Impressions from Cordoba and Jaen
These two andalucian provinces are an attractive blend f exquisite urban architecture, famed agricultural zones and great wildlife reserves within rugged mountain ranges. The ancient treasure-trove of Córdoba City is the star, of course, but the Renaissance towns of Baeza and Úbeda are among the region’s most beautiful. For wine-lovers and those who appreciate delicious ham and perfect olive oil, the areas around Montilla, Valle de los Pedroches and Baena should not be missed. Meanwhile, along the northern zones, nature lovers can hike for days and days amid the pristine wilds of the Parque Natural de la Sierra
Best 10 highlights in Cordoba and Jaen Provinces
This town, wonderfully rich in history and cultural importance, is also small enough to cover easily and enjoyably on foot. It has a delightfully contrasting mix of sights, from the architectural splendour of the great mosque – with a Christian church oddly sprouting out of its centre – to the whitewashed glories of the old Jewish quarter, the splendid Alcázar, and the frankly morbid museum dedicated to the bullfight. There are other engaging museums as well, featuring works of art by both Old Masters and local artists, and ancient artifacts evoking the area’s influential past
Ignore the downtrodden outskirts as you approach this town – once you get to the historic centre you will realize that it is one of Andalucia’s most remarkable splendours. The keynote here is architecture – an entire district of mostly Renaissance edifices built for local nobility in the 16th century. One of Andaluda’s greatest architects, Andrés de Vandelvira, was the genius who gave most of these structures their harmonious forms.
Like nearby Úbeda, this smaller town is also a jewel of Renaissance glory, but includes earlier remains dating back to the Moors and, before them, the Romans. The town radiates a sense of tranquillity as you walk from one cluster of lovely buildings to another. Again, much of the beauty owes its existence to Vandelvira.
The building of the first palace here dates from AD 936, commissioned by Caliph Abdel- Rahman III, Emir of Córdoba and the man who brought the city to glory. He named it after his favourite wife, Az-Zahra (the Radiant). Though it is little more than a ruin now, at one time it incorporated a zoo, ponds and gardens, baths, houses, barracks, ; markets, mosques, a harem of 6,000 women and accommodation for 4,000 slaves. Decorated with ebony, ivory, jasper and marble, it even had a pool of mercury that created dancing lights on the walls I and ceiling.
Castillo de Almodovar del Rio
Originally the site of a Roman, then a Moorish, fortification, the present fairytale castle goes back to the 1300s, when it was embellished in Gothic style. Legend holds that ghosts of those who died while imprisoned here haunt the eight monolithic towers.
Laid out on an undulating senes of five hills at a bend in the river, this ancient town sports a Baroque tower and a handsome 15th-century bridge. Other sights include a good Museo Arqueológico Municipal and the eccentrically kitsch Casa de las Conchas, a shell-encrusted folly; contact the tourist office to arrange a tour.
Valle de los Pedroches
The far north of Córdoba Province is fertile grazing land for farm animals, as well as deer and wild boar. Most importantly, it is a “land of acorns” densely clad with holm oaks and therefore a prime zone for raising the famed Iberian black pig. In October, the creatures are fattened up on acorns and their meat is elaborately cured to produce succulent jamón ibérico or pata negra, the local product rivalling that of Jabugo in Huelva Province.
This town is the centre of Cordoba’s wine-making region, where the word amontillado originates, meaning “in the style of Montilla’.’The wine produced here is like sherry, but nuttier and more toasted – and since the region is hotter than around Jerez, the grapes ripen more intensely and the wines need no fortifying. You can taste the difference at Bodegas Alvear.
This modern provincial capital is set off by the dramatically placed ramparts of the mighty Castillo de Santa Catalina, originally Moorish, and the immensity of its double-towered cathedral by Vandelvira. You can fully experience the castle and Its spectacular views of the city and surrounding olive groves, as it now houses a parador. Another rewarding stop is the Museo Provincial, with the country’s finest collection of 5th-century BC Iberian sculpture.
Alcalá La Real
The Fortaleza de la Mota that dominates this once strategic town is unique in Jaén Province in that its original Moorish castle was built by the rulers of Granada. Mostly In ruins, it still preserves the original seven gates. Inside, built on the remains of a former mosque, is the Gothic- Mudéjar church of Santo Domingo, which uses the former minaret as a belltower.