Tourists tend to flock to the more western access points to the park, but Sanlúcar, where the Guadalquivir River enters the Atlantic, provides a quieter entrance to this stunning untouched corner of Andalusia.
Arriving into the town from Kukutana is the perfect way to reach Sanlúcar; guests are driven through Donana and its southern wetlands, traversing the dunes and travelling a long stretch of soft white sand before arriving at the Northern bank of the Guadalquivir. Here, a ferry transports people across the river – quite the entrance into this historic town!
It is a town with narrow meandering streets, rightly proud of its rich historical and cultural heritage and outstanding golden sand beaches.
Every year Sanlúcar’s Calzada Beach is taken over by an exhilarating international horseracing event dating back to 1845 which sees racehorses from across the Continent thundering across the sand.
It is possible that the town’s name derives from the Arabic words Thaluq (‘east wind’), which later became Solucar, and Bar Almard (‘moving banks’), a reference to the sandbanks which formed at the mouth of the River Guadalquivir. An ancient Muslim fortress known as the Castle of the Seven Towers originally defended the mouth of the Guadalquivir River.
Christian troops led by Alfonso X conquered Sanlúcar de Barrameda in 1264. It later formed part of Alonso Perez de Guzman’s estate. Over the centuries that followed, Sanlúcar, with its natural harbour, became strategically important as a point of contact with America. Notable voyages of discovery set sail from here, including Christopher Colombus’s 1498 expedition and the journey undertaken by Portuguese mariner Ferdinand Magellan in 1519. In 1583 Sanlúcar was declared a permanent starting point for such journeys, although the town’s famous sandbank did make it difficult for the 17th century ships to cross.
Visit Sanlúcar on a tour led by one of our experienced local guides and you will be given a true taste of this enchanting corner of Andalusia.
Sanlúcar is divided into the historical older quarter, the Barrio Alto, and the newer Barrio Bajo, former port and fishing quarter closer to the river.
Deep in the heart of the old town, the palm-fringed square of Plaza del Cabildo is lined with restaurants and bars, just moments from the Plaza de San Roque, site of the town’s bustling daily market. There is the 15th century Iglesia de la Trinidad with its spectacular Mudéjar ceiling, not far from the neo-Mudejár Palacio de Orleáns y Borbón, now the Town Hall.
Sanlúcar’s restored 15th-century castle, the Castle of Santiago has expansive views across the Guadalquivir delta from its octagonal keep and houses military uniforms and weapons and exhibits on the town’s rich seafaring history. It was the first residence of the Dukes of Medina Sidonia in Sanlúcar. During the War of Independence it was a barracks for the French troops but has also been used as a jail and a hospital.
The medieval Our Lady’s Church features elaborate 16th century Mudéjar architecture, a bell tower rebuilt from a tower of a Moorish fortress and a collection of centuries-old art pieces.
Adjoining the church is the Palacio de los Duques de Medina Sidonia, the former home of the aristocratic family who once owned vast swathes of land in Spain. The mostly 17th-century house, of 12th-century origin, bursts with Baroque furniture, antiques, sculptures and paintings by eminent European artists including Goya and Zurbarán.
Research centre the Casa Medina Sidonia Foundation comprises over six million documents and is regarded as one of the most important privately-owned historic archives in Europe.
The stone built temple of the Parish of Santo Domingo features a Mannerist façade, Baroque altar and some impressive sculptures.
Sanlúcar serves up some of the region’s best seafood and its famed Manzanilla wine – a variety of fino sherry – is produced by a collection of bodegas or wineries that inhabit or surround the town.
The town’s largest sherry firm is the Barbadillo Sherry Company, housed in a 19th century building. The Barbadillo family founded its bodega (wine cellar) and bottled its first manzanilla in 1821. The bodega, now produces four varieties of sherry – manzanilla, olorosa, pasada and solear muy vieja, plus a popular, very quaffable table wine. The fascinating Museo de la Manzanilla is also housed within the Bodegas Barbadillo complex.
Now run by the eighth generation, family firm Bodegas Hidalgo (founded in 1792) produces the renowned La Gitana manzanilla and other sherries such as amontillado. Tours of this bodega, which can also include sunset tours of the vineyards, come highly recommended.
For a true taste of the sea and Sanlúcar, our visit includes lunch at the sensational seafood restaurant Mirador Doñana. Start with a delicious collection of prawns, cockles and oysters, before sampling the local fish delicacies. Boquerones – anchovy fillets – and cazon are typical Andalusian dishes, as well as fried bass or grilled red mullet. If you have worked up more of an appetite, the seafood risotto is not to be missed. All are as fresh as can be – landed each morning by the local fishermen – and go delightfully with a glass of crisp manzanilla.
This fully serviced Andalusian family house is available for exclusive hire. Comfortably sleeping 12 in six double bedrooms, you will have full use of the house and grounds. You will be hosted by the wonderfully hospitable owners in order to experience first-hand the culture, traditions and gastronomy of this magical corner of Andalusia.
Kukutana nestles on the edge of a national park that is bursting with diverse flora and fauna. There are tranquil gardens, ancient woodland, a collection of horses and an ancient bull fighting ring onsite, in addition to a peacefully positioned swimming pool.
Four delicious home-cooked meals are prepared daily by experienced cook Isabel using fresh local ingredients. All food, drinks, activities and excursions are included in the price, giving you the opportunity to explore the beauty of Doñana National Park and beyond on foot, horseback, bicycle or 4X4.
Photos courtesy of the Cadiz Tourist Board and the Andalusia Tourist Board.
I’m struggling to put into words everything that we have experienced these past days, from the very first moment it has all been exceptional. The team and the hosts are marvellous, the experiences unforgettable - we will cherish these days forever.
A unique experience surrounded by friends and hosted by this wonderful family who have poured their dreams and love into this project. The most memorable G&T in history! We will be back soon.
The magic of southern Spain and the warmth with which we have been received have made these days unforgettable. What an incredible project you have created!
Thank you for the most magical few days in this piece of Paradise! It was the most memorable time and holiday that we have ever had. The food was delicious, the horses were beautiful and cannot believe that we saw a Lynx! We cannot thank you enough for all you have done. Hope to see you again soon and best luck for the creation and adventures that you plan.
J&M.H United Kingdom