Jaen, Spain Through the Ages – Andalucia’s Hidden Treasure


Whether you’re taking a road trip or heading there directly, Jaen, Spain is a town that is sure to surprise you. Andaluci’as hidden treasure has cultural attractions galore, and merits further exploration. Set in a vast plain surrounded by sixty million olive trees, it actually produces 60% of Spanish and 20% of the world’s extra virgin olive oil. They call it liquid gold here!

Spain is renowned for its Paradors, government-run hotels in historic buildings and spectacular locations. The Parador de Jaen, Spain is one of the finest, with a breathtaking position on Santa Catalina Hill overlooking the town.

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We had a real thrill of anticipation driving up to the hotel. It’s located right next to the medieval castle, Castillo de Santa Catalina, open for visits every day of the week.

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We’d chosen Auto Europe for our Andalucian road trip and the whole process went really smoothly. We’d picked our Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0 Z up in Malaga, one of the busiest car rental hubs in the world, so we were glad that the service was efficient. Our car had great horsepower for the hill climbs around Granada and the Alhambra, but was extremely comfy. Although the Parador itself was constructed in 1965, you’d never know, it’s so in keeping with the adjacent 8th century fortress.

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The only clues are the spaciousness and sense of light in the bedrooms…

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Together with the sizeable balcony of our suite…The view over the valley of the Guadalquivir towards the Sierra Morena mountain range is magnificent.

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Waiting for us in our room was an appetizing tray of sweet treats, together with lots of useful brochures on the area.

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Once we’d settled in, we headed out to explore the rest of the Parador. The swimming pool will soon be open for the season.

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There are two spectacular adjacent bar areas, with 20 meter high cross-vaulted ceilings and stylish decor.  General Charles de Gaulle once stayed here whilst writing his memoirs, I imagine it’s changed a bit since then! The current King of Spain has also graced its doors.

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The restaurant is equally impressive and serves seasonal local produce.

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After dinner, the split level lounge is an atmospheric place to relax.

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By night, the parador is illuminated and makes a striking sight.

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The next day we met our guide from the Jaen, Spain Tourist Office, the knowledgeable and charming Eva. We took a walk past Castillo de Santa Catalina, along a picturesque path to a monumental cross commemorating the one that Ferdinand III erected here.

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She showed us around the castle, which served as a military stronghold, defending the town from attacks. It was improved by Abdallah ibn al-Ahmar, the Nasrid King famed for building the Alhambra. King Ferdinand III of Castile recaptured the city in 1246 and transformed the castle. What I find rather fascinating is that the castle was connected to the centre of town by secret tunnels.

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From here, we headed into town to visit Nuestra Señora de la Asunción Cathedral. It’s considered the most important example of Renaissance architecture in Andalucia, and aspiring to be declared a World Heritage Site. The masterwork of Andrés de Vandelvira, it served as a model for many Latin American cathedrals.

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And also for its unique construction with an upper level allowing people to view the nave from on high. The reason it was built this way  is that the cathedral houses a rare relic, a version of the Veil of Veronica. This cloth bears a likeness of the face of Jesus, purportedly since Saint Veronica of Jerusalem met Jesus on the way to Calvary and wiped the blood from his face. Whilst the Church make no claims about the relic’s authenticity, people have come for centuries to get a glimpse of it. Allowing people to view it from above preserved the relic. These days it’s exhibited on Good Friday and on the Feast of the Assumption.

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Next we walked to the Palacio de Villardompardo. This Renaissance Palace is interesting in its own right and houses some fascinating exhibits including the only naive art museum in Spain. What particularly impressed us was the Arab Baths hidden inside the Palace, the largest and most important in Europe. Dating from the 11th century, they were discovered in 1913 and are the largest baths open to the public in Spain. They were most likely constructed on top of Roman baths, as Roman ruins are visible from a glass walkway in the palace basement. There are four different rooms – a marble lobby, a cold room and warm and hot rooms,

jaen_arab_bathThere are a few sections where natural daylight streams through the star shaped skylights, to stunning effect. The restoration of the baths won the Europa Nostra (European Cultural Heritage) prize.

