Sanlúcar de Barrameda is an Andalucian seaside town that’s virtually unknown outside of Spain. I found this surprising given it has so much going for it. Christopher Columbus sailed on his third voyage from town, while the first known ship to circumnavigate the world – and the only surviving ship in Portuguese mariner Ferdinand Magellan’s fleet – returned here in 1522. Today, Sanlúcar de Barrameda is home to the world’s finest sherry and some of the best Spanish festivals and tapas bars you’ll find anywhere.
I planned my arrival during one of the town’s major festivals, the fiesta de la Virgen de la Caridad, which honours its patron the Virgin of Charity. Colourful sawdust shaped in flowers, arcs and old symbols filled the streets, onlookers tiptoed along its edge, swarmed in and out of tapas bars and found respite with cold ice-creams near the town’s fountain. Seeing it was lunch time, my family and I decided to go to Casa Balbino, reputedly one of Spain’s finest tapas bars.
We waited about 20 minutes to get a table and even though it was super-duper packed, it was well worth it. Having no idea what to order, I jostled inside with locals and ordered tortilla de camarones (prawn cake), cod grilled in garlic with salmorejo (a pared-down gazpacho) and some manzanilla (dry sherry with a sea-salty twang), for which Sanlúcar de Barrameda is renown.
A little about the sherry
Sanlúcar de Barrameda lies in the sherry triangle, Spain’s famed sherry region located between Sanlúcar de Barrameda, El Puerto de Santa María and Jerez de la Frontera. Basically, if it doesn’t come from this area, it’s not really sherry. My favourite of all the sherries I’ve tried is manzanilla, which is renown in Sanlúcar de Barrameda.
Unfortunately I missed out on a sherry tour in town by about 30 minutes, although I did take a tour in Jerez de la frontera. I will say, however, the finest sherry I’ve ever had was from the barrel inside Casa Balbino, right here. The manzanilla was superb and with the cod, salmorejo and the bustle of it all (I like busy cafes/restaurants), I was in culinary heaven, living my Spanish dream. Get to Casa Balbino if you can.
Things to do in town
Take a sherry tour
As I’ve mentioned, I just missed out on a sherry tour in town. There’s a few good ones, like those listed here. Make sure you book in advance. Also, don’t take a tour when a religious festival is on (slapping forehead), as they’re severely limited.
Castillo de Santiago
Located near the top of town, Castillo de Santiago was built during the 1400s to defend town and the Guadalquivir River, which is the second longest river in Spain. Legend has it that Queen Isabella “La Catolica” spied the sea for the first time from one of the castle windows. There’s tours that explore the castle and a restaurant, El Castillo, inside. Or you could just snoop about like I did.
Mercado de Abastos
This vibrant, colourful market is a top spot to shop or just take in life in Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Open from about eight in the morning to two in the afternoon, the market sells cheap, fresh seafood, veggies and meats. The old market, which is much more atmospheric than the current makeshift one, is being refurbished and is set to reawaken soon.
Lick an ice-cream in Plaza del Cabildo
The centre of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Plaza del Cabildo, is a charming little place that bustles around its centrepiece – a capacious fountain. This is a good place to pull up a chair and watch life go by in a part of the world quite unlike any other.
Have lunch at Casa Balbino (see above)
Visit during a Spanish festival
Feria de Manzanilla (last week of May) – a boozy celebration of the town’s splendid drop, manzanilla, accompanied by flamenco and sporting events on the beach.
Carreras de Caballos (August) – one of Europe’s oldest horse races, Carreras de Caballos is held on the beach each August. Heavy betting and of course colourful celebrations are prolific during the event.
Guadalquivir Festival (23rd-25th of August) – enjoy the festivities amidst bullfighting and a renown flamenco competition.
Virgen de la Caridad (15th of August) honouring the town’s patron saint, the Virgen of Charity, the town’s streets are laid end to end with colourful sawdust before a procession marches through town. Don’t walk across the sawdust!
Take a walk around town
Admire churches and ecclesiastical architecture from cobblestone streets at dusk from the top of town. An atmospheric adventure.
Visit Doñana National Park
Nearby Doñana National Park is a special place home to the rare Iberian lynx, wildcats, boars, mongoose, otters, deers, hedgehogs and many other animals. There’s also 360 non-marine birds in the 543 km2 park and amongst its dunes, streams and marshes remains of Roman, Greek and Phoenician artifacts have been found. Doñana National Park is also believed by many to be the site of the famed lost city of Atlantis.
Can you suggest anything else to do in Sanlúcar de Barrameda?