June 17 - Arcos de la Frontera
After Zahara, our destination was Arcos de la Frontera. We had detailed instructions on how to get to our hotel, but the narrow, tiny and winding streets proved even a challenge to my master navigator, Diane. We ended up looping around the city center a couple of times until we literally would drive a couple of hundred yards and ask for further instructions to zero in on the hotel. Some of the streets were so narrow that we pulled in the outside mirrors! Finally we found our hotel and parked the car atop the hill, at the Plaza de Espana, next to the cathedral. Our hotel, El Convento, was right down the street. The hotel is a converted convent. From the balcony of our room, we had a beautiful view of the Guadalete River far down below and a panoramic view of the entire valley.
June 18 - Day Trip to Jerez de la Frontera
We took off relatively early in the morning for Jerez. The city is known primarily for its sherry bodegas and its equestrian school. Because we wanted to do both some sherry tastings and to see the school, we had to get there a little early since most things close down somewhere between 1-3pm only to reopen in the late afternoon.
Our first stop was at the Fundacion Real Escuela Andaluza del Arte Ecuestre. That’s a mouthfull for the place they train horses. Oddly enough, in spite of wanting to show off their school, they were very secretive of their techniques, so no photos were allowed.
We toured the stables, the arena where they train the horses, on-going training by horse trainers and a museum. The original training came from the strategic role that horses and horse riding played in war. Better horsemen prevailed. Hence, teaching horse and man to be perfectly compatible and in unison.
Next we visited the Sandman Bodega conveniently located next door to the equestrian school. We got an informative, half-hour tour of the facility, the history of sherry and how it is made. Afterwards, we were offered ample tastes.
A few of the more interesting things we learned were that 1) sherry is made of only three white grape varietals, including Moscatel; 2) they age the wine in American oak, leaving room in each barrel for air and oxidation to occur; 3) they stack the barrels on top of each other, typically around four rows high. The bottom row contains the oldest sherry of which they draw out about one-third for that year’s sherry. They replace the one-third with the sherry from the next row up barrel and also draw from one-third from that row to produce a slightly younger sherry. They follow that principle all the way up to the top row filling those barrels with the newly produced sherry. They term they use for this process is called “Soleras Criaderas”.
We sampled sherries from the very dry to sweet. The medium sweet sherries were our favorite. The oxidized sharpness of the dry sherry was a negative for me. We left Sandman with the intention of finding another bodega. But by the time we got to another one, it was closed. Time for a siesta. Darn! We drove back home to Arcos.
Aside from its uniqueness of being situated so daringly on a mountain peak, its charming, narrow streets and a couple of ancient cathedrals, there wasn’t much more to Arcos. On one evening we spent an hour walking around looking for a restaurant. Most of the places are tapas bars and offer little variety. Still, we were glad to have stopped to experience Arcos.