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Of Tapas, Tuna Fish and Two Dream Cities 

She is a chip off the old block: as part of Switzerland’s annual “Future Day” (organised to promote the career planning of schoolchildren), secondary school student Gioia Casalini had the chance to accompany her mother to Andalusia for a travel documentary. The young author was so taken by the cities of Jerez de la Frontera and Cádiz she is still raving about them:

The cities of Jerez de la Frontera and Cádiz are a thirty-minute drive apart. But unlike many other regions in Spain, a car is not a must here. Because, according to Javier (whom I will say more about a little later), the region boasts a good public transport system, with trains and -even better- boats running from Jerez de la Frontera to Cádiz. The train to El Puerto de Santa María takes eight minutes and the boat ride from the port to Cádiz another thirty minutes.

Photos: Sandra Casalini

Petrus - a fan of Andalusia

We rented a car nevertheless, so as to be more flexible. And it’s a good thing we did, because on our arrival in Cádiz we were welcomed by heavy rain. Our lodging in Cádiz is the Hotel Las Cortes right in the old city centre. Our comfortable room features an unobstructed view from our window of Calle San Francisco, which is one of the main streets in the centre of town. We could easily spend the afternoon by the window watching the world go by. The thought of exploring the city in the rain is not very enticing. Although, as the locals tell us later on, they are glad it has finally rained. But I guess Saint Peter was also a fan of Andalusia! Just as we leave the hotel with Marianne, our city guide, the rain stops and the sun comes out.

Cádiz is not a very big town and consists of two parts: the old town, which covers most of the peninsula, and the newer part. Viewed from above, the old town looks like a fist with an upward-pointing thumb. The old town is the hand, encased by water, and the new town is the arm. Cádiz is said to be the oldest city in Western Europe and was once very wealthy. Often threatened or even attacked from the sea, a lot house have one or more watchtowers. There were once 160 such towers in a city of 119,000 inhabitants. Today there are 130 left.

Building made of seashells

The Plaza de San Antonio is a venue for celebrating and flamenco dancing – after all, Andalusia is the cradle of flamenco. Especially during the Carnival of Cádiz, the city’s most important festivity, it morphs into one huge celebration. The square houses the eighteenth-century church of San Antonio. The city’s old town is full of beautifully facaded houses that were once home to very rich families. While sauntering along the charming alleyways, a small bakery catches my eye. The sweet pastries in the display window look soooo delicious! Turrón de Cádiz consists of marzipan and almonds, and is also referred to as Pan de Cádiz, i.e. bread of Cádiz. The name originates from the time of Napoleon, when Cádiz was the only city unoccupied by the French, which meant only few foodstuffs made it into the city. So the inhabitants baked their own “bread” with whatever they had: almonds.

As the name suggests, the Plaza de la Catedral is home to the cathedral. Cádiz has two cathedrals – this one is the newer one, even if it looks older. What makes the building interesting are the different stones used to construct it – resulting in a two-colour cathedral so to speak. The upper section of the building is lighter and built of regular limestone. The lower section is much darker and consists of an unusual rock found throughout Cádiz: shell limestone that is formed in the ocean and consists of solidified sand and shells. Situated just a few steps from the cathedral is the old city wall, the remnants of which are located right by the Atlantic Ocean. A leisurely walk along the low wall takes us to the beaches, which are almost exclusively in the new part of town. In 2001, one of the beaches even served as the film set for a James Bond movie. That was before I was born, but still really cool!

A day at the beach

En route to the city hall we cannot help but notice the paucity of action around 5.30 pm. This is because siesta lasts until about 6 pm and “life” starts only thereafter. The biggest bustle is when the large cruise ships arrive in the port and the passengers go ashore to explore the city. Having walked around the city a lot, I am feeling hungry. But supper time in Spain tends to be around 10 pm! The restaurants open at about 8.30 pm - and since we Swiss will have finished eating before 10 pm, this is our chance to get a table in a restaurant which is otherwise always fully booked. “La Candela” is one of the most popular restaurants in Cádiz. It is super pleasant and the furnishing mega cool. Of course our choice is tapas – small portions of a variety of dishes: strawberry soup (!) with tuna, ceviche (a dish composed of raw fish, lemon and mango), patatas bravas (sliced potatoes with mayonnaise and a spicy tomato sauce) and a delectably delicious cheesecake-cream with cherries for dessert. After a long day and a full stomach I collapse into bed exhausted.

