Renaissance palace and churches in Ubeda, Jaen Province

by rachelwebb

UNESCO city Ubeda boasts Spain's finest Renaissance monuments. Stroll among the lion statues, sandstone monuments and refresh yourself with free tapas and cold beer

Ubeda is twinned with Baeza and has world heritage status due to its grand Renaissance architecture. Explore this small city in Jaen province, wander around the sandstone monuments and be transported  back to the 16th century.   

This is the centre of Jaen Province on the edge of Spain's largest natural park, Cazorla. Ubeda is the Renaissance capital of Spain, journey through the ugly modern outskirts of the town and you'll discover its medieval heart. Follow the casco antiguo signposts to the spacious car park under a plaza and near to the old town.

An annual Music and Dance Festival is held in Ubeda in May/June every year and could be the time to visit for a visit from music lovers. It attracts big names from flamenco, rock, opera, ballet, jazz and blues. The dates vary each year so contact the tourist office in advance.

I'm surrounded by the sandstone mansions, churches, palaces and towering stone lions on the main Plaza and it's easy to imagine myself in days gone-by.

The local gastronomy is of course based on olive oil and local fish and game from the nearby Sierra de Cazorla, the place to try it with deep pockets is the Parador de Ubeda. If the budget doesn't allow for a meal then it's a must for a beer or coffee at least.

Travel to Ubeda

The nearest airport is Granada, then Malaga and Madrid and the nearest rail link is Linares-Baeza, which is  15 km from Ubeda. Malaga airport takes about three hours by car. Buses run frequently from Granada and Cordoba but need a connection in Jaen, Alsina-graells is the company, tickets can be booked online here.

One thing to remember is the driving here is so much more enjoyable and the journey time whistles by with great views.

The narrow streets reveal another delight - free tapas and cold cerveza. A frequent must in the summer months, have one beer in a bar and move on, the best tapas is usually served first to encourage your second drink!

Once in Ubeda you probably won't need a car for a few days, so public transport may be worthwhile. Stay in Ubeda old town and take your pick of the fifty or so monuments there are, stroll around, take a horse-drawn pony and trap or the mini train with a guide. A bit touristy I know, but you get to see everything and can then go back at leisure to explore the most interesting parts in more detail.

Where to stay in Ubeda

For a royal residence try the best place in town, the 4* Parador de Ubeda “Condestable Davalos,” a former 16th-century palace. Located right by the side of the ornate Sacra Capilla de el Salvador it's rather overshadowed by this church. Even if you don't stay at the Parador, go into the bar to experience its pretty patio and double gallery. It has been in use as a parador since 1929 and more recently modernised. Ask for the best, one of the six rooms that overlook the main plaza for a real room with a view.

For a quirky stay just outside the medieval centre the Museo de Agricola is a superb restaurant with rooms. The outside is covered in agricultural implements and if you like clutter and bygones it's a great unusual stay. This would be my choice, I just love the craziness of every nook and cranny crammed with bygones, the restaurant too is adorned floor to ceiling with agricultural implements.

Hotel Afan de Rivera in the heart of the historical part of town is a superb stay. It's a newly restored inn with just five guestrooms all uniquely and sympathetically designed, charming and welcoming.

Explore the town

There are plenty of fine buildings to see but don’t miss walking behind El Salvador and past the Hospital de los Honorados Viejos del Salavador another of Vandelvira’s works, for the view from Ubeda over the olive groves to the rising mountains of the Sierra Cazorla in the distance.

Local crafts

The local dark green-glazed pottery is famous around Spain and is made as it would have been in Moorish times. Visit Alfareria Tito, Ubeda's most renowned potter who still uses traditional methods to create his pots. Walk through the maze-like streets and the Losal gateway to his workshops, and like me you'll probably leave lighter in pocket.

Esparto grass is another local tradition that was introduced by the Moors, woven grasses are used to produce craftwork from a mule with panniers to slippers. These crafts can be found in many shops in and around Ubeda and Cazorla.

Neighbouring Baeza

Baeza, just 8km away, and Ubeda are twin UNESCO sites both for their Renaissance architecture. While Ubeda is grandiose, Baeza is more welcoming. Baeza is my favourite but both are worthy of a visit, more than once if you're local like me. Watch out for my Baeza guide coming soon.