The metaphor of the sea of olive trees is totemic in Jaén. its parador, located on the hill of Santa Catalina, it acts as a beacon not only for this city of 112,757 inhabitants, but also for its region. Designed in 1965 with an elongated floor plan to suit the orography of the mountain, it has a terrace that, due to its dimensions and because it constitutes an extension of the rooms, resembles a promenade. One looks out and sees part of the city tied to those 66 million olive trees that flood the province. You can’t hear anything and that’s all. A 10-minute walk away, next to the castle built by Ferdinand III in the 13th century, there is a cliff touched with a cross. Downstairs, the cathedral and everything else. Jaén, however, wants to be more than its olive grove. And it has good reasons such as Renaissance architecture, an extraordinary area of natural parks, the very well-preserved Arab baths or 237 fortifications. The exterior of the city’s brand new sports palace, adorned with local ceramics that reflects the ocher and green colors of the mountains and topped by battlements, corroborates the above. Although, of course, they have called it Olivo Arena.
The Parador and its city
Carmen Méndez, director of the Parador de Jaén and Valencian by birth, sums up her first year in the city and describes the enchantment of the olive trees: “I thought I was going to miss the sea when I moved. But this green sea has completely filled me ”. Méndez, who has worked in six paradors, points out a sentimental aspect of this province that accounts for 50% of the national olive oil production: “It is the place where it took me the least time to integrate. The people of Jaén are very open, welcoming and with a great willingness to help ”. With 30 years of experience in Paradores, Méndez has run this watchdog hotel since it reopened last spring after being closed for 18 months to recondition the bathrooms in the rooms, the kitchen and the entrances. Furniture and luminaires were also restored and it was used to relocate works of art such as a 15th century embroidery woven with silk and gold on burlap cloth.
The picnic areas of Santa Catalina
Marina García and Celia Guerrero are two twenty-somethings who attend to the description that the director draws from the people of Jaén. García, a graduate in Labor Relations and Human Resources, and Guerrero, a nursing student, enthusiastically recount on a bench in the cathedral square what a typical day is like in the picnic areas of Cerro de Santa Catalina, a popular place near the parador al that the jienenses come to spread out in search of the fresh air of the Sierra de Jabalcuz. “I prepare a pipirrana [ensalada tradicional de tomate, cebolla, pepino y pimiento], I buy beer and some chips, “says García, 25, who points out that the aperitif has to be from Santo Reino, a local producer that makes potatoes with olive oil,” and the drink is always Cruzcampo because there is a factory in Jaén and that brand is already very local ”. The brewery has just inaugurated a biomass plant in its facilities to transform the pruning of olive trees into renewable energy, another example that the green sea not only attracts those from outside but also feeds those from within.
PLACES AND PEOPLE THAT BRIGHTEN JAÉN
Despite the fact that many students choose neighboring Granada (an hour’s drive away), García and Guerrero have studied at the University of Jaén (UJA). Guerrero, 20 years old, defends that the Faculty of Nursing has “super-prepared” laboratories, that “the teachers are amazing” and that “Medicine will be offered in two years.” The rector of the UJA confirmed last March that from the academic year 2023 there will be 60 places available for the aforementioned degree. García, whose parents attended the demonstration that collapsed the port of Despeñaperros last month to protest the institutional neglect suffered by Jaén, is more visceral: “I am not leaving this city even if they offer me a job abroad.” The UJA budget for 2021 has increased by 12% compared to the previous year (the average increase in Andalusia is 3.37%) and stands at 128.6 million euros. An impulse to fix population in a province that has lost 40,000 inhabitants in the last decade, according to the National Institute of Statistics (INE), to stand at 631,381.
“This city is for grown-ups,” sums up Ana María Rodríguez, who runs the specialized store La Aceitera Jaenera. Rodríguez, who has a son in the Netherlands, another in Seville and a third thinking of packing, understands young people but claims that Jaén lives very well. “It has the most beautiful cathedral in the whole world,” he says. At the end of the day it is his and that is always a strong argument. Rodríguez ensures that his best clients stay at the parador, whose recent reopening feeds the local economy and the soul of the locals. “The people of Jaén have always counted on the hostel. Here they have celebrated the most important things in life: weddings, graduations, doctorates… ”, acknowledges Méndez, the director.
