Everyone has heard of Cadiz, Cordoba, Granada and Sevilla the most famous and most-visited cities in Andalusia but have you heard of Jaen? Jaen (pronounced ‘Hi-en’) province sits on top of Granada and Cordoba province, to the north is the Andalusia and Castilla-La Mancha regional border.

Its name comes from the Arabic ‘Geen or Yayan‘ meaning caravan route and even these days it’s often just a place passed by en-route from north to south or Madrid to the Costa del Sol. But it is well worth more than a stop, it’s worth staying in Jaen province and city.

It’s now twenty years since the local tourist board named it ‘Paraiso Interior‘ or Inland Paradise, being home to three protected parks and the largest Natural Park in Spain – Parque Natural de Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas. This is a stunning area of indigenous wild flora and fauna, winding mountain roads, far-reaching views and the source of the mighty 657km  Guadalquivir River which crosses westwards to Cadiz province and the Atlantic Ocean.

Just on the edge of Cazorla Natural Park are two lovely Unesco-twinned Renaissance towns – Ubeda and Baeza packed with 16th century sandstone monuments, both are very much worth a visit being the best preserved examples of Italian Renaissance in Spain.

Jaen also has the largest man-made forest – its sea of olive groves surround you in every direction. They are the main industry and produce – liquid gold  or Olive Oil. Of course local traditions and gastronomy are based on extra virgin olive oil – just try a tapas or two and discover it for yourself.

Jaen province is also the land of monuments of war – castles, watchtowers and fortresses are easy to spot and many, even small towns. have some remains of semi-ruins, restored fortresses and lonely towers telling secrets from the times of the  Romans, Moors, Napoleonic Troops amongst others.

The dots of olive trees march up hill and down dale across the province and between its 97 isolated white mountain villages and towns providing fabulous views to the whole area. Inland Paradise – a green sea of calm.

Before visiting Jaen city you should take the pretty, steep, scenic drive up to the Parador de Santa Catalina, Jaen’s fortresss-style Parador Hotel which looms above the city. It’s a lovely place to stay or just to go along the walkway past the castle entrance to the huge white monumental cross  at the end of the elongated hill. The sides drop with dramatic crags behind and the city sprawl down below, surrounded by olive groves of course and with views stretching to the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Granada.

The town, which grew from the base of the hill, unfolds to modern edges. The older part close to the bottom of the hill is noticeable because of the smaller houses and old Moorish roof tiles but it’s the jewel in the crown, the enormous Renaissance/Baroque Cathedral, another Renaissance treasure which catches the attention.

Seemingly huge from above, it’s dwarfing from below. The old part of the city is based around the cathedral. Narrow streets of the Jewish district, the atmosphere in the food market, and lots of ancient buildings including the award-winning Arab Baths on top of the Palacio de Villardompardo home to two art musuems.

Jaen has plenty of charm, an abundance of nature, fabulous food, a plethora of monuments and history this Inland Paradise should definitely be a stop on your route and not just passed by.

Blog: Andalucia Explorer

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