Although few travelers stop in the endless groves of olive trees that characterize the Andalusian province of Jaen, Spain, when driving between Madrid and Granada, it does have some spots worth seeing. The provincial capital, which is also called Jaen, has a hilltop castillo that offers a spectacular view of the city and countryside. Part of it is a parador today. The 16th-century Palacio de Villardompardo is built on top of 10th-century Arab baths, which are preserved beneath the palace.
Within the province are two other cities worth your time, both declared UNESCO World Heritage sites. Surrounded by olive groves, Baeza is a lovely city of stone-carved Renaissance structures and simple whitewashed houses. Take a few hours to stroll through the compact old quarter, visiting the cathedral, Jabalquinto Palace and the Church of the Holy Cross.
A short drive to the northeast will take you to the beautiful city of Ubeda. Like Baeza, it has a wonderful collection of Renaissance architecture. You should plan to spend a half-day there to stroll through the old city, seeing its palaces, aristocratic mansions and churches. Highlights include the Plaza Vazquez de Molina, the Palacio de las Cadenas (now the city hall), Hospital de Santiago and the Sacred Chapel of El Salvador.
The province of Jaen has more protected natural areas (many of them mountainous) than other provinces in Andalusia. Lying 210 mi/335 km south of Madrid, it is said to produce the best olive oil in all of Spain.
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