Enjoy a weekend in Sanlucar, Cadiz, writes Sorrel Downer
VOTED Gastronomy Capital of Spain 2022, Sanlucar de Barrameda is rightly famous for its fabulous fish and seafood, but the town has more to offer than a top lunch.
Its sherry bodegas, castles and palaces, a busy calendar of cultural events, centuries of history and a calm beach for strolling along, all bathed in the uniquely transluscent Costa de la Luz light, merit a longer stay.
Roughly 100 km south of Sevilla or a 40-minute drive northwest from Cadiz, the town sits on the shore of the Guadalquivir estuary. The fact you can go no further, except by boat, has helped keep the place unspoilt and full of character.
For a quick visit, it’s easiest to think of Sanlucar as having three distinct areas: historic Barrio Alto, up the hill; Plaza del Cabildo flanked by bars in the middle; and Bajo de Guia and the beach. To keep things stress-free, use the underground car park close to Cabildo (on Avenida Calzada Duquesa Isabel).
YOU’VE arrived in Spain’s foodie capital: celebrate with a feast of fish. At Casa Bigote by the water in Bajo de Guia, you’ll find the widest possible choice of them, from the local classics, Sanlucar langoustines and wedge sole (acedia), to the likes of flounder, bream and red mullet done every which way, and the house special, cazuela de huevos a la marinera – stew of eggs, prawns and langoustines.
El Espejo, a stylish restaurant with patio inside an historical building in Barrio Alto (Calle Caballeros 11), has what’s arguably the most sophisticated menu around. Three courses (for example: wild red tuna tartare and ajoblanco, calamares stuffed with black pudding, and a gooey chocolate coulant) will set you back a little over €40 a head: excellent value for food this good. Book ahead.
Where to stay?
For unique, quirky accommodation try either Hotel Posada de Palacio (Calle Caballeros 9) or Hotel Palacio de los Guzmanes, virtually opposite (Plaza Condes de Niebla). Both date back to the 15th century and have inner courtyards, large rooms with old tiles and antiques. The second also has a lovely café and mature gardens, and is handy for a guided tour of the main part of the Palacio de los Guzmanes, preserved as a museum (Sundays 10.30am, 11am & 12pm, otherwise it’s Wednesdays 11am & 12am).
Two boutique hostels within tottering distance of Plaza del Cabildo provide light-filled, contemporary chic accommodation, along with personal attention: La Casa Sanlucar (Calle Ancha 84) and, quite literally around the corner, Casa de las Especias (Calle Regina 44) – a labour of love by a group of people who got together and renovated an old building during the pandemic.
SANLUCAR is a corner of the sherry triangle (along with Jerez and El Puerto de Santa Maria) and the source of all manzanilla. Start the day learning all about it at CIMA, an interpretation centre under the gothic stone arches on Cuesta de Belen. Their website (cimasanlucar.es) has details on visiting 18 Sanlucar bodegas – always best to check before rocking up.
Wander through the market, housed in a bright white ecclesiastical-looking 18th century building beside it, and pause for toast at Tartessos Bar (Calle Carmen Viejo 2). Agui and his team are masters at inventing revolutionary toast toppings (the Arenque –pate, smoked fish, onion and caramelised sugar is a perennial favourite). Sanlucar’s gourmet offerings come in all forms for all budgets.
Suitably refreshed, hike up the hill to Barrio Alto, a dense cluster of palaces and convents, and the high white walls of bodegas that were convents but now belong to the mighty wine producers, Barbadillo. Even the town hall is a palace – a pink and ochre striped one. The former summer residence of the dukes of Monpensier, it stands among the fig trees, palms, fountains and kumquats of slightly exotic, visitable botanical gardens.
Turn left at the town hall and follow a narrow street that soon becomes Calle Luis de Eguilaz, against the direction of travel. All churches in Cadiz are good places to visit if you are hot or religious, but our Lady of the O is exceptional. The facade dates back to the 14th century and is quite plain, but the stone carving, and inside, the chapels, silver, gold and art are breathtaking.
The Castillo de Santiago, further along, has the look of a giant toy fort and is the biggest in Cadiz, with canons and costumes on display, and splendid views from the tower. (Open 10am- 2pm last entry & 5pm-7pm last entry)
Finally, the mighty Bodegas Barbadillo (barbadillo.com/visitas-bodegas-barbadillo), where you can amble through the museum, enoy an educational tour and taste four wines, before tipsily buying more than intended in the shop. There are seven scheduled tours in Spanish on Saturdays, but only one, at 11am, in English.
Navigating the opening hours can be a palaver, so consider leaving it to the experts. The Tourist Information Office on Calzada Duquesa Isabel has information on local companies that offer tours combing attractions with sherry tastings, some taking place in the cool of the evening.
But if your evening is free, join the throng in Plaza del Cabildo. The square with its fountain and palms is the best known of many better hidden plazas, and a bustling, convivial spot for a couple of glasses of cold crisp manzanilla sherry and hot crisp tortillitas de camarones. You can visit five good bars within a few paces, but be sure to include the upmarket traditional Barbiana for papas aliñas, and Casa Balbino, which has been serving up a huge selection of exceptional fish and seafood tapas to lucky locals and visiting stars of screen, peñas and bullrings since 1939.
TIME for the beach! It’s a 10-minute walk from the centre, and inevitably, whatever route you take to the sea, the river and restaurants of Bajo de Guia will be to your right, and lots of sandy beach, 50 metres wide with boats, moored and bobbing in the shallows, to your left.
Chiringuitos offer loungers and shades for hire, as well as good fried fish. If you’re hungry, don’t want to stray far from the beach, but fancy something more – well, gastro, head to Doña Calma Gastrobar (Calle Director Julián Cerdán) for langoustine or tuna tacos and octopus empanadilla.
However, for a traditional Sunday lunch, Sanlucar style, it has to be a plate of fish in Bajo de Guia. Restaurants run the length of the pedestrian riverfront, their tables packed close together overlooking the estuary beach. The choice is overwhelming, so watch what the people next to you order and have that.
If you wonder what the white sand natural paradise is on the opposite bank, it’s Doñana National Park. The Real Fernando makes the crossing, stopping for an hour before returning. Tickets and information on longer visits are available from the Fabrica de Hielo Visitor Centre at the start of the strip.
A season of horse races has taken place on Sanlucar’s Calzada beach every August since 1845, so if you are thinking of lying on the sand with a book, avoid August 9-11 & 23-25.
The first voyage around the world was completed when Elcano sailed back into Sanlucar on September 6, 1522. Suitably big celebrations are planned to celebrate the 500-year anniversary.