UP ARTICLE in SKYLINES TRAVEL WRITER OF THE YEAR 2001
JEREZ - the beautiful
Barrio, Jerez old town, New life in old windows. © Sam North
The Rough Guide 2000 issue says ...youre unlikely to want
to make more than a quick visit between buses, the town, while pleasant,
is hardly distinctive...
Well, by all means move on. Dont go, dont get off the train,
because Jerez, is without doubt one of the most wonderful towns in Spain
and if you just want to drink, lie on a beach and eye up English slappers
on holiday, then Jerez is not your destiny at all. But if you stay, youll
find the Spain you didnt know you were looking for.
Even at the end of October it is hot, 29c during the days. This is a wonderful
dry heat, one is quite comfortable strolling and exploring. Jerez station
is undergoing restructuring, but the ceramic tiles on the old building
survive and immediately you can tell that this is a town that is proud
of itself. Its easy to be dismissive when all you can see at first
are new tower blocks going up all around the station, but you just have
to accept that the Spanish are at least building new homes with all modern
amenities for their growing and young populations. These are either for
rental or for purchase and not expensive by UK terms. They will bed in,
trees will be eventually planted and given time, it wont look so
stark. Get beyond this into old Jerez and be prepared for a delightful
surprise. Jerez de la Frontera is built around plaza after plaza, each
street lined with heavily laden orange trees and Jacarandas. The dimensions
and scale of the town are perfectly proportioned and serve as a great
contrast the the medieval tone of Cadiz. Jerez is in part a planned city
with haphazard side-streets but one can see that some of the civic planning
of the Romans, and after them the Moors, has survived. The town is old,
we are looking at much that survived more than 1000 years. The eleventh
century Alcazar is worth a visit and so is the small but useful Archeological
Museum in the Plaza Mercado. Even if you arent interested in pre-history
or the Roman and Moorish remains, or even the 7th Century Persian helmet,
just savour a perfect building that completely recaptures the spirit of
a Roman villa with its internal courtyards and cool marble floors.
Opposite the Alcazar they are refurbishing an old warehouse as apartments
and as you wander the barrios of Jerez one becomes aware of how important
history is to the town and how sympathetic the architects are to the past
when they design even new buildings within the old walls.
Jerez is full of pavement cafes, the waiters and waitresses are friendly
and helpful, the town is welcoming everywhere you go. If it is too hot
for you, find a shady open spot outside a cafe and theyll bring
patatas commodores out to you, a thin fried crispy pancake with shrimps
and chilled wine or whatever you want.
Everywhere you turn in Jerez you will find something elegant, another
little plaza you missed, always a bank. I have never seen so many banks
in one town. For shopping the Larga is the avenue for you, cutting through
the centre of town, and paved. This is one town that has at least realised
that cars can be kept out of the centre.
The Mango store is in an old bank building and is at the cutting edge
of style in Jerez, a sign of what may happen to the other banks, once
the inevitable financial consolidation begins.
Of course Jerez means sherry and you cant avoid the bodegas or the
sherry producers. Harveys is right by the station, but the prettiest and
most central is Gonzalez Byass. Even if you dont like sherry, its
worth looking around or taking at least one tour and dont forget
to sample the Jerez brandy which is surprisingly smooth and easy to swallow.
Wine towns are always civilised and Jerez is no exception. The commercial
streets are wide and tree lined, the barrios are low scale, filled with
houses that hide the courtyards within. A number of local people are moving
out of these old mud-walled homes to the new apartments just out of town.
Perhaps they are tired of the noise, the lack of modern facilities, but
now, thanks to new laws, sitting tenants can be removed or rehoused and
a lot of these barrio homes are being taken over by wealthy incomers or
local professionals who completely refurbish them, rejecting the apartment
lifestyles. Some of these places have been completely run down because
up until now, people have been paying rents as little as one hundred pesetas
a month and landlords just could not afford to maintain them. It has been
a downward spiral for Jerez housing for decades and only the building
of new subsidised apartment blocks outside of town has managed to change
peoples way of thinking and motivate them to leave the old barrios.
Jerez is very much a town in transition. There are simple delights, discovering
at the intersection beside St Domingos Church (1264) the delightful
arbour covered street of Porvera. 1264 is a key date as this is when the
town was taken back from the Moors.
(If you are looking for similarities the City of Savannah in Georgia has
a similar feel and perhaps Stellenbosch in South Africa, another wine
town but neither has this much history to boast about.)
The Moors left Jerez a long time ago. Alfonso X the Wise still has a monument
to his victory over it. Like Sevilla, Jerez was a town ruled by the Moors,
who showed remarkable tolerance for others, letting Christians and Jews
alone for the most part. From the quantity of evidence of archeological
remains, Jerez went through a building boom in the eleventh century and
again, the sixteenth where many churches have been built on the site of
old mosques. It pretty much froze at that level and size for the next
four hundred years and thus was saved the ravages of progress.
The town feels relaxed and in summer the siesta is taken seriously, I
am told, as it gets to be pretty hot here.
There are two other reasons to come to Jerez, Flamenco and dancing horses.
Flamenco began its revival here and now people come from all over the
world to study in the old traditions here. You can find out more in the
Centro Andaluz de Flamenco in the hard to find Plaza de San Juan. The
best Flamenco flares up in different places around the town and and on
weekends performers often go to Sevilla to entertain there. After the
attraction of Flamenco, the horse has place of honour here and on Thursdays
at noon you can see the best equestrian skills on show at the Royal Andalucian
School of Equestrian Art Avda, Duque de Abrantes. For details about all
of the above you can call the Turismo Office Tel: 956 180 732 or 956 331
Hotels are reasonably priced and unlike Cadiz hoteliers they are friendly
and usually have some good English or French. I stayed at Hotel Trujillo
on Calle Medina. Its handy for everywhere in town and a single rate
can start as low as 3600 ptas a night off-season, but more normally 4400
ptas. Tel: 956 34 24 38. The service is good, the room which comes with
a shower and toilet spotless and the there is 24 hour access.
