The night before we were told that our next hotel would not open until 6:30 pm, and we were only two hours away. So we resolved ourselves to kill some time.
Our first stop was the Torre del Vinagre (the Tower of Vinegar). We never did learn why it has a funny name. What it is is a kitschy road side tourist trap/visitor center that has one wing devoted to the geology of the natural park, and another devoted to taxidermied animals (the same animals that can be found in the park), all for educational purposes. The center was the first souvenir store we had seen on this entire trip. Everywhere else had been way too small to even have post cards for sale.
On our way out of the park we stopped at a scenic overlook that was packed with visitors. We were all treated to, not one, but two MASSIVE golden eagles flying circles around the overlook.
We didn’t even bother trying to get a picture of this (they would have looked like two dots in a bright sky), so we just enjoyed it.
We had thought that maybe we would stop in Cazorla city and check out one or both of their awesome castles, but the parking lot was packed and the street up to the castle was shut down due to a car accident, so we just blew on through.
We still had 7 hours to kill and only one hour to drive to our hotel, so we prayed to the adventure gods that something would get in our way.
Estacion de Jodar – Ubeda
Hallelujah, adventure! This thing could get it’s own post, but I’ll just condense it here.
Off the side of the highway we noticed a high concentration of abandoned buildings. Abandoned stuff isn’t new to us (all of the cortijos and the one village we’ve seen), but this looked like an abandoned town.
At the center was a train station that was still active, if only just barely. The schedule said that only three trains pass through here every day. The main building, the signs, trash bins, and the first platform were all modern and fairly new. There were no employees to be found for miles, and every pole was covered in taxi advertisements for the nearest city. I can only imagine someone wanting to travel to Ubeda (a major tourist destination) arriving in this abandoned city.
Aside of the new station building there were the ruins of the old station, as well as the storage sheds, maintenance docks, and employee buildings. Inside one of them we found the floor covered in old official documents going back to 1990, we have no idea how this came to pass. Apparently the rail station belonged to a private company, until all railroads in Spain were nationalized back in the 1930/1940s. At this time Renfe (the national rail company) must have stepped in and built their own facilities that they still maintain to this day. Hence all of the ruins. As for the paperwork – no guesses as to why 90s paperwork got thrown into the old 50s buildings.
Across the tracks were the ruins that could have been industrial or residential. It was hard to tell. Near the station were two farmsteads, a large and fancy house, and something that looked sort of like a townhome.
And a bit further still were the ruins of a factory that were locked up to prevent access (first time we’ve seen locked up ruins in Spain).
Maybe the factories failed, so the people living in the houses left, and the station downsized, we can’t know. Every ruin in Spain has a mystery, and there are thousands of them.
Castle – El Castillo de Belmez
We felt pretty happy with ourselfes for finding the abandoned town, so we set off to find more cool stuff. We still had 5 hours to kill by the way.
We drove into our third and final national park, the Sierra Magina (“Magic Range”). We turned off of the main road onto a single track road that wound through tightly packed olive trees and up steep hills, until our goal was within sight. El Castillo de Belmez.
We visit a lot of castles, and they are all cool. But this one was super interesting]
The castle of Belmez was built by the Moors back in the 1200s. The castle was taken by the Christians in a bloody assault, only to be immediately given back to the Moors as part of a treaty.
The castle traded hands back and forth dozens of times, but it was dominantly Moorish. Every time it was taken by siege the Moors returned to take it back. It was very important to the Moors because it’s location (perched majestically over a mountain pass) allowed them to protect Granada, their final stronghold. The Moors managed to hang on to it until 1476, just 16 years before the Reconquista would end.
There was no definite path, and the path we thought we were taking turned out to have been made by goats. It dead ended against a six foot high wall, just above a 40 foot drop into the olive fields below. If this doesn’t demonstrate how difficult it would have been to attack a castle back in medieval times then I don’t know what would.
Eventually we did get up, and we started finding tons of pottery shards in the ruins of the walls, and later in the berms the local farmers had created below. One of these shards was even painted green and white, two colors the Moors used as propaganda – green representing the kingdom and white representing religion. See also the flag of Anadlucia which is green and white.
The castle itself was a wreck, and just like every other ruin we’ve come across in Spain, it was being allowed to decay.
We had skipped lunch because we really wanted to visit that castle. But now that that adventure was over we were getting hungry. The closest town nearest to us was Bedmar. We didn’t know that Bedmar will probably go down as our least favorite place in all the world.
We wanted to stop at a restaurant or a late lunch, but they all ended up being closed. Fine, we’ll just get a bag of chips and some soda from the gas station, then drive up the castle overlooking the town for a neat (if sad) little picnic. The directions to the castle took us straight through the old town, so we had to deal with all the little windy streets, steep hills, one way roads, and lack of street signs that are so common in old towns. It was a labyrinth.
We got turned around multiple times, only to be spat back out where we had started each time. After 4 attempts to get through the old town, we gave up and drove the last 20 minutes to our hotel. We were 3 hours early, so we found a shady spot to park our car, get out, and snack on our weak ass lunch.
Our hotel was not actually in a city. It was actually built right below a hermitage (secluded church) halfway up a small mountain. Below the hermitage/hotel there was a creek running down from the mountains. The city council/village elders must have had tons of fun thinking up all the ways they could attract visitors with this creek. First, the whole creek was available for people to wade in. Then there was a cave that the creek ran through, again open for people to wade in to. Then there were a few water features near picnic areas, and a small canal that had been dug into the mountain side that you could walk next to (if you know parkour). It was like a little oasis in the middle of the desert. The temperature was pushing 95F, but when we walked down into the creek the temperature dropped into the 60s, it was lovely.
Our hotel finally opened, so we checked in and then set out for our last hike. A short hike up to a watch tower that sat perched on a rocky outcrop jutting over the entire little oasis/valley below. Looking north we saw mountains that reminded us of Big Bend NPS in western Texas, and looking south we saw lush jagged peaks that looked more like Colorado.
We had dinner at our hotel – rather than drive back to Belmez. We asked the hotel owner if they had anything typical of the area (a touristy thing to do, but still worth it). She got excited and recommended a plate of veggies, and something with pork. The veggie plate was white asparagus with relish; red peppers; and artichoke hearts garnished with anchovies, and all covered with olive oil. And the pork dish turned out to be pork loin braised in sherry served with potatoes. Both were fantastic.
The hotel didn’t have WiFi, but it did have some books, including The Journey to Romantic Andalusia, by Washington Irving. This book basically introduced the world to Andalusia, and is probably 90% responsible for the Alhambra’s restoration. The book is available in almost every hotel, and you can read it for free here thanks to the tourism board of Andalusia.
In it is this quote,
“I have often observed that the more proudly a mansion has been tenanted in the day of its prosperity, the humbler are its inhabitants in the day of its decline and that the palace of the king commonly ends in being the nestling-place of the beggar.”
Which I think was a fitting thing to read after our ruin filled day. Though, the only thing living in any of the ruins we happened upon were squirrels and pigeons.
End of the road trip
Day 6 was spent driving back to Jaen. It was only 2 hours but we were exhausted. We thought about seeing some things on the way out but we were glad we just returned the car and caught a bus back to Martos.
We had a great time, and got to see some truly unique things. Of all of the places we went, nearly all of them were super far off of the beaten path. More often than not we were the only tourists to be found for miles. It was great Spanish practice, and it was a great way to say goodbye to the region we’ve called home for the last year.