Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Jaén and Baeza

We drove to Jaén and checked in to the spectacular Parador in the castle on top of the hill dominating the city. The castle was built by Ibn Al-Ahmar in the 13th century, and modified by Fernando III, who named it the Castillo de Santa Catalina (St. Catherine). The hotel is excellent, although we were disappointed to find the outdoor swimming pool closed.

Suckling pig in the Parador restaurant
Jaén was settled by the Romans and expanded by the Moors as a convenient stopover for caravan routes. It does not normally appear on tourist itineraries. The renaissance cathedral, by Andrés de Vandelvira, was started in 1492. The Baños Arabes are the largest Arab baths remaining in Spain. They fell into disuse after the reconquista, but were excavated and restored and reopened in 1984, and now are part of the museum complex of the Centro Cultural Palacio de Villardompardo, but closed Sunday afternoon and Monday, so we decided not to go out of our way to visit them. The plan in Jaén is to rest after running around and seeing lots of sights in the big cities.

We ate dinner in the castle banqueting room, after it had been vacated by the veterinarians of Jaén out for their annual lunch, and a significant portion of a suckling pig was eaten.

Sunday

A day of rest. We enjoyed lazing around our castle, and took some photos. We popped into town by taxi in the evening to try out the local tapas, but we were a bit early in the evening, and many bars were either still closed, or had opened early for the Barca-Real Madrid match. We played cards in the Gastrobar,  with excellent tapas, with half an eye on the match. Jaén seems a bit drab after the remarkable cities which we've visited so far.

Monday

We went on a short day trip to one of the beautiful renaissance towns of Jaen province, Baeza. Along with Ubeda, Baeza grew rich on the textile industry in the 16th century, and brought in some of the finest Italian architects of the day to build palaces, churches and civic buildings. Baeza is the smallest and possibly brightest gem of the Renaissance triangle. We had an excellent lunch in a pleasant square - a tapa of angulas (elvers) on toast, then a spinach and chickpea stew, with tomato and avocado salad, all drenched in the excellent local olive oil. It is an astonishing fact that Jaén province produces 20% of the world's olive oil, and has a population of only six-hundred and fifty thousand. There are forests of neatly planted olive trees everywhere.

Penelope Chetwode had more down-to-earth memories of the town:

"I returned to the posada to the familiar sound of pigs being weighed in the narthex" [Two Middle-aged Ladies in Andalusia]
We ate again in the excellent Parador restaurant..

Tuesday

Back south to Granada!