Margaux Alexandria Cintrano with a mini guide to Jaén, the Andalusian Tuscany.
By Margaux Alexandria Cintrano
Like so many pleasant discoveries, Jaén is unexpected. This province on the Iberian Peninsula is the Spanish Tuscany. The lush green scenery, the uncountable olive groves, the extraordinaire tapas, the taste testing of luscious green, spring green yellow and deep golden extra virgin olive oils and the best part, relatively few tourists. With the emerald hills, Moorish and Renaissance grandeur, a warming epicurean escape awaits those who spend a few days in La Cazorla National Park Nature Reserve, Baeza, Úbeda and the Jaén Capital.
Jaén is intimately tied to the seasonal rituals of Andalusia´s rural past. Nestled in between Granada and Cordóba, the historic Jaén Capital has always been the crossroads to Andalusia, Castilla La Mancha and Madrid. This region houses the flourishing basins for olives, and olive oil, cultivated by the Roman Empire, which occupied the peninsula for numerous centuries.
The Capital´s historic district is full of mouthwatering culinary surprises and magnificent monuments.
WHAT TO SEE?
The Arab Baths (Hamman) are located in the Centro Cultural Palacio de Villardompardo on Plaza de Santa Luisa de Marillac in the city centre. This stunning palatial oasis is a three in one cultural attraction that includes:
The Arab Baths, El Museo de Artes y Costumbres which translates to The Folk Arts and Crafts Museum and The International Museum of Art, El Museo Internaciónal de Arte.
Underneath the palace steeped in 11th century history are the Arab Baths and their ruins in addition to their twelve ancient chandeliers. Truly Remarkable.
WHERE TO STAY, WINE AND DINE?
The Santa Catalina Parador Network Hotel (www.parador.es) is perched in the classic fairytale setting for a castle, high on a hilltop overlooking the city and the countryside of Jaén. It is engulfed by a sea of olive orchards which climb every slope of the rocky crags. The Hotel Parador was reconstructed and rebuilt from the ruins of the 13th century fortress and stronghold. The views from the lookout point, balconied hotel rooms and restaurant is magnificent.
The impressive exterior remains while you can experience its Moorish roots and the 20 arches throughout the interior. The restaurant specializes in traditional local cuisine with evolutionary touches. The specialties include:
White garlic soup Gazpacho
Jaén style spinach
Jaén local goat cheese served with quince
THE BEST BITES NEAR THE SIGHTS
For superb traditional Jaén dishes, close to the land, with dramatic views, the Parador Hotel views are stunning. However, for a far more vibrant ambiance, with pizzaz:
TABERNA MUSEO EL COSSIÓ
Calle Capitán Aranda Baja 5
Historic District – Jaén Capital
Book a table: 657 273 3590 or 657 329 773
Located near the Santa Maria Cathedral, the savvy Jaén native owners, a former bullfighter and his sons team take great pride in their tapas made daily and locally. This is a fabulous conversational taurine bar with lovely background music and a full scale restaurant. A gathering of kindred locals, the regular crowd, the owners, the bartenders and the clients are helpful, social and kind.
Margaux Cintrano is a publishing journalist since her 1st article appeared in the Star Weekly, August 8th, 1978. Since, Margaux has published articles and columns throughout the USA, Paris, and Spain, where she is the Food and Wine Editor of the oldest English language Magazine in print and recently blogs, in: The Guidepost www.guidepost.es and her older daughter´s own website, www.internationaltravel.ws - Margaux was born in Manhattan, and she is of French Swiss descent on her maternal side, and northern Italian on her paternal. Her grandmother owned and operated a trattoria, and influenced her great love of gastronomy, wine and travelling at a very early age. She is presently living in Spain for professional commitments and owns a small condo on the Adriatic in Italy.
So true, Jaén is pleasant and unexpected at every turn with great gastronomy, marvellous monuments and above all my home.
Rachel Good Morning,
What a pleasant surprise ! We loved Jaén, that is Jaén Capital … Lovely city with lots to explore and ; La Cazorla, the town and the splendid National Park and the Parador Hotel which has so much serenity; Baeza, the white architecture town and its wonderful restaurant we had gone to … and Úbeda steeped profoundly in history … Unfortunately, it was raining cats and dogs, the day we arrived in Úbeda … so it hindered exploring the nooks and crannies; however, it was quite beautiful and we had a guided tour of the city which was handled by the Press Dept. at the Tourism Office. We had gone during Easter Week … and the Procession in Jaén Capital, I believe called The Grandfather Procession, was so different, with all the children … Very memorable trip …
We would love to return to explore the Olive Oil Groves in southern Jaén … The rurals coming into Jaén from Madrid Capital, are amazing too … We had stopped at a famous Church — and took the tour … What was most amazing, the OLIVES !!! DIVINE … We had an Evoo tasting ( cata de aceites ) and it was a very lovely experience.
Thank you so much for your lovely note,
Have a lovely wkend.
Good Morning Rachel,
Thank you for such a lovely note. Jaén was such a wonderful surprise … Absolutely breathtaking on each and every turn and each and every town we had stopped in along the way.
The lush olive groves, the Cazorla National Park,the towns steeped in profound history,the fabled Moorish Parador Hotel Castle Santa Catalina, and the gastronomy, the olives, the extra virgin olive oils … all has been very memorable. We would definitely return to explore further the regions of Jaén we were unable to see.