Anything But Paella

Banos de la Encina

Baños de la Encina is an extraordinary place in a spectacular location with the most amazing castle to visit. Located a little over 50km from the city of Jaen, this Andalucian marvel is great for a day trip, but even better for a night away.

We decided to stay at the Hotel Baños and were rewarded with an incredible vista of the castle right from our balcony. For an excellent price we had a very comfortable room with a good breakfast in the morning. Unfortunately we didn’t realise until we got there that the restaurant was not open in the evenings during the week. That was a bit of a blow as the menu looked fabulous. On exploring the upper part of the town, there were few real options for dinner, but Cafe Bar El Llano (next door to the church) proved to be very good for tapas and a few glasses of wine so we were happy! It seems the current situation has resulted in the loss of quite a few businesses in the area. Hopefully the town will recover over time.

The castle naturally dominates everything in the town and is its main attraction. We had booked onto the first tour of the day and had the guide almost to ourselves. Later groups were very busy so we were glad to have taken that decision. If your Spanish isn’t up to scratch, there is some English on the information boards, but an English speaking guide is available if you contact them far enough in advance. There is also an Android app to guide you around with another available on the Apple App Store. The up to date times and prices can be found here.

The tour was incredibly informative. The fortress was constructed during the Al-Andalus Moorish period in 968 AD. Its strategic location meant it passed between Arab and Christian hands many times until 1225 when it was finally conquered by King Fernando III. When it was finally abandoned, its interior was filled with sand and archaeologists are gradually uncovering more and more historical jewels inside. Parts of the castle can be climbed and there are great views from the westernmost tower. There is also a wonderful audio-visual display projected onto the walls, and if you get there first, you can choose English as the language!

A curiosity inside the castle are the models of soldiers and a display board telling you all about El Capitán Trueno y El Santo Grial, Captain Thunder and the Holy Grail. In this film, a 12th-century knight-errant wanders the world fighting injustice and is accompanied by his faithful friends Crispin and Goliath. Some of the scenes were of course made within the walls of the castle.

The Tourist Information Office was very helpful too with some English spoken. They will point you in the right direction for wandering through the pretty streets to the church (Ermita de Jesús del Llano) and the windmill. Information boards outside both will tell you all you need to know in English. If you want to be more adventurous, you can even go on a kayak tour on the nearby reservoirs.

Let us know how you get on in the comments below. It’s certainly a destination we highly recommend.

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