INSIDE THE PARADOR
Tapas in the sun
The speech of the two young women from Jaén contrasts with that of a group of Psychology students who sunbathe on a terrace in the Plaza del Deán Mazas, 300 meters from the cathedral. They regret that the city does not have as much university atmosphere as others. With the face-to-face classes suspended, they take advantage of the Jaén spring to drink an Alcázar —the local beer— and its corresponding tapa.
“Give me four seconds!”
Shouts the waiter of a nearby establishment, in the Plaza de la Constitución. It refers to having four tapas prepared for you, which are served with the second drink. The bars usually establish an order so that the customer, who almost expects to eat given their forcefulness, tries different dishes.
The accompaniment of the cane, which is around two euros, is always free in the center or on the Bulevar, the new area near the train station where Jaén expands. The pedestrianized old town at the end of 2017 favors the walk of the elderly and the deployment of the terraces, in which the locals regret the awarding of a military base to Córdoba, which was going to create 3,000 jobs – both provinces entered the fray-; they are proud of the success of Jaén Paraíso Interior, which competes in the Professional Futsal League and will soon play at the Olivo Arena; or they comment on the ill-fated investment of the tram, whose unused tracks serve as a car park. As you walk down the steep, narrow, and almost car-free streets, you see beautiful buildings that could previously go unnoticed. One of these routes leads to the 9th century Arab baths, converted into a museum that explains the ways of life of the ancient inhabitants of Jaén.
Three exits without leaving the province
Sabiote, which forms the Renaissance triangle of Jaén together with Úbeda and Baeza; the olive oil culture that permeates everyday life in these towns in the northeast of the province; or the 200,000 hectares of protected area in the Sierra de Cazorla, Segura and Las Villas. Click on the three photos to discover leisure, culture or outdoor plans and thus complete your trip
Nature and castle route
Beyond Jaén and its olive grove, Álvaro García looks, who works in the tourism sector in Cambil (2,683 inhabitants, 30 kilometers southeast of the capital). In an effort to promote that Jaén that is not related to olive oil, he speaks of the Sierra Mágina natural park, a rich area smaller and less popular than the Sierra de Cazorla, Segura and las Villas. And of the 237 fortresses in the region, which allow the visitor to take a route of castles. “Almost every town has one,” he says. But the oil always comes back. García has gone up to the parador to have a coffee with Ana Exposito, who has a Cuban work colleague at the Institute of Giennenses Studies who “floods the toast with oil every morning.” Good EVOO (extra virgin olive oil), in addition to biting and bitter, is thick and greenish and soaks the bread, it does not end up on the plate like the refined, transparent and insipid ones.
For good oil, that of Hacienda La Laguna, in Baeza (15,791 inhabitants, 49 kilometers northeast of the capital). The Diputación de Jaén selects eight early harvests each year in a blind tasting. This oil mill has won a double award in 2021. First, for being among that classification, a prestigious badge created in 2003; second, because it has won a tender to become the oil supplier to the Paradores Network (97 hotels), a way for Muhammad to go to the mountains.
ANA, DIEGO AND ANTONIO recommend you
Juan Manuel Cátedra is the manager of the oil mill. Born in Baeza, he explains that this World Heritage city has developed a tourist industry that complements that of olive oil. “Now people have more culture, they want to know more and see more places. We have spectacular inland towns ”. Cátedra, which has traveled Spain due to its profession as a salesperson, summarizes in two concepts what turns a good trip into an extraordinary one: “Sleep well and eat well”. In Jaén they know what he’s talking about.
ANDALUSIA, IN 16 PARADORES
Writing and script: Mariano Godson
Photography: Chencho Martinez
Editorial coordination: Francis Pasha
Design coordinator: Adolfo Doménech
Design and layout: Juan Sánchez and Rodolfo Mata