September 25, 2014
When we left Ronda to drive to Arcos de la Frontera, we chose a route that took us through a steep mountain pass (or so the guidebook said, these people have clearly never been to the northern border of Thailand) so that we could visit two of the so called “white villages” on the way. The terrain is very beautiful in these parts, typical Mediterranean I guess. Wild olives, oak, laurel and pines very different from our trees of the same name, and gorgeous orange trees on golden rolling hillsides. The villages are visible a long way off because of being blindingly white, and are tucked onto the sides of hills, lots of mountain goat work to walk around them. We went to Grazelima and Zahara, then on to Arcos which is technically also a white town, just a large one.
Our GPS led us to the hotel and thankfully it is just on the edge of the old city and not in the middle of it, as these are the narrowest, most torturous roads we have seen yet. We just cannot believe that cars, let alone trucks and small buses can actually negotiate the streets of the old town. All the cars, even quite expensive ones like BMWs and Mercedes are scraped and dinged, and it is common to see mirrors dangling like broken wings on the sides of cars. Some corners are so sharp that most people cannot make it around in one go, they have to back up, and gradually inch their way around. Another amazing thing is that all the tiny restaurants put their chairs and tables on the edge of the pavement — there is no sidewalk and the roads are all cobblestones — and so the unlucky diners on the edge get brushed by the larger vehicles that go by. Quite unbelievable and a bit overwhelming at first!
We spent a day wandering the steep streets and exploring the lovely cathedral and a number of other gorgeous old buildings all made of golden sand stone. Then today we went to the neighbouring town of Jerez from whose name the word “sherry” is derived. We visited their cathedral (so so) and a beautiful Gothic styled church called San Miguel, much lovelier than the cathedral. The carvings are most impressive, and we have also added a new twist to our experience of veneration for dead bodies — in the past we have seen numerous relics, several embalmed personages, and the most life like wax replicas, — well now to add to that are the “incorrupt saints” which are favoured here. Basically it seems that they dig up the bones once someone has been declared a saint and encase them in a kind of mesh with gloves over the hand bones, and a bit of face formation over the skull also encased in mesh, then dress the skeleton in satin clothing, festoon it with artificial flowers and display it in a glass case in the cathedral. Really rather grisly, the ones we saw date from the 3rd century, the bones that it, the mesh encasement was done much more recently, like say 3 or 4 hundred years ago.
We visited the sherry bodega where they make Tio Pepe among many other types of sherry — the company is called Gonzalez Byass and it has been in business since 1845. A vast place with rooms piled up with oaken barrels full of sherry in various stages of aging. The tour explained how sherry is made and then we had a tasting — we opted for 4, which turned out to be 4 whole glasses of sherry, a bit much at 3 in the afternoon, but quite tasty. Rather a complex process making sherry and can’t quite think how anyone ever got the idea. We climbed all over the old fort area called the Alcazar to work off the sherry before we had to drive back. The place is very well preserved and actually dates back to Moorish times, ie more than 800 years ago.
Back to Arcos tonight, we think we will make a day trip to Cadiz tomorrow, the oldest town in Spain, before heading to Seville on Saturday. We are having a great time, eating way too much, but trying to walk it off. So far so good with the GPS though we have definitely had some minor tussles with the route — we got so mixed up in Jerez that we just headed into the first underground parking lot we found, then went back to ground level and had to ask the GPS “Where am I?” as we hadn’t a holy clue where we were. Turned out we were only a couple of kilometres from the Alcazar, great relief!