Sanlúcar: Fishing port offers food fit for a king

A worker transfers Pedro Ximénez — a sweet mahogany-colored sherry wine with a raisin taste — from one barrel to another at the Barbadillo bodega in Sanlúcar de Barrameda.



The local legend along Spain’s Guadalquivir River is that the king is an elusive, yet frequent visitor.

He journeys, some residents whisper, from his Madrid palace to southern Spain’s Andalusia region several times a year, sneaking in and out to avoid attention. His majesty does it for only one reason: to eat seafood and sip Sanlúcar’s famous Manzanilla sherry wine along the river shoreline.

The story certainly may be true; it is not difficult to see why he would make the 400-mile trip to the fishing port. The seafood is fit for a king and the local pale, dry sherry is its perfect companion.

But you don’t have to be royalty to enjoy the small city southwest of Seville. Life in the town of 60,000 people has thrived along the river mouth since Roman times. Portuguese Explorer Ferdinand Magellan launched his famous voyage around the globe from the same riverbanks in 1519. Christopher Columbus made his third journey to the New World from the port in 1498.

Today, the town is widely known in southern Spain for its local Manzanilla sherry. Manzanilla is a special type of sherry only made in Sanlúcar. The humid, iodine-rich air from the Atlantic Ocean that blows over the area helps create the microclimate essential to its creation.

While a glass of Manzanilla can be ordered at just about any corner bar or wine cellar in town, a tour shows how it is made. Plus, you usually get a free taste at the end.

Barbadillo is the largest sherry maker in Sanlúcar, producing 70 percent of the city’s output. The company has been around since 1821 and has a sprawling complex of wine cellars, known as bodegas.

Visitors may take a guided tour and walk through a 19th century Andalusian house that has been converted into the “Manzanilla Museum.”

Steve Cook, a former Californian who is Barbadillo’s international director, says first-time drinkers of Manzanilla are usually shocked by its unique structure. It has a lighter, fruitier taste than other sherries. An added bonus: It is free of natural histamines, which can cause those nasty wine headaches.

“People don’t feel hungover drinking Manzanilla,” said Cook, explaining why it is the drink of choice at many fiestas across southern Spain.

While a bodega tour tops most itineraries, there are plenty of other things to see and do in town:

  • Since 1845, the city has held horse races along the beach. The event is scheduled around the tides and usually held around July and August.
  • Across the river is one of Europe’s largest nature reserves, Doñana National Park. The marshland, which once was a bay, is home to various types of plants and animals. Ferries launch from the beach daily.
  • If you’re looking for the best tapas, find Casa Balbino. The place serves more than 200 types of the small, bar-sized food portions.
  • But to truly enjoy what the city has to offer gastronomically, Bajo de Guia is the spot. Feast on king prawns and sherry at one of the several restaurants and you’ll think you’re in heaven – until you see the bill. Casa Bigote’s seafood special, which includes a platter for two people, costs about $80. A bottle of Manzanilla will cost more than some other restaurants.

Seeing the king, however, is priceless.

On the QT

Directions: A quick day trip from Naval Station Rota, Spain or Morón Air Base. From Rota, take A 491 (perimeter road) to CA 614; turn left at CA 602, follow signs to Sanlúcar. From Morón, take A360 to A364; follow A 364 through Utrera to A362; take A362 to the autopiste (toll road); take autopiste south to Jerez de la Frontera; from Jerez take A480 to Sanlúcar.

Costs: Some bodegas require an admission fee and reservations. Call ahead to find out when tours in English are given.

Calendar: February — Carnival; Holy Week;

May — Romería del Rocio (Pilgrimage to Rocio); Manzanilla Festival;

July — Festival of Cante Flamenco “Noches de Bajo de Guía”;

August — Horses Races, Carreras de Caballos; Fiestas Patronales; Fiestas de Exaltación al Río Guadalquivir.

Information: Sanlúcar de Barrameda Tourist Office, Calzada del Ejercito (It is at center of the city’s main walkway, about a block from the beach); telephone (+34) 956-36-61-10, or (+34) 956-36-61-32; Web site http://www.aytosanlucar.org/. Open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and 5 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and 5 to 7:30 p.m. on weekends.

List of Sanlucar bodegas, or wine cellars:

Bodegas Barbadillo S.A., C/ Luis de Eguílaz, 11; telephone 956-38-55-00.

Museo “Barbadillo de la Manzanilla,” Junto al Castillo de Santiago; telephone 956-38-55-00.

Bodegas Herederos de Argüeso, C/ Mar, 8; telephone 956-38-51-16.

Bodegas Pedro Romero, C/ Trasbolsa, 60; telephone 956-36–07-36, or 956-36-10-27.

Bodegas Vinicola Hidalgo, C/ Banda Playa, 24; telephone 956-38-53-04

Bodegas “La Cigarrera,” Plaza Madre de Dios, s/n; telephone 956–38-12-85


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