Jaén is a province in Andalucía located in the middle of nowhere that not many people of Spain have heard of and not many people in Spain know anything about. It has more olive trees than people, which means it has some of the best olive oil in an entire country known for its olive oil. It also means that when I was 26 and assigned a school in Linares, the second biggest city of the province at 60,000 (half the size of the capital city Jaén), I freaked out.
“I’m going to be the only gay in the village!” I shrieked. (Not true. There were maybe three others.)
“There’s going to be nothing to do!”
“I’m going to give up on going to Spain!”
How young and naïve I was. When I got to Jaén, I was amazed by how beautiful it actually was. True, their Spanish is hard to understand (I had maybe a B2 then, Upper intermediate.). Compared to some parts of Andalucía, the Spanish in Jaén is quite easy to understand. The city is located in the mountains and has a vibe of being forgotten. Now? It sounds right up my alley. At the time, I had my heart on living in a big city like Madrid where I could feel free to be me, and in your mid-20s, the idea of Chueca still sounds like the opportunity of a lifetime.
And I was sentenced to Jaén.
Now that six years older and six years wiser, I want to go back and kick myself in the culo. Jaén is a charming city with friendly people and great olive oil. And the province has many beautiful places I never took the time to appreciate. (Linares is not one of them sadly. I do love how long I thought the 6 kilometre vía verde was at the time. Now it’s nothing!)
During my time there, I got to tour an olive oil factory in Martos, which is a quaint typical Andalucían village. I found myself exploring Andújar in the middle of Carnival. And those three weeks of winter when it was only 10ºC/50ºF and we had no actual heat were some good times.
However, I feel I missed out on what the province had to offer. I didn’t have the knowledge I know now about public transport in Spain. I also lived in a flat without internet, so I wasn’t able to explore my options. However, in 2008-2009, most of Jaén was in the dark about this invention called the internet. Seriously. There was an article in El País about how Jaén was the least connected province in Spain.
One of these days, I’m going to go back there and visit the place I once called home. I hope to have a car, as that bus from Jaén capital to Linares was pretty darn scary…those back roads…on a bus…and to revisit the capital city and see those Set Meravelles that I never took the chance to see before.
Jaén Capital: The capital city is a small, charming city worth visiting to get a glimpse of the real Andalucían life outside the more touristy Granada, Sevilla, Málaga and Córdoba.
Castillo de Jaén
I never hiked up to see the castle that overlooks Jaén. One of these days, I want to rectify this grevious sin.
On that Vía Verde de Linares, I passed a lot of olive trees. A lot. More olive trees than people. But the olive trees makes some of the best olive oil in the world. It’s the perfect place for it. Also, my friend Peter reminded me that almost everyone in Jaén is quick to point out that while many olive oil bottles from Greece and Italy say they’re from those countries, the oil is actually produced from olives from Jaén
A-4 Mountain Pass
Once upon a time, the Autovía del Suro (A-4) took you from Madrid to Andalucía through some sharp and steep curves and mountains that separated Castilla La Mancha from Andalucía. You still can see the amazing mountain views, but now that the new part has opened, the route is a whole lot safer (and a lot less nausea inducing).
Úbeda is an incredible village of 36,000 habitants located in the heart of Jaén province and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. While I’ve seen its beauty from the bus to València, I regret not taking the time to walk around this breathtaking village.
And whenever anyone talks about Úbeda, they almost always talk about it’s smaller sibling Baeza. At 17,000, it has even more of a small-town atmosphere while keeping all of the beauty. It shares the UNESCO World-Heritage site with Úbeda.
La Sierra de Cazorla (Cazorla Mountains) is one of the most breathtaking natural parks in Spain. The namesake village and another village called La Iruela are beautiful places to start the journey to this incredible mountain range. I cannot wait to go back to Jaén and correct all my youthful mistakes.