The next morning we visit the market, of which the larger part is dedicated to fish products. I have never seen such large tunas before! Thereafter, we make our way to the beach. The Playa de la Caleta is the only beach situated in Cadiz’s old town. We treat ourselves to a tortilla in the “Bar Caleta” right by the water before walking to the new part of town, which is lined by beach after beach: Playa Santa Maria del Mar, Playa de la Victoria, Playa de Cortadura. This is also where the large hotels are located. The Playa Santa Maria del Mar is a popular surfers’ spot. We make ourselves comfortable in one of the lovely beach bars and watch them break the waves. After a brief siesta -we are slowly adjusting to the Spanish lifestyle- we have dinner in the restaurant “Sonámbulo”. I order one-pot shrimp and rice, and my mother opts for tuna steak with a pepper sauce. Delicious!

In the realm of the Andalusian horses

The next day, we travel to Jerez de la Frontera. The Hotel Casa Grande is centrally located and a real gem. It is nice and light, with a covered courtyard of a sorts, and we immediately feel at home. Having missed breakfast, we are nonetheless served coffee and churros on our roof terrace. Churros, a Spanish pastry speciality, taste different depending on where you are in Spain. The ones in Jerez de la Frontera are slightly salty. After churros, we take off to explore the city. Together with Javier. He is the head of the local tourist office, but touring the city with him is more like having a friend show you around. His tour through Jerez de la Frontera is more freestyle - Javier knows everybody and can organise everything en route: “I will be there in ten minutes with two Swiss ladies. Okay, great, thank you!”

We start with a visit to a museum of clocks and watches. I must admit that the thought of showing Swiss people clocks in Spain did not seem particularly clever to me at first. But, as it turns out, we are surprisingly impressed: “La Atalaya” -which is what the historic building that houses the museum is called- has one of the largest collections of antique clocks in Europe. And, incredibly, they all work. Even the oldest ones that date back to the seventeenth century. Our next stop is to see one of Jerez de la Frontera’s main attractions: the “Fundación Real Escuela Andaluza Del Arte Ecuestre” – the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art. This is where the famous Andalusian horses and their riders are trained. There is no show on today, but we are allowed to watch the training. Each year, six riders from all over the world are awarded one of the coveted places to be trained as a professional equestrian. I am already in awe of how well they are in control of their horses. One of them even instructs his white horse to dance!

The cradle of sherry

Our next stop is the Alcázar of Jerez de la Frontera. An Alcázar is a type of Moorish castle or fortress. This one was once as important as the city walls, because especially Andalusia’s wealthy cities were constantly besieged. And many civilisations left their mark, including the Moors, the Phoenicians and the Romans. However, few oriental influences can be seen in Jerez de la Frontera as many mosques were built over at some point. The Alcázar is a fascinating exception, featuring a Christian and a Muslim part so to speak – and two towers with the respective symbols right next to each other.

Jerez de la Frontera’s most famous export product is sherry wine. The best known brand is “Tio Pepe”, which is sold all over the world. Following a short tour, we make our way to the distillery, which, according to Javier, makes the world’s best sherry: “Lustau”. In the storage room, the sherry barrels are stacked three rows high. The barrels on the lowest row mature for five years, those in the middle for three years and the ones on the top for one year. Sherry is literally a science, und I find it difficult to follow the explanations as to how which sherry is made from which grapes. But it is interesting to learn, for instance, that casks for whisky are prepared here, too: first, the sherry is matured in the cask, then it is bottled and then the thus prepared casks delivered to the whisky distilleries. Of course we are given some sherry to taste. Whereas Javier is of the view that, aged thirteen, I am old enough to start drinking sherry, my mother is of a different opinion. And, to be honest, I am too. I take a whiff and dip the tip of my tongue in the sherry – yuuuck! I decide to stick to coke. My mother, however, is quite surprised at how multi-facetted sherry is and suggests that, next time, we must arrange a meal with sherry tasting, where each course is served with a sherry that suits. Well, as I see it, that isn’t really necessary. By contrast, I am looking forward to eating a long-desired paella for dinner tonight. But I do agree with my mother on one point: we must come back. Because we still have plenty to see!

Accommodation in Jerez de la Frontera and Cádiz:

Hotel Casa Grande ;;; Centrally located, comfortable, a roof terrace with stunning views and incredibly friendly staff. ;;; (Plaza las Angustias, 3, 11402 Jerez de la Frontera, Cádiz, Spain, www.hotelcasagrande.eu)

Hotel Las Cortes de Cádiz ;;; Situated right in the heart of Cádiz’s old town, all of the sights, beaches and restaurants can be reached on foot from here. ;;; (Calle San Francisco, 9, 11004 Cádiz, Spain, www.hotellascortes.com)

Information: ;;; Information on city tours, sights, restaurants, etc., is available at ;;; www.cadizturismo.com ;;; or ;;; www.spain.info/ch

Text: Gioia Casalini (Editing: Sandra Casalini)