You’d be forgiven for never having heard of Ubeda and Baeza.
Until recently, I had never heard of them either, and despite their UNESCO heritage and convenient location in the heart of Jaen, Andalucia, they remained firmly off my radar until I was invited to a blogger’s trip there earlier this year.
With their rich cultural heritage, strikingly well-preserved Renaissance architecture and underrated gastronomy, the twin cities of Ubeda and Baeza are well deserving of a place on your Andalucia itinerary.
With this in mind, I decided to create this guide to both Ubeda and Baeza, or to give them their official title, the Renaissance Monumental Ensembles of Ubeda and Baeza.
As always, it’s going to be a long one, so grab a drink and a snack and get comfy.
Let’s get into it.
Ubeda and Baeza – The Renaissance Cities of Andalucia
Ubeda and Baeza at a glance
Tucked away in the province of Jaen, Ubeda and Baeza are two tiny cities (40,000 and 13,000 inhabitants respectively) that receive a fraction of the tourism that other Andalucian destinations do (Marbella, I’m looking at you).
This is in spite of the fact that in 2003, they were jointly recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Ubeda and Baeza are considered the best places to encounter Renaissance architecture outside of Italy, and together with Jaen, they form the Southern Renaissance Triangle.
Back in the 16th century, Ubeda and Baeza both developed a lot of wealth, and competed with each other to showcase that wealth in their buildings. While aristocratic families played a big part in the development of Ubeda, the town council in Baeza ordered dozens of public works to rival those in Ubeda.
Interestingly enough, the cities both used the same architect, Andrés de Vandelvira, and almost every building of note in Ubeda and Baeza is an example of his work.
If you’re interested in history, art, architecture or heritage tourism, you’ll feel right at home in both Ubeda and Baeza.
Ubeda and Baeza can easily be visited as part of a day trip from Jaen, which is 48km away, or you can base yourself in one of them and visit the other from there.
Both destinations have lots of boutique and luxury hotels to choose from, so you’re sure to find something nice (keep reading for my accommodation picks!).
They are located around 9km apart from one another, connected by a bus that comes every 30 minutes or so.
If you prefer to take a taxi between the two, expect to pay around 20 EUR each way.
Of course, you can also hire a car, which is a great idea if you want to turn your visit into a larger Andalucia road trip.
If you prefer to visit with a guide like I did, this full-day trip to Ubeda and Baeza from Jaen is a great choice.
Best time to visit Ubeda and Baeza
There is a continental climate in Ubeda and Baeza.
With temperatures exceeding 40 degrees in the summer and the winter months plummeting to below freezing (it even snows in Ubeda and Baeza!), the best time to visit these twin cities is in the spring or autumn – that’s fall, for my American readers 😉
Things to do in Ubeda
Check out the view
Just past the edge of the old town in Ubeda are stunning views over the lush green olive trees that stretch for miles.
Take a moment to breathe in the fresh air and admire the olive trees that make the region so famous.
Sacra Capilla El Salvador del Mundo
The Sacred Chapel of El Salvador is on Plaza Vazquez de Molina, a large square in Ubeda that is surrounded by – you’ve guessed it – Renaissance architecture.
Like most of the other buildings in Ubeda and Baeza, this chapel was designed by Andrés de Vandelvira, and on entering, you will see that there has been no expense spared in creating its opulent gold interior.
The story behind the Chapel of El Salvador is an interesting one.
It was originally made for a man named Francisco de los Cobos y Molina, who, although very wealthy, was not a nobleman. In order to achieve his dreams of aristocracy, he married a 14 year old girl from a noble family (he was 45 at the time), and their son was the first ever Marquess of Camarasa.
However, despite what it might look like, this building was never intended to be a church – Francisco ordered this extravagant gold palace to be made as his tomb.
On entering the chapel, you get a curious insight into Francisco’s personality.
Statues of Hercules line the walls (a clue, perhaps, as to how he saw himself), alongside countless sculptures of naked women, the family coat of arms (to remind us of his nobility), and even a fallen angel (and we all know what that represents).
These days, the chapel mainly functions as a museum to the public, although there is a mass held there every day, and it is even possible to get married here (like our tour guide did!).
El Salvador Chapel is on Plaza Vázquez de Molina. Open Tuesday – Sunday 11:00am – 2:00pm and 5:00pm – 7:00pm. Admission is 5 EUR.
