That title was quite a mouthful, wasn’t it? But in all honesty, I wanted it to be highly descriptive of a recent three-night long weekend in Seville with days out to Jerez for sherry and Jabugo for jamon iberico. You get the main idea of what was involved, surely?
I will cut the chase – this wasn’t our normal weekend away. This trip was our first outing post my husband’s operation (7 weeks later), and we were taking it very easy. We both got tired easily and we actually just wanted to get out of our house and get a bit of Spain in our system. And warmth. Or something like that.
Thursday Evening in Sevilla
We flew in to Seville from London Gatwick with BA, and the flight (all going well), lands at 7.15pm which is great to go out for dinner.
We left our hotel booking until the very last minute – because we weren’t sure we were actually going. We actually booked our tickets in July 2017 on a BA sale (£170 for business class) and literally just played it by ear. But as luck would have it, pretty much everywhere in Sevilla was booked for our dates and Saturday night was particularly difficult (or non-existent), so I got crafty with my last minute plans. There you go, the Os living dangerously.
We got a room for 2 nights at the Hospes “Las Casas del Rey de Baeza”, which you can book as a Design Hotel via Starwood and earn points. We got a better rate that way and were very very lucky to be confirmed a room. On a previous visit, we stayed at the Alfonso XIII, which is the city’s grand dame, but there wasn’t a single room to be had.
The hotel was nice enough – and quite unique, but I felt the bathrooms could really do with an update. Other than that, I have zero complaints. The location wasn’t bad, the room was pretty nice and we did grow quite fond of the bar and sitting area which is as close to home as one can get. Which is exactly what we needed.
We got to the hotel, quickly freshened up and met the lovely Shawn Hennessy of Azahar Sevilla at reception. Shawn is one of our Seville fairies – we met for the first time on a previous trip and I don’t think there is someone who knows Sevilla and the area and its restaurants as well as she does.
We had booked a gourmet tapas tour – and she took us everywhere she wanted. We were on almadraba tuna season, so we had a fair bit of that (which was incredible), obviously a lot of jamon iberico and a little intro to Sherry. All which would come in handy in the next couple of days.
Shawn is very flexible – and you get what you pay for. You can choose a normal or a gourmet tapas tour and you can choose to pay for her time and then pay for your own food and drink separately during the tour, or you can get it all in one price. You can read about a previous experience here and also about a round-up of food tours I wrote about a while back.
Whatever you do, book Shawn way in advance as she is incredibly busy (and she can only do one evening tour a day). You will also discover quite a few restaurants you can then visit during your trip.
Friday in Seville
With breakfast ending earlier than we wanted to on Friday (and because we were on a completely different post op schedule), we chose not to stress and wake up early and find breakfast on the way.
As all roads led to the El Corte Ingles department store and we were keen to have some churros, Shawn suggested Centuria, a very traditional local place which serves little more than churros and coffee. I was so nervous to order, I cannot tell you – and I speak Spanish. I did manage to order 2 coffees with milk (cafe con leche) and 2 portions of churros, but the waiter thought it was too much. Turns out one was plenty and the whole thing cost 5 Euros. I think it is kind of worth a visit but so not my kind of breakfast! Turns out I do like the 1 churro on a hotel buffet and not 7! Oh well!
We spent ‘a few hours’ at El Corte Ingles (if you go, also visit the Gourmet Experience on the top floor) and walked around a bit as Seville has some decent shopping. It is all high street brands, but there are more upmarket ones since last time we visited. No complaints here.
For lunch, we were delighted to meet with my friend Ana (and her partner Vitor and her 2 children) who lives near Malaga and timed a visit to the Portuguese consulate in Seville so we could meet. We had to find a place where they could park and we chose to return to Vineria San Telmo which was great, as it was on our last visit.
We had a quiet afternoon (with our friends) at the hotel living room, and then took a taxi towards the Cathedral area and spent the rest of the evening going to some of the bars that Shawn recommended. It was great. We also met Fiona Flores Watson, who writes about this part of the world for The Telegraph amongst others, which was lovely too.
Saturday in Jerez de La Frontera
On Saturday bright and early, we had breakfast at the hotel and then drove to Jerez de La Frontera which is the home of sherry. 100km separate both cities and the drive took around 90 minutes.
As I mentioned earlier, this trip was literally organised a week before we arrived – and I cannot thank Nadia, who I met when I first visited Finca Cortesin 5 years ago and has been a great friend ever since, who pretty much decided what we should do whilst in Jerez.
It wasn’t difficult: we were to get a private tour at Gonzalez Byass, followed by a very educational tasting. Most tastings around town in other wineries take place only in the morning (which I wasn’t expecting) and there aren’t many open after lunch (and closed on Sundays). So book before you go – tours cost 21.50 Euros with 4 wines and tapas and absolutely worth it.
Sherry comes from Southern Spain, in the triangle formed by the towns of Jerez, Sanlúcar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa María. Sherry can be dry or sweet – and I kind of finally understood what the fuss was all about. I learned a tiny bit about, I drank a fair bit of it – and I will confess to one thing, we brought some home. Turns out that we have a thing for Oloroso and Palo Cortado. I found this website which has some interesting info about sherry, appropriately called Sherry Notes.
I also learned that the ‘drink’ that most people in England consider Sherry (the famous Bristol cream) is something only produced for the UK market (and the cause of a laugh or three by the Spanish). There’s a whole world out there for me to discover (just as I have been drinking and enjoying Port).
For lunch, Nadia (and her friend Jose from Gonzalez Byass) booked us a table at La Carbona and we had a seriously lovely lunch. I hadn’t had prawns (for obvious reasons) for a pretty long time and I seriously almost cried when we got them. I missed red mullets – they had it on the menu. The restaurant was beautiful too (I couldn’t capture too much as it was packed), and we loved it. Lunch for 2 was around 125 Euros if memory serves me right.
