As our train finally glided into the small station in Jerez de la Frontera, or just Jerez, we gathered our backpacks, slung them tiredly across our backs and stepped into a new world. The train ride came immediately after the international flight (not recommended, I will say) to Madrid and turned into a 6 hour ride, where it was listed as just over 4 hours. As much as I enjoyed train travel – my first time! – I was exhausted!
My friends and I wearily detrained and walked through the station toward the bright afternoon sunlight. Though our bags were heavy and our brains mush from all the travel and so little sleep, we still looked around with interest at the attractive architecture and pretty mosaics as we walked. Now, to find our hostal…
I had opted to forgo the foreign SIM card or phone purchase and decided to use Wi-Fi only on this trip, which turned out to be more complicated than I’d assumed. But I digress. I downloaded maps for the various regions in Spain where we would be traveling and that was our lifesaver. I would definitely recommend doing that to save on data charges anyway. I had the address so I was able to map the location and, creepily enough, GPS location services still work even without Wi-Fi so I could track as we walked. I printed out maps before I came, but I felt we looked less touristy using a phone on occasion than a paper.
A 15 minute (or less) walk later and we were in front of Hostal Fenix, our original plan for a night of rest. We found a triple room for around $73 USD on booking.com (no refund version), and split three ways it was quite reasonable. It was a great location for proximity to the station as well as the Plaza del Arenal – about 10 minutes walking – and was a lovely place. High speed Internet came with the room, as well as complimentary breakfast. Architecturally, the interior courtyard was quite pretty, though small, and the marble staircase was original from the 19th century. Overall, I would definitely recommend this as a place to stay.
At any rate, we eventually found enough energy due to hunger and a desire to see the town – our one chance because of schedule restrictions – so we headed out to eat and explore. The square (Plaza del Arenal) was our natural first choice so we headed that way. We were not disappointed for our first true European experience.
The town is on the small side so the square is nothing like what you would expect in Madrid or Barcelona, but it was comfortable and not overwhelming. There were temporary stalls set up around the square with vendors hawking their wares and people were everywhere. It was early evening and I think they were preparing for their evening paseo – or stroll – around the town. There was a statue in the center of the fountain with pretty flowers all around. The cobblestone streets and walkways appealed to our idea of Europe, though not to our feet after hours of walking.
One thing we did not research before heading to Europe: Restaurants. But we chose well for our first meal accidentally so it worked out well. We stopped at a restaurant just out of the square (I believe it was Bar Restaurante Don Tapa) and sat down at one of the covered tables outside. Expect to seat yourself on your travels to much of Europe, it saves them host/hostess costs. Also, tipping isn’t strictly necessary at restaurants because the workers are paid a decent wage; you can round up, however (or tip, they won’t complain). We all tried different versions of paella and it was excellent there. We found later that not all paella is created equal so I’m happy we had a great first experience with native dish.
It seemed that all of Jerez passed by us as we ate. There was a never-ending stream of people taking part in the evening paseo; entire families passed – even the dogs took part! We joined the crowd once our meal finished and did some sightseeing as the sky darkened.
We viewed the Alcazar de Jerez by streetlight and walked past the stone façade of the Iglesia de San Miguel on our way back to the hostal. I caught a glimpse of the Jerez Cathedral (de San Salvador) but it was completely dark by this point and we were expecting our ride to Rota, a small town on the southern coast, later that night.
My takeaway: I would like to visit when I can spend days here – especially if I could make it happen during a feria! I didn’t get to experience the old culture of Jerez and so that is definitely still on my list! The three things the town is most famous for are sherry (‘Jerez’ actually means sherry), horses and flamenco and I experienced none of them on our brief stopover. I must return! If you like a small-town feel to get away from the bustle of the huge cities, be sure to visit this spot, tucked away so that many people skip it. Enjoy!