El Puerto De Santa Maria Spain : October 2017
On our way to Cadiz we had intended to stop by at a little village named Padul; my grandmothers’s birthplace. It being a 300km trek to Cadiz and running a little late we decided to skip the visit, leaving a hot Granada with a lovely warm feeling in our hearts.
Why are we heading for Cádiz? Last year we watched a Rick Stein series on TV called ‘Long Weekends’ which amongst others featured Cadiz; I fell in love with what we saw.
On the way South we marveled at the landscape, fields and fields of olive trees, stretching as far as one can see, some reaching right to the top of the mountains; all this interspersed with fields of asparagus and artichokes; three of my favorite foods in one spot. I took a few action shots as we were driving so you can get an idea. It really is quite beautiful countryside.
As we were getting closer to Cadiz we noticed a couple of villages that really stood out because of their ‘whiteness’, looking a little like Greek villages, a quick Google and we learned that these are called ‘Pueblo Blancos’ (White Villages’ funnily enough). There are quite a few of them in the northern parts of Málaga and Cádiz with most of the names indicating their Moorish origins; could not find a definitive answer as to why these villages are all painted white but they really pop out as one drives through fairly arid countryside.
One of the Pueblos Blancos in particular caught our eye, it being lunchtime we decided to make a stop at Olivera. Finding a parking spot was interesting and the walk up the hill was not for sissies. Really, really steep up to the fort and the church. It was so pretty with all the houses painted sparkling bright white with a yellow trim, they must paint them each week to keep them looking so clean. At the top we found a tiny square with a restaurant where we plonked ourselves down. Next came a lesson in ordering in Spanish but we did not do too badly. On almost every menu we had come across we had noticed something called ‘Rusa Ensaladilla’ or (Russian Salad) and we were fascinated by this apparent love affair the Spaniards have for what looked like potato salad. That is what it is, ok a little fancier as it contains tuna or crab, grated carrot or peas and creamy mayonnaise. There are a lot of variations and every restaurant prides itself on a ‘casa’ version. We tried it and it was delicious. Then a tapas dish of stewed pigs cheek and some shrimp brochette ( which means cooked on a skewer) This was all washed down with a glass of vino blanco for me and a peach juice for the driver (shame) After lunch we walked another steep block to the church square, the views were worth every step. We took quite a few pics as you could really get a sense of the village from the top. Moving on, we saw more of these striking villages along the way and its hard not to want to take pics of them all.
Cádiz itself is virtually an island and we could not find any sign of a camp site in any of our various maps, guides or apps, so we opted for one in the town of El Puerto de Santa Maria, the camp site being right across from the beach. The check in lady was full of interesting information and we were happy to hear we could take the ferry, bus or train to Cádiz and it was only a 30min trip. Another very pleasant surprise was that the town of Santa Maria was more than just a little town across the bay from Cádiz. It is one of the the 3 towns making up the sherry triangle. The other 2 being Jerez ( where the name sherry comes from) and Sanlucar de Barrameda.
That evening we took a stroll along the promenade past the beach and the marina. Wow!the sunset was amazing, the beach is beautiful and we spot at least 5 camper vans parked in the car park at the beach; “Wild Camping”. We are a little jealous of the seemingly easy fashion with which people just park in the most beautiful spots and chill, but we remind ourselves that they have bigger campers which they own and they kit them out with everything they need to be self sufficient. For us for now, we must enjoy the camp sites and hot showers.The camp site was huge and the pitch we had been given was enormous, not sure why with our little ScootR but we weren’t complaining.
I had found a website called ‘Spanish Sabores’ ,with an in depth blog of the best places to go. Now armed with all this knowledge off we go. We started off early (for us) with a walk into Santa Maria to the churro bar.( apparently the best one in town), and as we got there….it was closed! What ?oh no! We could not tell if it was closed for the morning, the day, the week , the month or forever. Chris is now annoyed, “mmm” he mutters under his breath, “maybe we won’t be staying in this town for long”. What ? one place is closed and he wants to move on. I persuaded him to stay and we walked further into town. (Chris: As most of you dear intelligent readers have probably discovered by now; Rose is very happy to make me sound like Mr Grumpy and the butt of various jokes. Please take no notice whatsoever. ) Santa Maria is lovely but you can clearly see the lack of money, judging by the neglected buildings and closed shops. You walk along and think this is a real run down town but actually there are some really good places. We explored the market which is very authentic; we watched in fascination as the fishmongers cleaned and prepared calamari and fish for the locals.