Jerez isnt competing with the Prado or the beach life (which is
only an hour away) but it does offer something else, peace and quiet,
a measured life. The market is excellent, the restaurants serve tasty
and very fresh food and it is not surprising that I kept bumping into
Americans and English people who have made their homes here. Jerez is
a place for artists who love the light , writers who like to be warm and
dancers who like to stomp their feet. Furthermore Jerez inspires loyalty.
Walk it and enjoy.
Jo comes from Arizona, she was a professor of dance there at the Tucson
University, but suddenly, seven years ago she found Flamenco and her true
self. She moved to Jerez. Even in her fifties it must have been daunting,
but now in her sixties she is here for life. Shes bought a tumble-down
Jerez barrio home and in what she hopes is an improving area (her Argentinian
neighbours hope so too for the area was known for its drug problems and
prostitution). Jo is rescuing the house piece by piece. One cannot say
brick by brick because there are no bricks, it is made of mud and bits
of stone and wood. She has great plans for the house, but little money.
She teaches English and Dance to survive.
Rescuing this traditional home with its courtyards is a lifetime proposition.
Even now new homes arent exactly built to last, but nevertheless
this home has to be at least 200 years old. The home she has bought is
just a short walk from the city centre and is only cheap because it took
two generations to get the tenants out who were paying just 100 pesetas
a year for the entire place. (Around 40 cents US) Whole rows of the barrios
were similarly affected and although landlords were supposed to maintain
the homes, they just could not afford to. Decades of rent control delivers
this and tenants could pass their rights on to the next generations and
the next. It is not like that now, but the law has only just changed.
When you walk around Jerez or Cadiz, which has the same sitting tenant
problem, you can see perfectly good buildings some still inhabited but
virtual ruins and it makes no sense until you understand the these things.
Rent control destroys property values and eventually destroys the properties
themselves. But beware of jumping on a plane and heading for the nearest
bargain in Jerez. There are still a lot of disputed rights and the courts
take their time, just one sitting tenant and you may have to wait centuries...
The new apartment blocks outside of town help the situation. Tenants find
fresh water in the taps, showers that work, space and comfort and state
subsidised rents. It must be tempting. Of course they are walking away
from those lovely inner courtyards with their lemon trees and orange blossoms,
but in a ruin, who cares. In the barrio you also have the problem of urban
crime, barking dogs, unsilenced motor scooters echoing down the impossibly
narrow streets. Your neighbours window may overlook your house and
be less than four feet away. Yet for Jo and others like her, investing
in these old barrio homes gives them a way of life that is virtually impossible
in modern America and although it is hard to find good plumbers and builders
and you will have to do a lot of the work yourself, the pleasure of living
so close to town and restoring, rebuilding, bringing these pretty large
spaces back to life is so fantastically rewarding. Jo is lucky, she has
two courtyards and what was an industrial workshop will be her dance studio.
In neither America or England do we build such character spaces. The nearest
one can compare it to is loft spaces, but loft spaces are usually one
space and these are many spaces around courtyards open to the clear blue
sky. Restored well, these places are perfect dwellings for new lifestyles.
So it is odd to see that what Spanish developers are pushing to foreigners
and their own home-buyers are housing estates in the middle of nowhere
. These dwellings are usually in a terrace, or semi-detached, with little
patches of gardens or a balcony and your view is usually scrubbed dusty
fields. There is nowhere to walk to, no community, none of the very things
that makes Spanish life so unique. You will pay something like 16 million
pesetas and up. Buy something in town that gives you the same space or
more and you could be spending just 12 Million pesetas. (Do beware of
red tape however. Every little alteration will require an official to
be paid and they will always find something that you didnt have
a permit for.)
LIVING IN SPAIN
Get the language, this is essential. Few people speak English and in Jerez
and Cadiz the accent is much stronger than Madrid. To buy a home you will
need a lawyer, a bank that is used to international banking, an income
stream (because everything costs more than you think). The local Spanish
owner can get away with murder. You the foreigner will be watched, talked
about, informed upon, especially if you have bought in a cheap area. Learning
Spanish before you come will prevent many problems and they will warm
to you and help you so much more if you make the effort.
Getting to Jerez. Fly to Madrid or Sevilla, catch the AVE train or Andalucian
Express. Either way, its just an hour from Sevilla and three and
a half from Madrid. There is also an airport at Malaga roughly and hour
and halfs drive away.
What do homes cost in Cadiz or Jerez?
Well in town they are not cheap for something that is refurbished. 20-30
million pesetas for a comfortable three/four bedroomed home in the city.
If you buy a ruin, you could get away with 10 million, but aim to spend
that again on building work. (add 40 percent since 2000)
You are buying a way of life that is impossible to live in the UK or America.
There will be no parking, you will never get privacy again, it will not
be quiet, ever. You will have to walk everywhere, but youll wonder
why you didnt do this earlier. Do not be fooled into thinking it
never gets cool either. Winter nights can be chilly, so make sure you
fit insulation and a heater. But if youre thinking of buying, buy
now. Before the guide books discover just how nice Jerez really is.
© Sam North 2000
Prices, places, currencies have changed since 2000. Your travel experience
This is based on one journey at a particular time - things change.
remember old Jerez
by Lionel Darmendrail -
letter from France
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