A fantasy dinner party set in New York
Talking Location With author J J Anderson – Jerez de la Frontera
24th November 2018
#TalkingLocationWith... J J Anderson, who takes her readers to Jerez de la Frontera, both present day and back to the 13th Century in her novel The Silver Rings. Plus some tops tips for a visit!
Jerez de la Frontera in Andalucia isn’t on too many tourist maps and, if it is, it’s usually for the sherry, a quick visit to a bodega before the tourist moves on to the larger, more cosmopolitan Sevilla or the ancient port of Cadiz. Yet there is much, much more to Jerez than that.
Cadiz may have been important in the Roman era, but it was Jerez which thrived during the eight hundred years of Moorish rule. Reminders of that time are still around today – the Alcazar, Jerez’ citadel, with its Capella de Santa Maria chapel, placed in a beautiful and tranquil former mosque, mihrab still in place. The thirteenth century Claustros de Santo Domingo, where concerts are held in Summer as the moon rises over the cloister buildings. The narrow cobbled lanes of the ancient city centre, the street names – Plateros, the square of the Silversmiths, Arenal, the parade ground – conjure up its exotic and multi-cultural past.
It was this history which inspired me when I began the story which eventually became Reconquista, the first book in the Al Andalus series. Written for my young god-son who was visiting my home in Jerez for the first time, the tale, of five young people during the 13thcentury siege of the city and their subsequent adventures, went on to be long listed for the Children’s Novel Award 2016. Its sequel The Silver Rings, is published this month (November 2018, The Story Bazaar).
The centre of Jerez is steeped in history and most particularly that of the conquest of the Moorish city by Christian King Alfonso X in 1264. Yet the Arab heritage is still very strong here, in the buildings and architecture, the traditional tilework and in the language. Jerez was called Xeres by the Moors, which gives the distinctive drink of the region its name – sherry.
Reconquista begins on 9thOctober, 1264, the day upon which the siege ends and the city falls to the King. It is a classic adventure story. Our protagonists find their lives turned upside down and they all make journeys, physical and metaphorical, before they find safety and return home. When they do, they find that much has changed, not least, themselves. How they adapt to their new, very different circumstances is told in the second book, The Silver Rings.
Many of the places featured can still be visited in Jerez today, although the central section of The Silver Rings takes place in the mountains of the Sierra de Grazalema to the east of the city, an hour and a half’s drive away and now a protected nature park. As recently as the 1930s this wild and dramatic landscape was still the haunt of bandeleros and our heroes take on their predecessors in a daring rescue, before returning to Jerez. There’s adventure, intrigue and self-discovery in 13thcentury Spain as they meet warlords and pirates, King and Emir, and there’s some romance too.
One longstanding tradition of Jerez hasn’t changed since then, the enjoyment of good food and wine. It already has a growing reputation as a foodie paradise and there are many first rate places to eat; from the popular Albores (Calle Consistorio, booking required ) and formal La Carbona (in a converted sherry bodega on Calle San Franciso de Paula and with a wonderful ‘sherry tasting’ menu ) to local favourite Almucen (Calle Latorre) in its historic setting (check out the vaulted ceiling).
All favourites, but why not try the little tapas bars just outside the city centre, where the locals eat freshly cooked tortilla with mussels and fino and listen to live flamenco. La Guitarronon Calle Bizcocheros is run by two sisters and gets absolutely packed at the weekends, as does La Pandilla, on Calle Los Valientes, which is difficult as it’s a huge old place, with decor which hasn’t changed since the 1950s and an outside courtyard – but it’ll be buzzing and full with locals on a Sunday lunchtime.
For something a little different try Alberonia, in the Zoco (souk) on Plaza Peones, just along from the Archbishop’s Palace. Located in a first floor galleried courtyard this out of the way gem is outside, but heaters and canopies make dining possible for most of the year, at least at lunchtime. The food is divine, little plates of the exquisite flavours of Spain and North Africa. ‘We regularly just order the whole of the Specials board, as the chef uses whatever’s fresh in the market that day,’ Julie says. ‘We’ve never been disappointed.’
Try the local wine, not just the sherry, the province makes a great selection of light whites and deep, heavy reds as well as some of the finest olive oils and wonderful payoyo cheeses, stuffed with nuts and paprika. Jerez is absolutely the place to visit for excellent food (and excellent value) and there’s lots to see in the historic town.
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