La sonida del mar

Or the sound of the sea. There is nothing quite like that ever repeating, calming background pulse of water falling upon sand. Or indeed the fierce cacophony of wind whipped breakers on rocks or cliffs.  Last week I was enjoying the former.

Twenty minutes drive from Jerez de la Frontera is the sherry town of El Puerto de Santa Maria. It sits at the mouth of the Rio Guadalete, although it would be more accurate to say that it sits upon the river delta, because there is as much sea and marsh as land.  Nonetheless the river is in part enclosed here as it runs into the Bay of Cadiz. The town is an old one, it was from here and from Sanlucar de Barrameda that Columbus set sail in the seventeenth century and El Puerto was already old then.

It has its medieval castle and ramparts and many familiar bodega-style buildings, although these are largely symbolic today. It also has a smart central shopping area and a grand Plaza de Toro ( the people of El Puerto are keen on the traditions of old Andalucia and old Spain ). There are plush modern suburbs, like Vista Hermosa, full of large villas built in the traditional style each surrounded by private gardens, often rented out to officers from the American Naval Base at Rota. There are also holiday apartments, in Las Redes and at El Manantial, owned in part by locals, but favoured too by visitors from Madrid and Sevilla.

El Puerto is much more of a holiday destination than Jerez, with its many beaches which, like all Spanish beaches, have names (see above). There is the town beach, with children’s play areas, soft golden sand and tiled promenade with gardens, Vista Hermosa’s beach, beyond what had used to be the Club 18 -30, which has been raised and is about to be replaced with a five star hotel; and there’s a glossy marina called Puerto Sherry. The Spanish Olympic Yachting Association sails out of here and, on the day when I visited, there were some rather expensive, ocean-going yachts moored behind the lighthouse mole.

There were some rather expensive bars too. Sotavento is superbly positioned just where the marina meets the Bay (see photos, courtesy of Deborah Powell) with a view across to Cadiz and one pays a premium for the location. When we visited there was the bonus of a tall ship. The people frequenting the bars along here are, largely, wealthy holiday makers and yacht owners, Spanish and foreign. The locals work in them. They were, however, extremely welcoming of Thai and Goa, Deborah’s two labradors. We sat and watched the sun set and the lights of Cadiz begin to glow.

Twenty four hours later I did the same at El Manantial, half a mile further north, a beach which lies up against the perimeter of the aforementioned naval base. On that occasion I was with my friend from Jerez and her three dogs. She has a beach-house there, where there were few foreigners, but plenty of Spanish folk enjoying the last of summer, once the ‘tourists’ have gone back to the city. The beach bars are few and far between, though the clam sellers (and sellers of sweets and snacks) push their gaily coloured carts along on the hard sand, crying their wares. Much less smart. And soon they too would pack up and leave, the season having finished. The beach would become much quieter, the bailiwick of locals only.

Again I watched the sun set and the lights of Cadiz twinkling on the horizon, before heading back to a Jerez still celebrating the Vendimia (with a ferris wheel in Plaza Arenal!). Two beaches, both in El Puerto and so close to each other, but so different. In both there was the sound of the sea.

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