We wanted to wander around a bit, but it was time for a rest. Jerez doesn’t really have any luxury hotel options and we stayed outside the city, at Casa Vina de Alcantara, which is owned by another branch of the Gonzalez family and is known to be the place to stay. It really is like a house (with ensuite bathrooms of course), and if you get home late, you will need to wake the guard up – we had to, and was a bit strange.
The room was very comfortable and I knew there is a great pool. But I conveniently forgot to mention that it did not stop raining since the moment we landed in Seville. It hasn’t rained in months, everyone was delighted – except for us, of course. But as you can see, it didn’t stop us from doing anything and gave us even more excuses to nap in the afternoon. I did have a rather lovely post-sherry nap indeed.
For dinner, and as fate would have it, Stuart and Anna, very good friends of my husband Simon were at their house in nearby Arcos de la Frontera. We convinced them to pick us up and take us to dinner in Jerez (and plenty of time for me to stock up on essentials at the El Corte Ingles supermarket as we were leaving the following day and with it being Sunday, it meant that there would be no supermarkets open).
Dinner was at A Mar (also picked by Nadia and Jose) and it was really good – modern decor with traditional food and we really enjoyed it. Somehow, dinner was only 100 Euros for the 4 of us, but we are not complaining
Sunday in Jabugo
We weren’t quite ready to leave Casa Vina de Alcantara, but we had a very important appointment in Jabugo, which is the home of another of Spain’s best gifts to the world: 100% acorn-fed jamon iberico.
We had a deliciously simple breakfast (by choice) and what was the nicest freshly squeezed orange juice I had in a very long time. This guest house was very traditional in style, but I am very glad we stayed there. I would assume it would be completely different in the Summer, so maybe I should go back?
The drive from Jerez de la Frontera to Jabugo was about 200km, taking about 2h30. If we had gone back to Seville the night before (and had been to Jerez just for the day), the drive between Seville would be under an hour and a half.
Going to Jabugo was quite an emotional moment for me – I had been with my family probably 20 something years ago, and thanks to my late father’s and my mother’s love of food, this has been a staple in our diet. We adore ‘jamon iberico de bellota’ and Cinco Jotas has always been ‘our family brand’. At home, we almost only buy Cinco Jotas (we are seriously good customers and besides the hand cut pre-packaged sleeves we get from El Corte Ingles – by the way they now deliver worldwide), we also buy a leg or two a year. I tell no lies so much so, that I can tell you that this Christmas’ ham was called Juan Jose Javier Jesus Jago. Count the number of of names and Js… it will add up to 5.
Once you get to Jabugo, you will see how Cinco Jotas kind of dominates the town (and employs a huge part of its population). We went on the tour which was actually incredible – do you know that feeling if you now go on a wine tour if you have been 10 times that you feel like you know you could make some wine? (Obviously I am joking). Well, this is the exact opposite. I had never seen anything like this – and the smell of the building was most divine.
I don’t want to ruin the educational experience you will get, so here is an article with some facts about Iberian Ham – and why not all hams are the same.
Visiting the room above.. was like being Catholic and going to the Vatican. And I am not exaggerating – if you think each leg is 500 Euros (or a bit more), do the math. It was interesting to see how they were also organised – by buyers. From the Royal Family, to top chefs and of course El Corte Ingles (who is their largest client), many buy it in advance – because quantities are limited.
The tasting is, the moment we had been waiting for and full of surprises, obviously paired with a Fino Sherry (Cinco Jotas is actually owned by the Osborne family). Instead of giving you some bits of ham, they give you cuts from different parts of the back leg of the ham (the back legs are called jamones and the front legs are called paletas and cost significantly less. When you hear jamon, you know it is back leg).
When the tasting ended, we had lunch next door, at Las Bellotas, which as you can probably imagine, showcased iberico pork in various ways. It was stunning.
After a really special day, we drove back to Seville, where we spent a few hours before our flight back. But not of course before we asked where we could buy some iberico pork meat to bring home. And guess what? We found what could be probably the only butcher that opens in Spain (or pretty much anywhere in the world on a Sunday). Five kilos of ‘secretos, solomillo and pluma iberica’ made their way hand luggage to the UK, and brought a lot of happiness.
And what a fabulous weekend we had in and around Seville. I am growing fonder and fonder of this part of the world and this weekend was just perfect, except for the rain (which almost never makes an appearance).
Until the next time
Stay in Seville at Hospes Casa del Rey de Baeza – rates from 190 Euros per night excluding breakfast.
Stay near Jerez at Casa Vina de Alcantara – rates from 150 Euros per night including breakfast (we had a paid booking here but were surprised to be comped at check out).
Get there: we flew with British Airways from London Gatwick – fares from £100 return in economy, £150 business class.
Get around: we hired a car with Avis (and used code N744400 as BA Gold). Our car was 100 Euros for the 4 days, which was excellent value.
Drink: visit Gonzalez Byass winery in Jerez de la Frontera. We were guests of the brand and the tour costs 21.50 Euros.
Eat: the best jamon iberico in the world (my words, not theirs). A visit to Cinco Jotas (around 1hr40 drive from Seville) costs from £53 pp, including a tour of the curing cellars, meadows and jamón tasting. Bespoke visits can also be arranged. For more information, and to see other varieties of Cinco Jotas jamón de bellota, call Cinco Jotas on +34 603 599 061 or visit their website. We were their guests on this occasion, and we loved every minute.
Eat and Explore: book Shawn from Sevilla Tapas for a food tour, from 80 Euros per person for 3 and a bit hours, with food and drink included.