Exploring the region
Provincia de Jaen
The historic city of Alcala la Real is situated in the southern hills of Jaen Province and is a great base for discovering this wonderful region. It is a province rich in culture, architecture and history and one of the least populated. Think of Jaen, think unspoilt wilderness (it’s been described as Europe’s largest national park), think castles (literally more than any other province), think olive groves (the world capital of olive oil)...
The beauty of Jaen’s diverse landscape is simply breathtaking and this, together with the quiet, undulating (well maintained) roads, make it the perfect choice for discovering this less travelled part of Andalucia, on four wheels or two (or two feet). There are many established routes for cycling and hiking, probably the most famous hiking route that takes in Alcala la Real is the GR7 (Gran Recorrido Siete). It is also one of the destinations for pilgrims following the Camino Mozarabe route, heading north to Santiago de Compostella.
Alcala la Real was given its royal (Real) title by Alfonso XI of Castile (1341) and its city status by King John II (1432). However, with a population of around 22,000, it feels more like a small working town and you will hear it referred to as such, some locals even call it the village... As you approach Alcala la Real from any direction the skyline is dominated by the magnificent Fortaleza de la Mota, a fortress that marked the border between the kingdoms of Granada and Castille for over 150 years. It truly is a wonderful place to visit and the views are spectacular.
Once you have checked in at Atelier88 and checked out the map provided, you will soon realise that everywhere you want to go in Alcala can be reached on foot. In addition to a visit to the Fortaleza (which also hosts music events and festivals throughout the year), you can take a walk around the corner and visit Salvador’s ceramic workshop (alfueria), perhaps pick up a hand made gift or souvenir. From here you can choose to either head into the countryside and enjoy a walk in the olive groves, or into town, where you will find a museum, library, theatre, shops, pharmacies and places to eat.
The cafe-bars are traditional, friendly and serve food and drink at reasonable prices (not tourist rates) and still provide free tapas with your drinks. There are no fast-food chains, coffee chains, full English breakfasts, fish 'n' chips or roast dinners…and very few English speaking staff - this really is rural Spain. We love this…we hope you do too.
Festival-goers and lovers of world music should check out Etnosur. It is an amazing (and free) weekend when virtually the whole of Alcala becomes a venue with music, DJs, art, film, spoken word & children's activities held all day and (literally) all night (I can still hear music playing when preparing breakfast). Book your accommodation early because everywhere gets booked up quickly (often a year in advance)
Within a 30 minute drive from Atelier88 you can visit local olive oil or wine producers, enjoy a long lunch in one of the picturesque villages such as Montefrio and Preigo de Cordoba. Further afield you can visit major tourist destinations including Cordoba, just a 90 minute drive (110km), Jaen, a 60 minute drive (71 km), Granada, just a 45 minute drive (53 km). If you want to feel the sand between your toes, the Mediterranean coastline is a 90 minute drive away (110km).
Cordoba was once the largest and most important medieval city in Europe, and the heart of the western islamic empire. Famous for the Mezquita which is located in the heart of the city surrounded by the old Jewish and Moorish quarters. Cordoba really comes alive in May when the Patios de Cordoba are opened to thousands of tourists, a really beautiful time of the year.
Jaen, the provincial capital, boasts a truly wonderful cathedral, an example of Renaissance architecture that has inspired many South American cathedrals and convents. In addition it has the largest Arab baths in Spain which are located beneath the Palace of Villadompardo and were only discovered in 1913. Renaissance towns close by, such as Ubeda and Baeza, are also filled with architectural gems and lovely places to call in en-route..
Granada is definitely on the must see list, famous of course for the Alhambra, a 1,000 year old palace complex with beautiful gardens. So too is the Albaycin (Arab Quarter) with its narrow cobbled streets, steeped in history. A good time to visit is during spring and autumn when temperatures are not too high. Of course if you enjoy skiing or snowboarding, book a winter flight - destination Sierra Nevada.
The closest airport to us is Granada-Jaen, only a 45 minutes drive or if you are travelling car free taxis are reasonable and there is a good bus service from Alcala. There are bus services also to all the main cities, towns and villages in the area. Coming here without a car is definitely doable...