Andalucia Diary – Seasonal Travel Notes

Jaen Province – Introductory travel notes by Andrew Forbes

It is impossible to mention Jaen without in the same sentence mentioning olive oil. It is the largest single producer of olive oil in Spain and the world. After years of wholesale to other European countries for repackaging and rebranding, Jaén is finally now recognising and communicating the exceptional qualities of its fine olive oils.

Taken from the Arabic word meaning ‘crossroads of caravans’, Jaén was not always a sleepy, rural province in Spain; it was a strategic location for both the Romans and the Arabs. It is thought that the Romans introduced the olive trees to Spain and as a testament to the important role olives and their ‘liquid gold’ play in Andalusian culture, the typical scene of rows of green olive trees against the local white chalky soil is regarded as the inspiration for Andalucía’s flag.

Even before the immense contribution of olive oil, Jaén had a booming pottery and crafts industry which combined with geopolitical factors meant wealthy nobility invested heavily here.

The province boasts two of Spain’s most remarkable renaissance towns, Úbeda and Baeza. Thanks to the relative lack of economic development over the last half of the twentieth century, these two towns have remained almost untouched; a living museum of some of the finest palaces, churches and public buildings. Now these towns are a huge source of cultural tourism to the area, with visitors drawn by the unprecedented, preserved architecture, beautiful countryside and exceptional cuisine.

Úbeda was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003 and is centred on the imposing Vázquez de Molina Square, surrounded by ornate, golden sandstone buildings. This is a town to explore at a mellow pace, as at every turn there is a site to relish. 

Neighbouring Baeza was also recognised by UNESCO is 2003. It is a smaller town, but no less impressive with many of Spain’s best examples of Italian Renaissance architecture. Elegant squares, intricate fountains and palatial homes define Baeza. The original university, now part of the University of Granada, and the cathedral are amongst the highlights of this exquisite town.

Both cater for the sophisticated traveller, with boutique hotels, upscale tapas bars and swanky restaurants. These are islands of culture amongst a sea of olive groves.

Jaén capital was bombed by the Nazis in 1937 and much of the modern development is without note but at the heart of the city is its Cathedral, probably one of the most important renaissance cathedrals in Europe. To enjoy the very best view of the city, climb to the top of the Santa Catalina hill in the town. At the very top is an ancient fortress dating back to the ninth century Moors. It is now a Parador Hotel and offers the most privileged vantage point from which to enjoy the city.

It is the province’s natural beauty though which probably leaves the most lasting memory. Jaén is lucky enough to have some of Spain’s most spectacular natural parks, including the exceptional ‘Sierras de Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas’ Natural Park. This is Spain’s largest protected area, covering more than 200,000 hectares and is a testament to the unique biodiversity of Andalucía.

Eagles and vultures fly overhead, whilst the rivers and lakes teem with life; and the forests of pine and oak are a popular hunting ground for Iberian game. The scale and drama of Cazorla is immense, without comparison in Europe. The park is popular with those enjoying not only tranquillity and relaxation but also adventure sports and mountain activities, catered for by a range of boutique and rustic accommodation.

For additional information and my blog entries on Jaen Province click on the category in the list in the blog’s sidebar or click here.

Below I list a few of my favourite hotels in the province. I update this list from time to time. Also, you can read my reviews of some properties on this blog and also on TripAdvisor, where I am a Senior Contributor – (AndyInAndalucia).  

Ubeda Parador – Ubeda

Hotel Fuente Nueva – Baeza

Hotel Puerta de la Luna

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About the Author

Andrew ForbesTravel & Lifestyle Marketing Communications Consultant | Travel Editor Web: Twitter : @andrewaforbes Instagram @andrewaforbes and @luxurynavigatorView all posts by Andrew Forbes »