We pointed ourselves in the direction of Jaén, northeast of Granada, and cranked up the radio. We only planned to stay in Jaén for an evening; it was home to a castle-turned-lodging (Parador de Jaén, Carretera del Castillo) and we were excited to compare it to the Castillo de Monda. The trip was less hectic than driving in Granada and we pulled up to the reception desk with relief. Even though it was dark, we could see the sweeping views of the Sierra Morena and the industrial town sprawled below.
Inside the Castle
The place had a wacky medieval feel with suits of armor lying around, arrow-slit windows, huge wooden doors, vaulted ceilings, regal fireplaces, and long corridors. The rooms were standard but decent (even as couples we got the old two-twin-bed routine). Neat tidbit: the tile floors were heated with an underground water system, which was nice because the icy wind howled like a bitch. As far as we were concerned, this was like being in an adult Disneyland. And after we unpacked and settled into the bar for wine, beer and tapas (Jake was even bold enough to try the sherry – too difficult for my palate) we felt better already.
Christopher popped some photos of the dining room and an austere sitting room with an expansive fireplace and then we all got the exploring bug. First off, we stole up to the roof disregarding all “DANGER!” “Do Not Enter,” “Privado,” and “No Entrada,” signs.
After we had a blast rooting around up there, we tried to break into the pool…no luck. Next we ventured outside to the uninhabited part of the castle that stood on a precipice overlooking the city. It turns out Jaén means “way station of the caravans” because of its strategic location between Andalucia and Castile. Hence a Moorish hilltop fortress that became the Castillo de Santa Catalina after the Christians overtook it in 1246.
At the very end of the path a huge white cross took center stage (ironically, the only thing we saw from the road initially). Upon closer inspection, we noticed it was covered with graffiti and trash was scattered around the base. We finally clued in – high school drinking hangout where the crazy kids got laid. And sure enough when we returned to the parking lot, several steamy cars and empty bottles commanded our attention.
By this time I was ready to pass out after a long, strenuous day. Suzie and I opted to return to our rooms while Jake and Christopher attempted Spanglish with the front desk. They told the clerk that they would like to go back outside even though the parador was locked up for the night. He agreed. When they asked where they could find some beers, the clerk efficiently reminded them that their mini-bar was fully stocked. The muchachos disappeared momentarily and reappeared with clanking bottles and not a pocket to spare. The clerk gladly offered to pop open the beers and the boys were off on another adventure.
With witch-like stealth, they revisited the isolated portion of the castle. Christopher was adept with the video camera despite his failing motor skills (euphemism for slurring and stumbling). After a decent spell in the wind and the rain and some close encounters with, you guessed it, high school kids, they returned to the hotel for some shuteye.