Rather than visiting the more famous cities of the Andalusian coast of Spain, such as Cadiz, Malaga, Nerja etc, we again opted for slightly less touristy places of Jerez and Torrox.
It was about a 4 hour drive from Salema, Portugal to Jerez, Spain.
The highways in both Portugal and Spain are excellent and very easy to drive. When we rented our car in Porto, we paid €15 for a small transponder that automatically calculates any tolls we are charged and we will pay the bill when we drop off our car in Lisbon. The toll highways were easy to use. Sometimes we drove through a toll booth where we simply chose the lane with the Via Verde sign which was unmanned and it automatically calculated the toll as we drove by. Other times, there was simply a structure over the highway that we triggered when we drove under it at normal speed.
In Spain, we had to pay tolls with our credit card, but it too was a simple process – just choose the lane with the “tarjeta” sign, insert your card, press the button, get your card back, and you’re on your way (to be safe, we always use our secondary credit card in case it gets eaten by a machine). Most tolls in this part of Spain are a flat rate.
Not all highways had tolls and you could choose to drive other roads, but the toll highways are 4 lane, mostly divided highways, with roadside services every 30-50 km, and are fast, well-marked, and not very busy except near larger cities. The road side services in Portugal were particularly nice. They were set up pretty much the same all the way along so it was easy to access, and had gas, free clean bathrooms, a small store and usually a small coffee shop. There was often covered parking, picnic tables and a child’s playground. As you neared the stop, the sign let you know how far the next services were located. Spain was similar although not quite as organized – but still, easy to access.
Jerez was a fairly large city, about 30 minutes inland from the coast, and we found great deal on a hotel just a 10 minute walk from the old-town core of the city (Hipotels Sherry Park €59/night, $88CAD – once again through booking.com). The hotel was fairly modern, upscale, had beautiful grounds (grass, flowers, trees), a private pool and patio area with a snack bar, and our room was comfortable and had a nice balcony overlooking the pool.
Jerez is noted for its sherry and for its dancing horse show. Our hotel was one block from the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art where, for €21-27 per person, you can see the daily show (we didn’t).
Jerez means “sherry” in English and like the Port in Porto, it is a fortified wine, although the fermentation process is different. As an aside, the used barrels are often sold to distilleries in Scotland and used to store and age whisky. My favourite Glendronoch is aged in sherry casks and I hope to visit the distillery in a few weeks when we are in northern Scotland. As we already had a bottle of Port open, we didn’t buy a bottle of sherry, but we did enjoy a glass for lunch at a restaurant one day.
We stayed for two nights in Jerez, and so had one full day to wander around, as well as had some time to hang out at our pool in the afternoon sun. We were about 1.5km from the centre of the old city which was an easy walk along the cobblestone streets.
We saw the exterior of the Jerez Cathedral and also of the famous Alcazar de Jerez, which is now a park and includes an old mosque reminding us of 700 years of Moorish influence in the area. The Muslim Moors invaded in the 700’sAD and controlled much of this part of Spain until the end of Reconquista in 1492AD when King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella won it back.
We enjoyed wandering the streets of old Jerez and here were lots of restaurants, bars, and shops to see. We stopped for lunch at a patio restaurant and Erik had a tapas platter while I had Andalusian Gazpacho. We could have driven to the coastal beach city of Cadiz, just 30 minutes away, but chose not to.
Gibraltar, UK, and Torrox, Spain
The next day, we drove another 4 hours or so to the coastal area below the city of Torrox, and since we would be passing it along the way, we thought we’d stop in for a quick visit to Gilbraltar. Haha, yeah, that was NOT a good plan. First we had to wait in line for about 30 minutes or more to cross the border (and all the time I was desperately needing to use a bathroom). Unlike crossing the border in other EU countries, you actually have to go through customs and show your passport here. If you have nothing to declare, it’s a fairly quick process once you arrive at the border control, but there can be a long wait to get there, exacerbated by the fact that you must drive across an airport runway, and if there is a plane taking off or landing, you will have an extra 15-20 minute wait.
Once we crossed and drove into the tiny, crowded city, with its many one way streets, we found there was absolutely no parking available anywhere. We drove past the tram that takes you up the mountain, got quasi-lost in the narrow winding streets, and finally pulled into a gas station to get some cheap gas (89 pence/litre), use the bathroom, and catch our breath. We got directions on how to get the heck out of there, since we’d heard the border crossing was actually longer leaving than entering, but luckily, it was a quick exit back into Spain. Phew. That was one hour we’d never get back and nothing to show for it but cheap gas. LOL…
Our recommendation – plan to spend a solid half day or more if you want to visit Gibraltar, park at one of the large lots just outside of the border crossing (on the Spain side), take a bus or walk across the border into the town, and then see what you want to see. We were there in the shoulder season so I can’t imagine what it must be like when it’s actually busy.
A few more hours down the road, we bypassed the larger city of Torrox, and drove a 10 minutes down to the coast to find our apartment complex, which was just on the edge of town, overlooking the sea. We had rented a one bedroom apartment through Hotels.com for €90 per night, and had paid a little extra for the seaview/sea facing room. We were upgraded to a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom apartment which was really nice, and we had a large balcony with a large table and chairs and two lounge chairs. We looked out at the Mediterranean Sea and down onto the grassy pool area. About half the units are owned and the other half rented out. Although the complex is on the side of a hill, it was a short walk down to the beach, and then about a 5-10 minute walk to the first restaurant on the strip. We had underground parking for €5 and it was an easy 5-10 minute drive to a choice of 5 grocery stores of varying sizes.
We bought groceries and ate at home both nights we were there. The kitchen was fully equipped with appliances and dishes but had no extras like salt/pepper/oil/vinegar like other places usually have, However it did have a washing machine AND a dryer (rare) so we were able to do a load of clothes.
It was partly cloudy and a bit showery on one day and sunny the next and other than walking on the beach, reading on our deck, or sitting by the pool, we didn’t do much else. It was another nice, relaxing time on the Mediterranean.
Next up: Granada