Basilica de Santa María de los Reales Alcázares
Saint Mary’s Basilica is also on Plaza de Vazquez de Molina, and is built on the site of an old mosque dating back to the times of Moorish rule in Spain.
Unfortunately I didn’t take a picture of this church because on this part of the tour I got an email saying my flight for the next day had been cancelled, and so I was a little distracted!
However, Saint Mary’s Basilica combines Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance architecture, and has undergone more changes than most buildings in the city.
Today, it still functions as a place of Christian worship, and you’ll just have to trust me when I say that it’s very pretty!
The Basilica of Santa María de los Reales Alcázares is located on Plaza Vazquez de Molina. Opening hours vary, and admission is 4 EUR.
Dinner at Le Bistro Ubeda
One evening, we dined at Le Bistro, Ubeda, and enjoyed a huge selection of local dishes.
Among them were: shrimp ceviche in spicy mojito sauce on crispy fried plantain; ham croquettes; taco of suckling pig with guacamole and pico de gallo; parmesan and pistachio risotto and slow-cooked pork loin.
Not only was the food delicious, but the outside setting in a gorgeous plaza with a fountain and soft lighting made it all the more special.
Coffee in a palace!
The Palace of Dean Ortega is now a Parador, meaning that it is a government-owned luxury hotel.
The Paradores are all in noteworthy buildings, and this one is no different.
Adjacent to the El Salvador Chapel, this palace was also designed by Vandelvira, and if your tired feet are in need of a rest, you can step inside the courtyard and enjoy a coffee and cake.
Things to do in Baeza
Wander the streets
One of the best things to do in both Ubeda and Baeza is simply to stroll around the picturesque streets of the old towns.
You don’t have to look far to see the grandeur of 16th century Andalucian Renaissance, with the various palaces, stately homes, cathedrals, fountains and chapels proudly showcasing the very first examples of Italian Renaissance architecture in Spain.
The whitewashed houses, cobbled streets, fountains and original facades make both cities perfect places to enjoy a pre-dinner evening stroll (and perhaps stop at a cerveceria for a cool caña as well!).
Square of the Lions
Right before you get into the old town of Baeza, you will pass through Plaza de los Leones, which translates to ‘Square of the Lions.’
This square takes its name from the impressive Roman fountain in its centre, with its lion sculptures dating back 22 centuries! The four lions and the figure on top were actually moved here in the 16th century from nearby Roman ruins, and although they have deteriorated almost beyond the point of recognition, the fountain is still super cool.
The Fountain of the Lions is surrounded by beautiful 16th century buildings (with the exception of the white building in the picture!), as well as the medieval Jaen Gate.
Santa Cruz church
At first glance, the Santa Cruz church doesn’t look all that special, but it is actually one of the most important churches in the whole of Andalucia due to the fact that it is the only Romanesque church in a sea of Gothic builds.
Inside this humble church you will find stunning medieval frescoes, including one of Mary feeding baby Jesus that has been so damaged by flash photography that it is barely visible – this is in stark contrast to the image of a shirtless and muscular San Sebastian, which remains in pristine condition!
The Iglesia de Santa Cruz is located on Plaza de Santa Cruz.
Palacio de Jabaiquinto
The Palacio de Jabaiquinto aka Jabalquinto Palace was originally built as a wedding present from Juan Alfonso de Benavides to his wife, Maria Marquis.
It is in the Isabelline Gothic style, which combines late Gothic and early Renaissance architecture.
Inside is a 16th century Renaissance courtyard with a fountain, marble columns, and even a richly decorated Baroque staircase. The family coat of arms is displayed everywhere, just to let visitors know that this family had money!
Throughout history, the building has been a palace, a convent, and now the Antonio Machado International University! It has been expanded over the years, but the original façade and entrance remains.
The Palacio de Jabaiquinto is open from Monday – Friday from 9am – 2pm and it is located on Plaza de Santa Cruz. Admission is free.
The University of Baeza
Several buildings of note in Baeza are now used by the International University of Andalucia and the 16th century University of Baeza is one of them.
The renowned poet Antonio Machado once taught French here, and you can venture into the classroom where he used to teach and see how it would have looked back in the day.
Visitors are also able to admire the courtyard, so characteristic of Renaissance buildings, and even see the entrance to the old prison, where the headmaster of the university had the power to throw students if they committed minor crimes!
Before you leave, don’t forget to check out the old assembly hall, or paraninfo, which is truly like stepping back in time.
