by Don Harris | January 2004

Jaén, strategically placed between Andalucía and La Mancha, is a fascinating place. It is located near the largest national park in Spain - the Sierra de Cazorla, which features one of the most important reserves of mountain goats, bucks, deer and wild boar.

Jaén also is not far from Ubeda, the capital of the 16th Century Andalucían Renaissance and burial place of the mystic Saint John of the Cross. Within the town itself is a cathedral with a spectacular Baroque façade, many convents, palaces and Moorish baths.

But the great structure in Jaén is the magnificent Moorish castle on the top of the Mount of Santa Catalina, overlooking valleys, open country and olive groves. Built by Moorish King Alhamar in the 9th Century, St. Fernando II recovered it in 1246. The castle houses a splendid Parador hotel, decorated with ancient armor and grandiose tapestries along with distinctive ogival arches. Intricate gilt work covers many of the halls and corridors, revealing a marked Moorish influence.

If you are flying into Madrid and then planning to head south to Andalucía, why not rent a car and head right to the Jaén Parador on excellent, clearly marked highways? You will be there for a late lunch - and then you can rest up with a blissful siesta in one of their great bedrooms overlooking the gorge. You will be so high up the mountains, the birds will soar beneath you! Because it is a Parador, the quality is high, and the cost surprisingly reasonable.

Don't forget to sample the tasty Jaén olives, cracked by hand so that the olives can marinate in spices. It is an exquisite treat for true olive lovers.

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