We bought some tapas olive mix, yummy. We tried another place SpanishSabores had suggested and guess what? It was closed with a sign that said “due to personal reasons we are closed on Thursdays” With Chris muttering behind me I find the 3rd option for breakfast, an old fashioned pastry shop. Sjoe! Lucky its open. Very quiet as they are closing in 30 min, but we quickly order a coffee and the speciality pastry called a carmela. Delicious.
We found so much to look at in this town. Everything is a little run down but still the atmosphere is lovely and the food places looked so interesting, we were spoilt for choice. I will not give you a blow by blow description of how many times we walked up and down looking for the ParsleysPerfect place to eat, but rather focus on individual experiences.
Today Santa Maria has 3 proper bodegas( places where wine arrives and sherry is created in the barrels that fill the cellars), down from more than 60 bodegas just 30 years ago. We had walked into a really fancy looking one called Osbornes. It has tours, tastings, branded clothing, ceramics, homeware, a restaurant and the kitchen sink! Really impressive and everything branded with the famous Toro (bull) This is the same bull we have seen on hilltops all over Spain. On leaving Santa Maria, we saw a few of these branded with ‘Osborne’ and we looked it up in interest. Turns out this is known as the Osborne bull, but Osborne lost the right to its exclusive use, as the Spanish judge said it was too much part of the Spanish culture to be restricted to their exclusive use. Now everyone uses it!; it has become a Spanish icon.
Instead of Osborne we chose to go to a smaller ( more authentic?) bodega; Gutierrez Colosia. The tour was very informative and I must say I learnt an awful lot about sherry. I realize I actually had the complete wrong impression about it being this sweet wine. This is so far from the truth as Bertrand, our guide , explained. It’s actually more often an aged very dry wine, called Fino. The tour ended with a tasting of 6 varieties and we were both blown away with the entire experience. I wish I could tell you more, but the post would be too long, so look it up and try some for yourself. Another thing to note, its really cheap. They charge around €1.60 a glass in most bars. Most sherries are made close to the sea so that the sea air and the moisture from the ground helps the process. I was a convert and I drank nothing else for the next few days. It goes fantastically with the seafood and tapas mostly served in this region. I even drank it in Seville, a version called manzanilla which is made in Sanlucar. Its a pity that sherry has become known as the old person sweet wine, as I really think it is underrated.
The first day we stumbled into an overflowing deli/bar; filled with locals; the shelves groaning with all sorts of delicacies, both local and not so local. The fridge filled with cheeses and meats, with three pork legs ready for slicing on the counter. A heavenly spot owned by and named ‘Mario’s’ (Clearly a common Spanish name? ) We ordered a plate of Jámon Iberico and queso. This with a beer, a fino for me and some olives & bread which come with the drink was the perfect lunch. We also ordered chicharrónes (bits of pork belly fried), that is a speciality in this area. He was such a character, doing everything himself, serving, pouring and making convo with everyone. The second round of cheese we ordered was a locally made one, very much like a cross between a parmesan and a mature cheddar.(Payoya)
That evening we walked into town to try a bar that Spanish Sabores had recommend and guess what it was closed, by now Chris has nicknamed her SpanishBores and he is not impressed. We saw that a few places have a sign saying closed for personal reasons on a Thursday, odd? ( Chris: I think the shopkeepers are all having personal reasons with each other?) Luckily the place we chose was open. ‘Bespoke’ is a small restaurant which is part of the sherry bodega we had visited and the interior was very quirky. Everything handmade as the name implies. We had a lovely evening trying some local specialities like clams in a broth, “mojama” thinly sliced salt-cured tuna and “tortillitas de camarones” which are shrimp fritters.
