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HOT Attractions - Úbeda - Renaissance Revelation

If you're planning a weekend escape and perhaps suspect that you haven't yet seen the amazing diversity that Andalucia has to offer, take a comfortable three-hour drive to Úbeda in the province of Jaen. The experience is guaranteed to delight and enlighten you…

Think of a traditional Andalusian village or inland town, and the images that spring to mind are of tiny whitewashed houses, steep and winding cobbled streets, plant pots spilling over with brightly-coloured geraniums and carnations, and busy squares packed with local folk watching the world and time go by.

To discover in the heart of rural Andalucia a place that is as relentlessly Castilian as the stunning regions of Segovia or Avila... where stuccoed houses are replaced by magnificent granite buildings... where the streets, instead of hinting back to an age of Moorish rule, breathe a memory of the Renaissance... to discover a town as apparently misplaced as this would be truly magical.

Just east of the provincial city of Jaen, Úbeda is one of the most splendid enigmas in Andalucia. The original town dates back to around 200 BC. But its real interest lies in the impressive collection of perfectly conserved Renaissance buildings, which are located in the historic centre. Perhaps one of Úbeda's finest examples of Renaissance architecture is the Plaza Vazquez de Molina, which is surrounded by breathtakingly beautiful period buildings. Most notable is the XVI century Palace overlooking the square, which once belonged to the Dean of the Sacred Chapel of El Salvador. Today, it is an imposing Parador which, as guests will discover, conceals a wonderful inner courtyard and some impressive suites enjoying views of the square.

Other outstanding buildings surrounding the Plaza Vazquez include the commanding Palacio de Cadenas, so-called for the decorative chains that once hung from the facade; the Capilla del Salvador, and the XVI century Hospital de Santiago, boasting elegant square bell towers and a graceful Renaissance courtyard. Indeed, much of Úbeda's allure and architectural splendour is thanks to former resident Francisco de los Cobos, Secretary to the Roman Emperor Charles V. Due to his prominence and influence in the Spanish Court, he was awarded many riches and favours for his hometown. Thus, XVI century aristocracy in Úbeda sought to imitate the upper classes of Italy. In so doing, they turned to architect Andres de Vandelvira — an expert in Renaissance architecture and who, as a consequence, designed many of the town's most magnificent Renaissance buildings.

In addition to the Renaissance architecture, the Arab city wall is also a major part of Úbeda's history. Once considered the "best and strongest city in Andalucia", Úbeda’s strategic location on the frontier of the Arabic Kingdom of Granada meant that a surrounding fortification was essential. Sixty per cent of the original wall, built in the IX century and modified in the XIV, still remains today and can be visited, including its gateways and towers — the Puerta del Losal, Puerta de Granada, the Torre del Reloj and the Torre de las Arcas.

Aside from its myriad historical and architectural places of interest Úbeda, in common with all towns and villages in the province, still believes in the age-old Andalusian tradition of free tapas. A custom unfortunately no longer adhered to on the Costa del Sol, together with neighbouring Almeria and Granada, Jaen is one of the only provinces in Spain whose bars continue to serve a free tapa with each drink ordered (typically a caña, or small glass of beer).

Tapas in Úbeda have been slightly adapted to the availability of local produce and include regional favourites such as ochios, a salted bread tart; and andrajos, a famous casserole dish. Because of its close proximity to the beautiful Sierra de Cazorla, game is also a main ingredient of the town's appetising cuisine, as are Moorish-style sweets and pastries. Despite this, the province of Jaen is most famously renowned for its olive plantations. In fact, this relatively small province of Spain is the world's leading producer of olives and quality olive oil, naturally lending to each dish the authentic taste of Andalucia.

In addition, one of the main events to take place in Úbeda is the Renaissance Food Festival, celebrated between the months of January and March and showcasing, theatre and music from the area. Semana Santa, or Easter Week, as in any Andalusian town, is also an event not to be missed. The nearby provincial capital holds the Jaen Music Festival each May, one of the most eagerly anticipated attractions of the year. Chamber music, flamenco, jazz and opera are just some of the different genres on offer.

Travelling to Úbeda is no great feat. As there is as yet no main train link to the town, it's best to travel by car, the trip from Marbella, for example, takes no more than three hours, and is definitely more than worthwhile. An ideal location for a weekend break, theda's seemingly uncharacteristic architecture and breathtaking natural location make it an unexpected destination for those wishing to discover at first-hand the infinitely multi-faceted region of Andalucia.

Please note: Every effort was made to check the accuracy of the information contained within our archived HOT Properties Magazine articles at the time of originally going to press, but may well have been superseded over the ensuing years. They are now made available as historical archival information only. The said information has not been reviewed subsequently for present day accuracy nor has it been updated and we expressly disclaim any duty or obligation to do so. VIVA cannot accept responsibility for any errors or omissions, nor for the authenticity of any claims or statements made by third parties. We therefore strongly recommend that readers of these archived articles make their own thorough checks before entering into any kind of transaction. Prices were correct at the time of publication but may now vary due to circumstances beyond our control. The views and opinions of editorial contributors do not necessarily reflect those of VIVA .

HOT Properties Magazine Issue 50 - 2005

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