Will 'Oleoturismo' in Jaén Be the Next Big Thing?

Tourists plan their trips around visiting vineyards or restaurants all the time. These days, olive oil is on the list, too.

Jan. 10, 2019
By Hannah Howard

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Situated in the north­east of Andalusia, Jaén is pri­mar­ily known for two things: hous­ing the Holy Veil and as the world cap­i­tal of olive oil. Local pro­duc­ers hope to take advan­tage of the lat­ter and turn the province into an oleo­tourism hub.

Jaén accounts for almost half of Spain’s olive oil pro­duc­tion, and a fifth of the entire world’s. For miles upon miles, an ocean of olive trees dom­i­nates the land­scape. These spe­cial trees also pro­vide a lens into the his­tory, cui­sine, and way of life for the peo­ple of this gor­geous and unique region.

It is nearly impos­si­ble to find a meal in Jaén that does not involve the province’s sig­na­ture prod­uct. For break­fast, locals driz­zle olive oil on toasted bread topped with fresh tomato pulp, a sim­ple, ubiq­ui­tous and deli­cious dish called pan con tomate.

Lunch may be gaz­pa­cho or salmorejo, a thick chilled soup made with toma­toes, bread, gar­lic, and, you guessed it, olive oil. Spreads of ham, cheese, and bread are served with mul­ti­ple bot­tles of olive oil too. Meat and fish are fried, or braised slowly, in it. Andalusian cui­sine begins and ends with the liq­uid gold.”

Although Spanish meals tend to unfold leisurely over sev­eral hours, tourists can­not spend all their time eat­ing. Olive groves, mills, and shops are updat­ing their facil­i­ties to pro­vide tours, tast­ings, and edu­ca­tion about olive oil. Tourists pro­vide a valu­able source of income for the largely agri­cul­tural region.

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Here are des­ti­na­tions where vis­i­tors can taste, learn, and expe­ri­ence olive oil cul­ture in action. They add up to a vaca­tion that will gar­ner brag­ging rights and make memories.

Oleícola San Francisco

Located in a small town called Begíjar, Oleícola San Francisco is a mod­ern fac­tory that pro­duces 154,000 pounds of olive oil on a busy day. Yet it has retained its his­tor­i­cal stone presses and old equip­ment, so that guests can expe­ri­ence olive oil pro­duc­tion from the last cen­tury and learn about recent innovations.

Visitors expe­ri­ence the entire process, from watch­ing truck­loads of olives arrive to the process of bot­tling the golden-green liq­uid. There is plenty of time reserved for tast­ing too and a charm­ing shop where guests can pur­chase olive oil as well as other gifts.

Úbeda and Baeza

Cobblestone streets that twist and turn. Ancient palaces trans­formed into mod­ern uni­ver­si­ties. Soaring cathe­drals lit up at night.

Established dur­ing the Moors in the ninth cen­tury and again dur­ing the Reconquista in the thir­teenth cen­tury, these Renaissance towns deliver on charm. Make sure to pop into Úbeda’s pot­tery shops (alfar­erías) and check out the hand­made crafts, cov­ered in a unique green glaze, a car­ry­over from Moorish times.

Rincón Baezano Restaurant

At this fam­ily-owned restau­rant in Baeza, the own­ers fea­ture dishes made with veg­eta­bles grown from their own gar­den and an abun­dance of high-qual­ity local olive oil.

Start with local green Cornezuelo olives, rich paté spread on toast, and a mouth-water­ing plat­ter of jamón. Flaky cod arrives with a crisp skin and a fra­grant olive oil broth.

Olive Oil and Olive Culture Museum of Baeza

Tucked onto the banks of the Guadalquivir River within a his­toric nine­teenth-cen­tury olive grove, sits Baeza’s Olive Oil and Olive Culture Museum.

The farm­house was at var­i­ous times a prop­erty of a Jesuit Fathers order, a home to a noble fam­ily, and a fine hotel. A tour guide will point out the dozens of cul­ti­vars of olive trees from all around the world grow­ing in the museum’s beau­ti­ful garden.

Do not miss the Cathedral of Oil,” a mas­sive above-ground tank for stor­ing oil that dates back to 1848. Guests can learn about the his­tory of olive oil in the region — there is even an eigh­teenth cen­tury stone wheel, with a life-size don­key to demon­strate how it was oper­ated once upon a time.

Tamizia Restaurant

When it comes to lovely restau­rant loca­tions, it is hard to beat Tamizia. It is housed in a six­teenth-cen­tury Renaissance palace in the cen­ter of Úbeda, next to the Plaza Vázquez de Molina.

The Castilian dec­o­ra­tion is cozy and pic­turesque. Traditional Andalusian cui­sine shines here, such as gar­lic-coated prawns, beef shoul­der roasted with thyme, and bull tail stewed in red wine. Finish the meal the Andalusian way, with a glass of cold sherry and plenty of time to leisurely linger.

Olive and Oil Interpretation Center

Located in Úbeda, the Olive and Oil Interpretation Center opened in 2013 in what used to be a 1930s olive oil mill. It is the clos­est thing to Jaén’s offi­cial olive oil nerve center.

The space includes a museum, plus areas for olive oil tast­ings and train­ing. These are offered for every­one, from begin­ners to experts.

Downstairs, there is a show kitchen for cook­ing classes and work­shops. When I vis­ited in November, Chef Javier Blasquez cooked through a dizzy­ing num­ber of olive oil-cen­tric dishes, such as a white choco­late and foie gras mousse that came with a small syringe full of Arbequina extra vir­gin olive oil.

He then added Picual olive oil into a Thermomix with orange juice and honey to make a refresh­ing palate cleanser. Another high­light was a not-too-sweet olive oil rice pud­ding, which Blasquez made with an emul­sion of 30 per­cent cocoa but­ter and 70 per­cent Arbequina extra-vir­gin olive oil.

The per­fect dessert to cap off my oleo­tourism expe­ri­ence and a trend that many in the region hope will con­tinue to grow.


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