The next morning. . . Suprise! The famous churro shop is open and it’s packed. We ordered coffee and churros with hot chocolate mmmmm . Really, really recommended.
After churros we hopped onto the ferry to Cádiz, in the port were 2 LARGE cruise liners, which we guessed meant that we weren’t going to be the only tourists in town. More like us and 6000 more. We had a walk around and admired the amazing Cathedral, the architecture and following the winding cobbled streets, just people watching. We did visit the market but we were late and the stalls had mostly closed. It had been recommended to try sushi, especially the bluefin tuna that is so popular in this area. It was nice but not great and we tried the belly part but we both found it quite fatty and stringy.
In our walks we came across a bar that had also been featured by Rick Stein called Casa Manteca. The owner was a former bull fighter and the walls were covered in his memorabilia, as well as a picture of Madiba. We had some jámon, cheese, olives and these thinly sliced fried pieces of pork. It was quite vibey and I think lots of people saw it on Rick Stein so I spotted a few other Brits ordering the pork.
From Casa Manteca we walked to the seaside and took a long, long walk along the promenade, seeing the cathedral from the sea side. ( at this point the peninsula is only about 50 meters wide) It was really, really hot, so we took off our shoes and walked onto the beach and paddled our feet in the warmish sea. We ended the afternoon with a drink at one of the beach bars, not the cheapest but the view was worth it.
We had decided to eat dinner in Cádiz that evening but it would need to be early as we had to catch the ferry at 10pm latest. That sounds late, but let me explain about eating times in this part of Spain. Early Breakfast is coffee and then at around 10.30 they eat proper breakfast, like tostada con tamate(toast with tomato) or adding some jámon. Lunch, usually the main meal of the day is generally around 2/3pm, followed by siesta. Meriendas is at 6pm, which is a snack of sorts and often sweet, so churros, cake or ice cream. Dinner is at 9/10pm and normally a lighter meal or tapas. Which bring me to this day in Cádiz, it was 5pm , and we had to kill time before dinner, so best we go for ice cream. We saw a cafe with lots of people eating delicious looking ice cream sundaes. We couldn’t resist , both of us ordered an ice cream sundae with various toppings. Definitely not recommended on any diet plan, but when in Spain do as the Spanish right? Needless to say we were not hungry for dinner now, and anyway the restaurants only open at 8pm and Chris refuses to be the first person in a restaurant. (Chris: At 8pm the waiters smile at each other and give you the English menu, no self respecting Spaniard would be seen dead eating his evening meal this early).
We decided to head back to Santa Maria, only we had just missed the ferry and the next one was in an hour. We checked the timetable at the bus stop but realized we had missed it by about 5 minutes; decided to wait for a few minutes in case it was running on Spanish time rather than Swiss or German. Lo and behold 6 or 7 minutes later our choc a block bus pulls up. Nine o’clock at night, filled with school kids going home after football practice, old ladies just having had their hair done and workers on their way home; most shops open after siesta at 5, then close again around 9.
We ended the evening with a late night tapas at a local restaurant. Sitting outside on plastic tables and chairs, lots of families with kids eating at 10pm at night. ( in other countries parents would be locked up for having small children out so late, but in Spain it’s totally acceptable and the children are well behaved and eating octopus with the parents)
This is such a long post and I still have so much to tell you but I know you don’t have as much time as we do to read. So I’ll round it off by telling you that this is possibly one of our best finds. On the surface El Puerto de Santa Maria is slight shabby and not so pretty looking but actually it has a fantastic beach( we spent the afternoon on it) and marina and promenade. It is a lovely historic town, the market and bodegas( I’m a fino addict) are worth a visit. It has many restaurants to choose from and the prices are good. And it even has a working bull ring! ( Third largest in Spain) Ok sorry those people sensitive to the cruelty but we admired the passion of the Spaniards when it comes to their traditions …
We had to leave; Sevilla and flamenco await us.