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International visitors discovered the province of Jaén and its three principal cities -- Jaén (the capital), Baeza, and Ubeda -- in the 1960s. For years, visitors whizzed through Jaén on the way south to Granada or bypassed it altogether on the southwest route to Córdoba and Seville. But the government improved the province's hotel outlook with excellent paradors, which now provide some of the finest accommodations in Andalusia.

Since that time, new and charming boutiques have opened up, and old monuments have been dusted off. For those who have at least a day, a detour through these towns is rewarding. If you have time for only one stop, make it ancient Ubeda, which has the most charm.

If you're visiting Granada after a previous stopover in Córdoba, you can head east along N-IV (E-5) to the turnoff town of Bailén. If you're going on to Granada without stopping over, you can head straight south along N-323, which will take you to the city of Jaén. You can stop off in Jaén for the night or bypass the city and follow the signs to E-902 into Granada.

Back at Bailén, if you want to visit Ubeda and Baeza (or both), get onto N-322 and head east, following the signs to either Ubeda or Baeza. Ubeda is on the main route, N-322. Baeza, however, is a short drive southwest of Ubeda and is reached by taking a secondary route, N-321.

Jaén

97km (60 miles) E of Córdoba

In the center of Spain's major olive-growing district, Jaén is sandwiched between Córdoba and Granada and has always been a gateway between Castile and Andalusia. This city is east of Córdoba and can be reached from that city in less than an hour. It's also possible to drive down from Madrid, visiting Jaén (and subsequently Ubeda or Baeza) before visiting either Granada or Córdoba. The drive south via E-5 or N-IV to Jaén is 338km (210 miles) from Madrid.

Jaén's bustling modern section is of little interest to visitors, but the Moorish Old Town, where narrow cobblestone streets hug the mountainside, is reason enough to visit. A hilltop castle, now a first-rate parador, dominates the city. On clear days you can see the snow-covered peaks of the Sierra Nevada.

The city of Jaén is the center of a large province of 13,491 sq. km (5,189 sq. miles) framed by mountains: the Sierra Morena to the north, the Segura and Cazorla ranges to the east, and those of Huelma, Noalejo, and Valdepeñas to the south. To the west, plains widen into the fertile Guadalquivir Valley. Jaén province comprises three well-defined districts: the Sierra de Cazorla, a land of wild scenery; the plains of Bailén, Ajona, and Arjonilla, filled with wheat fields, vineyards, and old olive trees; and the valleys of the tributaries of the Guadalquivir.

Life in Jaén revolves around the landmark Plaza de la Constitución. From here, take Calle Bernabé Soriano uphill to the cathedral and the Old Town.