Cadiz, Drake & the wine of Shakespeare
The Cadiz region of Spain is a treasure trove to the senses. Moorish culture and Spanish heritage blend into a heady mixture that just has to be experienced. Add golf and you have the perfect holiday...
I have loved the Cadiz region ever since my wife and I escaped there from a Mediterranean tourist resort in 2002. The local Thompson tour rep searched for several days, obviously unaware that her charges had succeeded in a daring escape by slipping away under the cover of darkness. On that occasion we drove around the Strait of Gibraltar and on to Costa del la Luz, nervously looking in the rear view mirror to see if we had made good our escape. That night we stayed in the picturesque coastal town of Zahara de los Atunes before carrying on to the city of Cadiz. On our return to the resort several days later we were apprehended by the none too happy holiday representative and barbarically tortured by having to listen to karaoke for the remainder of our stay.So when the opportunity came to revisit the Cadiz region, this heartland of Andalucía, it was easy to accept, as long as I would not have to retrace my journey from the previous starting point.My base is the historic town of Jerez de la Frontera; a town inextricably linked to Great Britain, yet somewhere that not many of us seem to visit. Here is, of course, the source of that great British tipple, Sherry.
THE SACK OF CADIZ. Sir Francis Drake is considered a bit of a hero in Jerez, which, when you consider that he attacked the port of Cadiz and sank 37 Spanish vessels, comes as quite a surprise. The reason for his status is that on that daring raid, he and his crew made off with 2,900 barrels of the local wine. On his return to England it became all the rage to drink this captured booty. The English found that they liked this wine known as sherry, and it soon became the most popular drink in the realm. Legend has it that it was commonly known as Sack in honour of Drake’s sacking of Cadiz. Even to this day, Williams & Humbert, one of the great Sherry producers (and a very English name, too) has a Sherry called Dry Sack. Shakespeare himself immortalised the drink in Henry IV, when John Falstaff declares, “If I had a thousand sons, the first humane principle I would teach them should be to forswear thin potations and addict themselves to sack”.
SHERRY JEREZ GOLF CLUB. And that leads me on very nicely to my first stop, the aptly named Sherry Jerez Golf Club. There are two courses here – the championship 18 hole course and also a very nice par-3 nine hole course, along with a practice area.I arrive outside the Andalucian-styled clubhouse at eleven in the morning. Located just outside Jerez, the course is surrounded by fields of grapevines and sunflowers that create a calming and tranquil environment. The course is well kept and the surroundings are stunning. More importantly, it is not crowded like several that I could mention. The fairways are wide but on many holes undulating, which almost guarantee some interesting bounces. The course is lined with old olive and palm trees and a breeze keeps the temperature down to comfortable levels. Apart from the 5th hole, which has a lake to the left of the green, water does not come into play until you reach the back nine, where it becomes either a joy or your nemesis. What I like most is the sense of peace, the town of Jerez glints in the noonday sun while the Andalucían breeze rustles through the trees. You get that wonderful feeling that you are somewhere special, away from the crowd.From the 13th hole water is in play. This is a tricky par-4, with a stroke index of one. If you veer short and to the left, you are in the water, likewise, if you end up long and to the right you will have the same problem.On to the 14th, which is a nice par-3 onto a green surrounded by water on three sides. I always love a par-3 with a water hazard. Water, water everywhere, but it’s going to be a cool dry sherry when I get to the clubhouse. As I make my way around the course, the locals wave and smile, but how else could it be here on a beautiful day in the land of the great British tipple?
COSTA BALLENA. That afternoon I drive 30 minutes west to the Atlantic coast and Costa Ballena Golf Club. The golf course spreads out from the sand dunes over 27 holes. There is a driving range along with chipping and pitching facilities. The sun is shining off the ocean as I head out onto the course, creating the perfect backdrop. The front nine winds its way between villas and away from the coast. Tall palm trees sway in the breeze coming off the sea. By the time you reach the back nine you are heading back down towards the sparkling Atlantic. There is a NATO base further down the coast and it’s not long before I come across a group of British and American personnel enjoying some free time. This is their local club, and the unanimous opinion is that this is the best course in the area. They make a point of getting out for a round at least once a week. Not a bad posting, really!
