la Duquesa Isabel, aka the Red Duchess. If anyone deserved an avenue (once the Boulevard of the Army) in her honour she did: imprisoned for being contemptuous of Franco, she was offered a pardon in exchange for an apology and refused. That was embarrassing for the Generalissimo, because she was the Duchess of Medina Sidonia. last of one of the noblest families in Spain.
The Calzada leads to the town centre, with its wonderful market and a pedestrian area of plazas, bars and restaurants. Alternatively there’s a walk in the opposite direction, to the riverside and some of the best seafood restaurants in Andalucia.
The old or high town (Barrio Alto) is where the Medina Sidonia and the Orleans and Bourbon families once held sway. There is also a magnificent church, Nuestra Senora de la O. Unfortunately for us, the Medina Sidonia palace was closed but the Orleans and Bourbon is open every weekday as it is now the Town Hall. Its gardens are amazing: spilling down the hillside from a recent Japanese style area through rambling avenues of wonderful trees. It also gives a view over the town.
It was Holy Week, so the usual market close to the Barrio Alto was kept clear for the processions. Nearby is the series of arches built by the second duke of Medina Sidonia as a covered market. There are also several very necessary bars.
The biggest problem we experienced in Sanlucar was finding a table for tapas at Casa Balbino in the Plaza del Cabildo. No wonder: the food was delicious, once the frantic system of ordering at the bar was negotiated. We had king prawns grilled in the finest of aubergine slices and tiny seafood dumplngs. The shrimp fritters we saw people eating at a neighbouring table have been recommended by a Michelin-starred chef.
For a full meal on another day we had a riverside table under awning (it was in March) at Mirador de Donana. It has a view of the nature reserve of Donana across the water and serves splendid seafood starters, a variety of excellent fish dishes and fine desserts. With the seafood of course we ordered manzanilla, and the waiter beamed at our awareness. The local wine, made from palomino fino grapes (as is sherry) is crisp yet full, again perfect for the food.
To walk down a meal there is a splendid promenade towards the estuary. We even saw some one exercising a horse although it was nowhere near the racing season. The promenade has a cycling lane that would easily accommodate a wheelchair or mobility vehicle, as it does prams and scooters.