The Sierra Magina in Jaen is an island of tranquility where man lives in harmony with nature.
Theres gold in the hills of Sierra Magina, in the south of Jaen province. Not the kind you make jewellery with, but the liquid gold you get when you squeeze some olives to obtain tasty and healthful olive oil.
The Picual olive which grows in these hills is especially prized, and a good introduction to the region is a visit to one of the almazaras, or olive mills, such as Viana, one of the 35 producers comprising the recently-established Denominacion de Origen, or appellation area, of Sierra Magina. The Sierra Magina, which is protected as a 50,000-acre park, offers a landscape where man has learned to live in community with nature, devoted to sustainable activities such as olive growing and shepherding. Now the sierra is also becoming an increasingly attractive proposition for nature-loving travelers drawn by its landscape and its tranquillity.
Climbing to heights of more than 6,500 feet, the Sierra conceals rugged mountain peaks, thick forests and hidden valleys. Centuries ago Spains King Alfonso the Wise named this as one of the best spots in Spain for hunting bears. You wont find any bears these days, but you will spot plants such as wild peonies and blue hedgehog broom, and animals including ibex, wild boar and one of the countrys largest colonies of golden eagles.
Ruins of solitary castles beckon from hilltops, while the villages on the fringes of the park offer old-fashioned Andalusian hospitality. In the village of Jodar, visitors learn that the gathering of esparto grass which grows abundantly on the hills was once a major activity. The grass was woven into baskets and capachos, or mats, on which the olives were pressed to extract the oil. Modern production methods did away with the need for capachos, but a handful of artisans remain to make gift items and beach umbrellas from the tough grass.
Jodars castle is headquarters for the main visitors center to the park. Here you can learn about the variety of leisure activities available, including tours by four-wheel-drive, spelunking, off-trail biking and paragliding. The sierra is served by a network of privately run self-catering rural guest houses, which recently have joined forces in a central association, the Asociacion de Turismo Rural Sierra Magina. For hotel accommodation, many travelers take advantage of the proximity of Baeza and Ubeda, both monumental towns with the full range of hotel facilities.
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Copyright © 2000 An Andalusian Experience. Text by Mark Little. Photography by J. D. Dallet - A Freelance Spain production
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Copyright © 2000-2006 Mark and David Little & J.D. Dallet