By Elizabeth A. Nave D.V.M. (AAH Veterinary Services)
In my various trips around Spain I have frequently come across gems of the past that can take ones breath away! Little did I know that getting lost on the back roads of Jaen would take me to an oasis in the middle of the never ending sea of olive groves found in this beautiful hilly region of Spain ! Driving down and opening the windows, one can smell the olive oil in the air which starts those gastric juices moving and makes you feel like you are in the middle of a good Spanish salad!!
We actually had detoured to buy some olive oil in the big old fashioned factories out of Jaen and arrived at 2:10pm. Anyone long enough in Spain would know that this meant the company would be closed for lunch but we hoped for a grace period and true to the culture, there was none! They were kind enough to answer the intercom when we rang and let us know they would open up again at 5pm. Then they told us we could have lunch at the hotel nearby and we would see the sign pointing the way to the left of us.
You must remember that there was not a soul in sight being past 2pm and hot. We turned to see an old wooden board nailed to an olive tree with “Hotel” painted on it. It pointed in the direction of an old narrow dirt road between olive trees and I began to think this would be a good movie in a ghost town setting, and opted for the adventure!
Bumping down the one lane road trying not to fall off the edges and wondering if there might be a car coming towards us on the next curve ( though given the time, expecting none ), we finally came to a clearing and it was like going back in time! A white washed farm building with old wooden frames and tiled roof sat before us.
This hacienda was declared a monument in 2007, and seems to date back to the 17th century, where the Jesuits inhabited it. It was later said to be owned by the Duchess of Oropesa who was then the Duchess of Alba. In 1848, it was made into an olive plantation and the groves were the most productive of the province. In 1992, it was bought by the town of Baeza (Community of Andalucia) who turned it into a Rural Hotel, an Olive oil Museum, and a Culinary School. Its surroundings with a lake included, are considered a natural reserve which makes it a most beautiful and peaceful area to take quiet walks through the olive groves or around the lake for bird watching.
It has 2 restaurants, one which is open daily within the normal working hours, and has a most quaint setting, with a big central old fashioned fireplace that might make you think they are going to cook your stew there! The other restaurant is in the old Chapel of the Hacienda. This one is where they offer a “menu of the day” with the products of what the students have learned to make that day. The Chapel is true to its name with a dome shaped ceiling and beautiful decoration and in either restaurant one feels they have gone back in time! The food is the product of natural homemade products and exquisite cooking!
I was lucky enough to run into the manager of the Culinary School (as I was snooping around on his turf) and he offered to give me a tour which was most impressive!
If that wasn’t enough, the Rural hotel is only a 3 star hotel, but the service and quality is far superior than that. The hotel rate is so surprising when considering the quality that you would think the rating would be higher! Also, there is another hidden surprise!!
The hotel has the most magnificent spa in the “basement”! One can walk out of their room and down to the spa in their robe. The hotel offers packages for staying the night and using the spa, Not to mention a wonderful dinner and good night’s sleep– all of this for 50-70 euros and not having to leave the premises!
For those of you who would want to venture out of the hotel, Baeza and Ubeda are very close. Yet again, it seems one has gone back in time when visiting these quaint little villages. As you see them in the distance, you can see the white washed houses beaming over the hills at you and when you arrive to where they are you can look down over the empire of olive groves that are never ending.
For those people travelling with children, there is also more than enough to do. There is a farm of animals for children(Granja Escuela), donkey riding, an outside pool, a cafeteria, and the Olive Museum are also on the premises.
Can you believe this is only 3 hours away from Madrid and you didn’t even know about it? I cannot describe the beauty and peace and the feeling of being in another world.
Website of the hotel where I stayed : www.haciendalalaguna.com
Though you can see it better by typing “Hacienda la laguna” in Google!