One day when I had the morning off I decided to have another crack at climbing up Santa Catalina hill to the castle of the same name. Knowing it would be an hour’s hard climb I packed a bottle of water and set off at 8am before the sun got too hot. My last attempt back in 2013 had failed because I didn’t know how to find the final path up the last part of the steep slope to the castle gate. This time I’d done my research and knew where to go.
From the cathedral square walk along Calle Maestra to Plaza Audencia and turn left up Calle Aldana and it’s continuation Calle Parilla.
This takes you to the aptly named Calle Buenavista which ends at Calle Circunvalación (the road that curls round the back of the castle hill which you would take if you were driving).
Turn right onto Circunvalación and after a few yards you’ll see a gravel road going up the hill to your left. Follow it until it bends round to the right and either take the faint path that cuts through the woods on the left or stay on the road until you get to the remains of the castle curtain wall and take the footpath that goes up along the inside of the wall.
After a steep climb you’ll come out on Circunvalación again but now you’ll be within sight of the castle gate.
Follow the road up through the gate and the first building you’ll come to is the Parador, a government owned hotel and restaurant, more of which below.
Continue past it and you’ll come to the Santa Catalina castle itself. It’s now a museum and is well worth a visit. Entrance cost €3.50 in 2015.
You can get a good sense of castle‘s long and varied history from the displays but the real reward is the stunning view from the top of the towers.
Here’s the video I took, please ignore the panting!
When you come out of the castle you can continue along to the end of the ridge to the large cross that overlooks the town.
It was first erected by King Ferdinand when the Christians retook the town from the Moors and so intentionally it has a great view of the cathedral which was itself built over the mosque. If you’re unlucky it can be a bit busy up here with school and tour groups.
As I mentioned earlier, next to the castle is the parador, a government-owned hotel built in 1965 on top of some of the castle ruins. It blends quite well with the castle, especially inside.
Spain has a policy of opening parador’s either in or in association to many of its ancient monuments. I think it’s a good idea as it generates funds for their preservation and helps make them living buildings.
On my final day in 2013 I decided I just had to get to the top of Santa Catalina hill, and if I couldn’t do it on foot, I’d do it by car, so I booked a table at the parador’s restaurant and took a taxi each way. For some reason it was a cheaper fare going there than getting back!
When you go inside, after first walking past the hotel reception and along a corridor, you get to ‘the lounge’, a huge square room with soaring vaulted ceilings, high chimneys on facing walls and a wall of windows with Moorish wooden shutters.
The décor in here consists of long swords hanging on the walls, alongside portraits of Christian saints. One shows a knight with a halo riding a horse and smiting the heads of some turban-wearing men with his sword. Not very PC but this is the actual history of this place. A Moorish castle once occupied the hill but it was put under siege several times by the Christians who eventually captured it and built this newer fortification in its place.
Passing through this room you come to the restaurant which has been designed to look like a Medieval banqueting hall; very long with a low ceiling and several arches.
It’s decorated in sturdy Medieval style with clunky wooden light fittings and a huge tapestry showing a battle scene on the end wall.
Unfortunately the food at these paradors is often not very good so I wasn’t counting on a gourmet meal. The Gazpacho Andaluz, with two halves of quail egg and a swirl of excellent olive oil, was pretty good (B+), but that’s quite hard to get wrong if you have quality ingredients.
However the grilled leg of goat came with the kind of mixed veg (diced carrots, beans and peas) that you get from a bag in the freezer, and the solitary potato looked processed as well. A swirl of reduced vinegar failed to make it posh (C).
The saving grace was the award-winning local red, Marques de Campomeno 2011 (B+), a Tempranillo/Cab Sauv, which is now my favourite local tipple whenever I’m in Jaen.
To finish a local dessert, Dulce de Gachas con Matalauva y Aciete de Oliva Extra Virgen, which translates as a sweet set porridge, topped with aniseed and extra virgin olive oil. The main ingredients of most Gachas recipes seem to be milk, flour, sugar and whatever flavourings are to hand; a sweet born out of poverty if ever there was one. Despite its simplicity it was quite nice (B) and the waiter loved me for ordering it!
Generally the front of house staff here were very pleasant but they took a long time to attend to me, although to be fair they do have a lot of ground to cover.
After eating I decamped to the lounge with a glass of the local sweet anis, made by Castello de Jaen, which seemed the only fitting way to end the evening.
So a mediocre and slightly pricey food experience but the interior of the parador and the views of the town at night were worth it.