First off, if you don’t like reading, here’s the trip in a sub-10-minute video:
It seems like a long time ago since we were in Jerez… and I suppose it is really; over a month now, so apologies…
The trip was a bit of a whim really… A lot goes on in Cartagena, but what goes on in the rest of Spain? We have spent a lot of time on the South and East coasts of Spain, and we were craving something a bit different. Well, I was… which meant that everyone else was talked into coming along…
I set about some basic Google searches of ‘Festivals in Spain’ – not surprisingly, arguably the three most famous came up: Pamplona (running of the bulls in July), Tomatina (throwing tomatoes at each other in August), and Semana Santa (we’ve ticked off three Easters in a row now), followed by the Three Kings (6th January), but – to indulge my inner infant – I wanted a festival NOW, and May’s Feria del Caballo (Horse Fair) in Jerez seemed to fit the bill…. It also happened to be the same week as the Jerez race of the MotoGP season, so there would be lots of bikes to see. Oh yes, and it’s also the world capital of Sherry!! Perfect!
We weren’t quite sure what to expect aside from just ‘horses’, but these aren’t any old nags – we’re talking Andalusian thoroughbreds here (or ‘Pura Raza España’), very well known, if that’s your thing. Anyway, having been a fan of ‘dancing horses’ since receiving a book of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna when I was about 10, and visiting them some 15 years later, these were some other agile horses I didn’t want to miss!
We booked to stay in nearby Rota – it was all a bit last-minute, and it turns out that the Horse Fair, combined with the MotoGP pushes up accommodation prices to nearly EUR200 per night (who’d have thought…?!). Jamie would have to fly back to London from Jerez for work, but Hugo and I would continue our trip, staying one more day, and then returning via Gibraltar and Guadix. Partly to break up the long journey, partly to catch up with friends.
We made an early start on the Saturday and we were off – a long-ish drive, but a couple of stops, and Hugo slept a lot of it – arriving at our accommodation in time to go for dinner! The town of Rota is really nice – lovely long beaches, a relaxed town centre with plenty of restaurants and bars, and a lovely boardwalk/nature area alongside the kms of beach. We took pot luck on a restaurant (El Perejil), and struck gold – great food, lovely staff and a nice atmosphere! We ordered a selection of dishes for us all to share – wild boar, pork cheek, trotters, and snails. Snails were obviously in season, as they were absolutely everywhere… We had to admit that they weren’t as good as some snails we’d had, but they were a massive hit with Hugo, and he liked trying to fish them out with the cocktail stick! The remaining dishes were delicious though; we would definitely go back.
The next day it was off to Jerez – it took a while to get into the city due to all the motorbikes, but we didn’t mind at all! It was amazing to see so many bikes all around us, and we happily got repeatedly stuck in traffic with the windows down listening to them and watching them pass us!
We walked through the town centre, spotting more and more bikes, and a horse here and there too. We got briefly distracted by a vintage motorbike exhibition that was being held, then it was off to see the real horse power…
We got distracted again by lunch – the Horse Fair was a bit of a walk out of the city centre – so we stopped and had our first taste of sherry, accompanied by some tuna tartare, and cheese (no snails for us today, though they were a popular choice with the locals)… then it was off to the Horse Fair!!
It was enormous – an entire area dedicated to this week-long Fair every year! It looked spectacular – women in traditional dress (which to us looked like flamenco dress, but I’m sure it’s different), people arriving by horse and carriage – carriage rides around the Fair (for EUR30…), and an awful lot of food and drink! In fact, after having wandered around for an hour or so, it dawned on us that it was primarily food and drink…. Most of the events were actually happening towards the end of the week, however there was one show in the afternoon, but at a different location, so we headed off to find it. Unfortunately without success – there were so many road closures due to the MotoGP, and the alternative directions we got from a policeman weren’t quite as clear as we required… So we decided to head back to Rota and check out the lighthouse and beaches (as well as a promised ice-cream for Hugo, that he then decided he wasn’t so keen on as it was ‘cold’….)
Due to the disappointment of having missed basically the only event that was happening while we were there, I got on the Royal School of Equestrian Arts (every bit as fancy as it sounds) website, and discovered that they did shows twice a week, and luckily for us there was one taking place the following day. I immediately booked a ticket!
There was still Sunday to deal with though, so we headed into Jerez and took the bus tour, indulging Hugo’s current obsession with transportation. The city was quiet – most things were closed due to – of course – the Horse Fair, but the bus tour was interesting and we got all the major sights ticked off (Cathedral, Sherry Vineyards…).
We then went to do some sherry tasting. We picked a really popular spot (despite the prices) and settled in for some excellent tapas and a range of sherrys (we had no idea what to order, so we got a range and promptly got confused as to which was which…). We have slightly more of an idea now – at least we know more-or-less what sort of sherry will turn up next time we order, but it was also fun to select a range and just try them – and they mostly sit between EUR1.50 and 3.50 a glass, so it’s not such a big deal if it doesn’t quite hit the spot.
Jamie had an obscenely early start to the airport the following morning, but Hugo and I took a more leisurely approach and arrived in town for the horse show at 11.00. The grounds were beautiful, and we got to see the horses warming up in the manage adjacent to the ‘performance hall’. There was also free sherry being poured by a ‘Venenciador’ (the title of the chap who pours the sherry from great height using the ‘Venecia’ (a cylindrical cup on the end of a metre-long, slightly curved stick, basically), so it would have been rude not to sample that, and very nice it was too!
There was no photography or filming allowed in the hall once the show started (there are plenty of YouTube videos issued by the School for those interested though), which was actually a really good thing, as it meant we all actually sat and watched it live, rather than on phone screens… It was fabulous… The horses were beautiful and the riders’ horsemanship amazing. To see a half-ton horse skipping on its hind legs is really not something you get to see every day. Hugo sat mesmerised for the whole 90 minutes (not even food-based bribery was necessary), and has taken to making clip-clop and neighing noises whenever he sees a horse now…
From there, it was off to Gibraltar for the next phase of our trip!