Andalusia’s underrated city: Jaen
Having been to Andalusia’s popular cities – Granada, Seville, and Córdoba – Jaén was a complete change of pace. We saw just a handful of other tourists during our short stay, had our best meal in Spain, and saw some impressive sights. All about this very underrated city in this post.
Jaén was a quick stop on our 3 month “find a base” itinerary of Spain. It wasn’t a city that we actually saw as a potential base, instead we were here to meet a couple of people. The first was Norah, an Australian lady who’s really helped us in working towards our non-lucrative residence visa. Besides lots of advice, she offered her address as our official domicile for paperwork. Through her, we were also meeting an insurance agent at Adeslas* in Jaen (getting private insurance is a requirement of obtaining a non-lucrative residence visa).
So the goal was to see Jaén, but more importantly it was to meet a couple of people.
*Update: We now recommend getting your private health insurance with Innoinsure. Their insurance policies are comprehensive and meet all Visa requirements. More details on the companies and their policies here and here. No problems using foreign credit/debit cards.
Note (before I write about Jaén itself): for anyone working towards residency in Spain, lesser-known cities are good places to get paperwork done. Getting an NIE (Foreigner’s Identity Number) for example: in Jaén you just fill out a form at the police station, pay a fee at the bank, and you’ll have the number in hours. In big cities like Alicante or Valencia there’s lots of paperwork and a required appointment. It will take weeks to get an NIE. Related post: Opening a Spanish Bank account without an NIE.
Impressions of Jaén
An attractive, small city that has a provincial air. Lots of parks, a few busy main streets, some pretty squares. Jaén doesn’t have the major attractions of some of the other Andalusian cities but you’ll see pieces of history if you look for it, principally in its fountains, churches and historical buildings. The commercial center is pretty much flat but wander towards the historical center and you’ll have steep streets and stairs on the slopes of Saint Catalina hill. More on that in the highlights section.
Jaén is both an administrative center as well as home to various industries. It’s famous, for example, for its olive oil: Jaén is known as the World Capital of Olive Oil (you’ll see the lines of olive trees in the fields when coming into the region). Tourism is not the main industry…which also means that although attractive, Jaén could do with more upkeep: you’ll see a lot of graffiti and dog poop on the streets. The city doesn’t get the level of care that some of the more popular cities get.
People we met were very friendly and relaxed. Wandering early in the morning, we saw a lot of older men sitting in cafés reading their newspapers. Jaén has that kind of vibe. We were pleasantly surprised.
Tourist Highlights In Jaén
Jaén Cathedral. A huge cathedral that’s on the tentative list to be a UNESCO world heritage site. Construction started in 1249 and finally completed in 1724.
The Arab baths in the Villardompardo’s Palace. The Arab baths are the largest preserved baths in Spain. The baths are in a palace that showcases an excellent museum on the history of Jaén (all is free, including the baths). Finally, there’s a café with an incredible lookout over the city.
At the very top of the city, on a high hill, is the castle of Santa Catalina. You can hike up or take a taxi. But it’s worth a visit and the views are fantastic. It also contains one of the best Paradors in Spain.
Restaurants and Cafés
I mentioned at the top that we’ve have our best meal in Spain in Jaén. The restaurant was Panaceite, which is the favorite of locals (it was recommended by our hotel host as well as our friend Norah). Very, very much recommended. It’s stylish and cosy, excellent wines, their specialty are local meats but they have vegetarian options.
Another recommendation (if you want seafood) is Marisqueria El Pato Rojo which is right across the street from Panaceite.
A very nice café is Colombia 50 Café. It’s just a little down the street from both of the restaurants I’ve mentioned above.
We stayed at the very comfortable Los Caňos II, an apartment outside the center. Very good value and the host (Pablo) is very, very friendly with lots of local tips. Very much recommended.
If looking for something a little more centrally located and a little higher end, I recommend Las Novias 4, located in the historical center near the Cathedral.
More images of Jaén
Summing up Jaén
It’s funny how reality doesn’t match expectations. We didn’t expect much of Jaén but we left with positive impressions. Contrast that to Alicante where we had high expectations but which left us feeling disappointed.
If you’re a foreigner looking for a base in Spain there are factors that work in Jaén’s favor.
– Prices are low in Jaén. You can get yourself a very nice, 3 bedroom apartment for 600 Euros a month.
– Jaén is well connected. It is the ending point of 2 highspeed rail lines: one that goes north to Madrid (4 hours), one that goes southwest to Cadiz with stops in Cordoba (1 ½ hrs) and Seville (3 hours). It is also 1 hour from Granada by bus.
So could we live in Jaén? I don’t think it would be our “starter base” but I don’t rule it out for the future…
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