LOS JANDALOS HOTEL. I head off to find my hotel, the Los Jandalos, a boutique hotel of 57 rooms located in the old town. I have forgotten to bring my sat nav, so after driving the circumference of the centre several times looking for a bull ring (my point of reference), I finally find it. The hotel building, interestingly, used to be owned by the Sherry producer Williams & Humbert who I am visiting in the morning (read the wine feature in the autumn issue). In fact, my room is appropriately in the old converted Bodegas (Spanish for wine cellar). The hotel is everything that you would expect from a boutique establishment. The interior is stylish and eye catching; the hotel has a very unique and individual feel. The adjoining Bodegas has been split in two and converted on one side into an amazing banqueting room, while the other side has duplex rooms/apartments for guests. The location could not be better so after a quick shower I head off to explore. Jerez is my kind of town. Narrow alleyways open out onto plazas and the streets are lined with centuries-old buildings that give you a sense of the history bottled up in the town’s very fabric. Scattered around Jerez are the bodegas, either still in use or, like my hotel, converted into hotels or shops. The names on the walls are so familiar: Gonzalez Byass, Harvey’s Bristol Cream, Tio Pepe – it’s rather bizarre to see these names that to me, oddly, are so very British. I make my way down through the bustling town and find a nice tapas bar near the cathedral. The Spanish have it right when it comes down to how to enjoy an evening. The whole town seems to be either eating and drinking in one of the many tapas bars, or just wandering around and chatting to friends. And what a perfect way to enjoy your food, order one dish and a glass of the local wine, then after a while you order another. This is something that you just do without hurry, and why would you!
SANCTI PETRI HILLS. Later the next day, I head for Sancti Petri, a luxury development with four excellent golf courses. Located a little south of Cadiz, it’s about 40 minutes drive from Jerez. This used to be just a small fishing village but has grown over the past years and now boasts several luxury hotels, water sports facilities and, of course, the golf courses. My stay is limited and to play all four would take too much time, so I am visiting Sancti Petri Hills. This is a lovely course with wide fairways and undulating terrain that’s peppered with tall Mediterranean fir trees. Apart from the odd couple, I have the course to myself – a luxury when in a location like this.The first hole is a nice par-5 that weaves its way around a lake. This is followed by a very decent par-3 over another. The fairways are in excellent condition and the greens in particular stand out; large and inviting, but still with enough surprises to keep you on your toes. As with all the golf courses I have visited in the Cadiz region, it’s the sense of space and lack of rush that I enjoy. After playing a round of golf, the locals and fellow tourists are content to simply sit outside the clubhouse and admire the view.
A DIP IN THE OCEAN. One thing that I must do before I return to the UK is take a dip in the sparkling Atlantic Ocean. Just a short distance from the golf course are the white sands of the Sancti Petri beaches, and in no time I am cooling off in the crystal clear water. On this trip I have played some fantastic courses and got to know the charming town of Jerez. The Sherry Bodegas that I visited impressed me so much that I plan to dedicate an entire wine feature to them in the next issue. Combine all the factors that make up this unique and special part of Spain, and you’ll see it really is worth a visit.
Getting there – Ryanair has direct daily flights to Jerez or to Seville, which is roughly 45 minutes away. It is also possible to fly to Malaga and drive, although it is a journey time of 2 ½ hours.
Los Jandalos Hotel Jerez de la Frontera - www.jandalos.com
Sherry Golf Club – www.sherrygolf.com
Costa Ballena Golf Course - www.ballenagolf.com
Sancti Petri Hills Golf Club - www.sanctipetrihillsgolf.com
Novo - Novo Sancti Petri Golf Club www.clubgolfnovosanctipetri.com
Montecastillo Golf Resort - www.barcelo.com