Nowadays, the university building is owned by the Instituto Santisima Trinidad (Holy Trinity) and educational and cultural events are often held here. It is free to enter.
Try the world’s best olive oil
The province of Jaen has been linked to the cultivation of olive groves for thousands of years, with the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans and Arabs all understanding the value of the humble olive.
Olive oil is serious business here, with over 60 million olive trees in the province, the locals are certainly kept busy!
Here are some more facts about olive oil in the province of Jaen:
- Jaen olive oil has a PGI (a Protected Geographical Indication).
- Jaen proclaims itself to be the ‘World’s Capital of Olive Oil,’ with the largest amount of olive trees and olive oil production in the world.
- Ubeda produces most of the olive oil in the province of Jaen, and there is even a museum dedicated to olives and oil in an old olive mill!
- The unemployment rate of the province of Jaen falls from 20% to 10% in harvest season.
- Jaen produces over 50% of Spanish olive oil and 20-25% of the world’s olive oil production!
- Spain produces more olive oil than any other country in the world, with Greece and Italy coming in second and third, respectively.
St Mary’s Square
St Mary’s Square, or Plaza de Santa Maria, is a charming square in the old town of Baeza with a mid-16th century fountain (St Mary’s Fountain!).
There isn’t necessarily much to do here but admire the fountain and the outside of the Cathedral of Baeza.
Baeza Cathedral, aka Catedral de la Asunción de la Virgen has a fascinating history.
Originally built on the site of a Roman temple, Baeza Cathedral was originally a mosque, before being turned into a church later down the line.
The mix of architectural styles is super interesting, with an early Gothic base structure, tonnes of Renaissance elements due to its 16th century makeover by Vandelvira, and even Mudejar elements, like so many of the buildings in Teruel!
Inside there is an incredibly ornate Baroque altar, as well as a small museum with embroidered vestments and ancient religious manuscripts dating back to the late 13th century!
Don’t forget to touch the pillar (below) on the outside walls – legend has it that if you do, you will return to Baeza!
Baeza Cathedral is located on Plaza de Santa Maria. It is open Monday – Saturday 10:00am – 2:30pm and 4:00pm – 7:00pm, Sunday 10:00 – 2:30pm and 4:00pm – 6:30pm. Admission is 6 EUR.
Lunch at La Barberia
My fellow bloggers and I were treated to lunch at La Barberia, and what a lunch it was!
We sat out back in the pretty little beer garden, and it wasn’t long before the whole place was full of young professionals enjoying lunch together.
The food and wine just kept on coming, and we enjoyed the following: Syrian Muhammara dip; various local cheeses; a selection of cured local meats; morcilla (black pudding); botifarra (white pudding); bull’s tail croquettes; artichokes and sundried tomato with dried cured meat; grilled octopus with chilli dressing, maple syrup and pistachios and venison sirloin tataki with parmesan and basil.
Of course, everything came drizzled with quality Jaen olive oil.
Every single dish was simply exquisite, and I can’t recommend this place enough!
Where to stay
Should you stay in Ubeda or Baeza?
Honestly, there are lots of accommodation options in both cities, and so where you choose to stay is ultimately down to personal preference.
I will point out that Ubeda is the bigger of the two, and so in terms of bars and restaurants, you will have a lot more choice here.
Plus, I stayed here myself and I can vouch that it truly is lovely in the evening.
I stayed in the Hotel Palacio de Ubeda.
The Hotel Palacio de Ubeda is a luxury 5-star hotel that will make all your Pretty Woman dreams come true.
With huge bathtubs in every room, Rituals products, Japanese-style toilets with heated seats, THE COMFIEST BEDS EVER and a rooftop pool, the Hotel Palacio de Ubeda is what dreams are made of.
El Abside, the hotel restaurant, is also world class, serving dishes such as deer tataki, trout loin baked with roe, and of course, Salmorejo, an Andalucian classic.
The best bit about it is that – at least when we stayed there – a one-night stay was only around £100.
Ubeda and Baeza | Final Thoughts
Both Ubeda and Baeza are wonderful cities to visit if you’re interested in history, architecture and heritage.
However, they are also great choices if you want to get a little bit off the beaten track in Spain and discover somewhere that the vast majority of tourists have never even heard of.
With their picturesque streets, incredible restaurants and luxury accommodation options, they make great destinations for a romantic trip away.
What do you think? Have I convinced you?
That’s about it for now but as always, if you have any questions then leave them in the comments section below and I will get back to you!
Until next time,
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