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The Museum of Arts and Popular Traditions, also located within the palace, showcases some very interesting artefacts like these traditional local costumes. We were pleasantly surprised by the variety of attractions that the town of Jaen, Spain has to offer. As for the province itself, there’s much to discover – tours of the world’s largest olive oil factory sound fascinating and the largest area of protected natural spaces in Spain. It also has the largest number of castles in Spain. As for us, the next stage of our road trip, aristocratic Ubeda, is calling!

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  • Wow what a wonderful place. Loved the photos. Gemma x
    http://www.jacquardflower.uk

  • The hotel has a gorgeous rustic charm.

    SilverSpoon London

  • I have a uni friend who is from Jaen but I never had the chance to visit this place. The hotel room looks great and really matches the location.

    • I hope you get the chance to visit your uni friend. You’re right that the hotel fits in perfectly with the area

  • Gosh, there’s so much to admire in this post – I love the warm textiles in your hotel room and the restaurant looks incredible with such a high ceiling!

    Gabrielle | A Glass Of Ice x

  • Love the look of the hotel, so unique!

  • Brooke

    oh the dry hills of Andalusia simply beautiful, I loved visiting this region so much. I also loved spotting the huge bull signs on the side of the road as we drove – so much fun

    • Actually they weren’t as dry as I expected though I’m sure in the height of Summer they’re a lot more so! I really liked the huge bull signs too

  • Wow! So gorgeous! I love seeing how history is becoming a big draw for luxury travel.

    • You know, that makes perfect sense as an interesting history makes a place so much more memorable

  • Such a beautiful place and pictures! Thanks for sharing Suze! Have an amazing weekend!
    xx
    cvetybaby.com

  • Aaaaaah it’s so beautifully ‘old-timey’! I did a driving tour of Andalusia one summer and I’m not sure if I’ve actually been to Jaen. It looks so familiar yet so distinctively unique and different. If I can’t dig up my mental archives Im just going to have to go there in person and try to jog my memory 😉 x

    Jasiminne: Posh, Broke, & Bored

  • Frank Thomae

    Oh wow, looks incredible! As I’ve previously mentioned, we’re planning to stay a few months in Spain later this year. Would definitely visit and although we’re dedicated Airbnb renters I looked up the prices and the parador looks reasonable. Looks like a great experience and photos are stunning.
    Frank (bbqboy)

    • Oh I hope you have an amazing time and Molly from Piccavey is the blogger to hit up for Andalucia tips!

      • Frank Thomae

        Thanks Suze 🙂

  • Wow, I had no idea that many of the hotels in Spain are what once used to be historic buildings, that makes for such an amazing and memorable stay! I love the castle you stayed in, which is simply gorgeous! I love how you have that true Spanish atheistic in the hotel, that it’s not so modernized, which I personally don’t like when traveling. If I’m in a country, such as Spain, I want to stay in a place that embodies that and this place certainly does! All around great photos, you must have really had an amazing time! Thanks so much for sharing and I hope you have a wonderful weekend!

    XO,

    Jalisa
    http://www.thestylecontour.com

    • The hotel has kept a very authentic feel, without sacrificing modern day comforts. It’s such a thrill to stay somewhere that has so much history all around it! Have a lovely weekend too, I’ve got a birthday one coming up so more travels!

  • Wow what a beautiful historic place…the view is stunning!! I’d love to visit Spain someday.
    http://www.leftbanked.com

    • It’s such an interesting country, the landscape is really varied with the coast and mountains – I hope you get the chance

  • I first saw the Parador’s when I was researching Tenerife – there’s such a choice and they look simply charming, nice to see you enjoyed!

    • Oh I didn’t realize they had them in Tenerife, I’ll have to read all about them on your blog

  • Lucy

    Adalucia is beautiful you have picked out some wonderful hidden gems. It makes me want to visit again Lucy x

    • I hope you get the chance, it’s a nice place to visit with a child I think though they do tend to serve food quite late

  • I loved parador de Jaen. It’s one of those unique hotels that makes you feel like royalty. Your post reminded me how beautiful Spain is. Great pictures, like always!

  • Rachel Webb

    Jaen is my nearest city and one I love showing visitors around. It’s so untouristy and of course the Parador is fabulous. I also love that free tapas are still served. A lovely round-up of a great small city