Just six short miles from Baeza lies Ubeda, seen across the valley and perched upon a high bluff. The two towns had similar good fortunes as well patronised centres along the frontier between the Moors in Granada and the warring Christians to the north.
Investment initially by the Moors in fortifications and town walls, and later by the Christians in public buildings and churches has given them both a rich heritage of architecture. They were at their height during the 16th century when many private financiers afforded the building of palaces and colleges in the Renaissance style.
Today Ubeda is larger and more industrial on its outskirts than Baeza. Its centre is busy with traffic, shops and services and it has an edgier, grittier feel.
We enjoyed a stroll in warm late afternoon sunshine around its historic heart, the winding streets that surround the Plaza de Vasquez Molina, named for an important benefactor of the town in the 16th century.
The square includes the genteel Bishops Palace as well as the ornate church, Sacra Capilla del Salvador del Mundo, a funerary monument designed by one of the main driving forces of the splendour of Ubeda, Francisco de los Cobos.
Tour groups surrounded it, reminding us of the busy contrast with nearby quiet Baeza.
A particular type of Spanish tourism is claimed by Ubeda to have begun in the town. The stately home of the chaplain of Sacra Capilla del Salvador del Mundo was built in the 1500s but over the centuries it declined. In 1930 an idea was hit upon to open it to the public to stay in, thus affording its restoration.
It was Spain’s first ‘parador’ and the start of a network of hundreds of historic buildings across the country that are now open to paying guests, in order to assist with their upkeep. The luxury accommodation in castles, palaces, convents, monasteries and fortresses now benefit each of their regions.
We tracked down the statue and simple church of St John of the Cross, a disciple of Teresa of Avila, who died here after a short stay. The lower part of his legs are kept as holy relics in the church after the Ubeda authorities finally agreed to return the major part of his body for burial at his friary in Segovia.
A boisterous group of Spanish school children amassed around the entrance to the church. We didn’t stand a chance of visiting!
Heading out along the route of the original Moorish fortifications we enjoyed spectacular views across the valley of the River Guadalquivir, which provides welcome mists to cool the surrounding olive groves and sometimes reaching up into the shuttered balconies of the old town itself. Ubeda’s average temperature is a balmy 17 degrees.
We had broken the back of the cursed rain and winds and were now set south for the high sunny skies and bright unbroken days of sunshine in Andalusia.
It’s not often on a trip that you get to retrace your steps, but we chose to return to Baeza the next day to enjoy again its many charming corners in full sunshine. We both agreed that of the two towns, we preferred it.
Baeza has a sense of quiet contentment that gives it an unhurried and gentle air. After walking our original route all over again, we joined locals and the police at a sunny bar overlooking the central square and toasted both towns with a glass of cool verdejo, the local white wine.
This is a splendid corner of Spain, not often visited but welcoming and rewarding to those who do venture off the beaten track to stay a while.