Inland Paradise – Jaen City and Province
Everyone has heard of most of the eight provinces in Andalusia but have you heard of Jaen (pronounced ‘Hi-en’)? Jaen province is in the north of Andalusia on the border with Castilla-La Mancha on the road to Madrid and the north of Spain.
The name ‘Jaen’ is said to come from the Arabic ‘Geen or Yayan’ meaning a caravan or caravan route. These days it is often the same. A name on the side of the road while driving down to the Costa del Sol or up to Madrid. But did you know Jaen has more castles than any other area of Europe, over 66 million olive trees producing 20% of the world’s olive oil, Spain’s largest Natural Park – Sierra de Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas and it’s my ‘home’ province!
Over twenty years ago it began to be called ‘Paraiso Interior’ or Inland Paradise, being home to not only one but three protected parks and the source of the 657km long Guadalquivir River which flows to the west through Cordoba and Seville to Cadiz province and the Atlantic Ocean.
Not far from Jaen city are two lovely Renaissance towns of Ubeda and Baeza. They are a twinned UNESCO site being only 7 km apart and are oozing with 16th century sandstone monuments showcasing the best preserved examples of Italian Renaissance in Spain.
The remains of fortresses and watchtowers dating back to the Romans, Moors and Napoleonic Troops amongst others are easy to spot on the undulating green landscape – the sea of olive trees.
The trees march in regimented rows up hill and down dale across the province and between its 97 isolated white mountain villages and towns. To begin exploring Jaen province you should start with the city and its highest point, the Parador de Santa Catalina. Jaen’s Parador Hotel is built in the style of a fortress and stands next to the ruined castle looming above the city.
It’s a lovely place to stay or at least go in for coffee and to admire the 20 metre-high vaulted ceiling. Then head along the walkway to the huge white monumental cross at the end of the hill, which marks the spot where the Moors surrended the city to the Catholic Kings.
The cross is a viewpoint and the older part of the city, close to the bottom of the hill, is noticeable because of the smaller houses and the old Moorish roof tiles but it’s the enormous Renaissance/Baroque Cathedral, another Renaissance treasure, which is impossible to miss. The narrow streets of the Jewish district, the food market, and other ancient monuments including the award-winning Arab Baths under the Palacio de Villardompardo which is home to two art musuems.
The dramatic views behind and the city ahead are surrounded by olive groves. It’s these which give their base to their gastronomy which is hard not to sample with free tapas given with your beers.
Jaen – Inland Paradise should be a destination and not just passed by. Give me a shout if you’re heading my way.