Guide to Subbética de Córdoba
This region is almost exactly in the centre of Andalucía. Its sunshine makes Subbética de Córdoba perfect for olive growing, and it produces some of the finest olive oil in the world. There are interesting towns to visit and local traditions to experience. The Sierras Subbéticas Natural Park is a rugged landscape for hiking and climbing. This unspoilt region offers a cultural side of historical Andalucía, outdoor activities and peaceful countryside.
A world leader for olive oil
Full of sunshine and blue skies, Subbética de Córdoba has the perfect growing conditions for prize-winning olives.
The region known as Subbética de Córdoba is in the south eastern part of the Province of Córdoba, almost exactly in the geographical centre of Andalucía. The limestone soil and the sunny climate makes this area ideal for olive growing, olives have been cultivated here for millennia. Subbética de Córdoba towns compete annually for the honour of being officially awarded the prize of producing the finest oil for that year. This region has a reputation for producing the best olive oil in the world!
The impact of this humble fruit has left its mark throughout the region, not only in the landscape itself but also economically, in its history, cuisine and culture.
In the past a railway transported this commodity to the rest of Spain and the world. The railway no longer exists but the track of the old olive oil train has been converted to a ‘Greenway’. This national Greenway network (Vías Verdes) of disused railways offers excellent routes for hiking and cycling through some spectacular countryside.
The Subbética Greenway is no exception, its 58 km borders the Sierras Subbéticas Natural Park and the Laguna del Salobral Nature Reserve as well as some picturesque towns: Lucena, Cabra, Doña Mencía, Zuheros and Luque.
Lucena is the largest town in the Subbética de Córdoba. Although a commercial town, with furniture-making as its main industry today, it has many fine historical features, reflecting its importance in days gone by.
The main church is dedicated to San Mateo and is a gothic-renaissance building with baroque finishing. The court house is an impressive 18th century palace and the tourist information centre is housed in the old Castillo del Moral, or prison. In the 11th century, Lucena’s population was largely Jewish and an ancient necropolis from this era has been discovered, preserved and reconstructed.
Bright flowers on whitewashed walls
Vibrancy and colour are the themes in this region. Whether it's a patio full of geraniums or a swirling fiesta, it'll be vivid and full of life.
About 10 kms from Lucena is the town of Cabra named after ‘Al-Cabri’ the nickname of a famous Moorish poet. Cabra’s history predates the Moors as paleaolithic, Roman and Visigothic remains have been found here. The town is full of interesting things to see, old churches, convents, houses of aristocratic former glory, museums and parks. The sword of the famed El Cid can be seen on the hill of the Moorish castle of Condes de Cabra, the castle itself was built on the site of a Roman fortress.
In keeping with the main commodity of the area, there is a museum devoted to the production of olive oil, tracing its process over the past two thousand years. The famous Andalucian writer, politician and diplomat, Juan Valera, was born in Cabra and his home is now a museum dedicated to his life. If you are in the area in June, a gypsy pilgrimage takes place on the third Sunday. Gypsies and non gypsies gather from all parts of Spain and celebrate with colourful song and dance.
Another town with an early medieval castle is Zuheros. It’s perfect for a photo opportunity of a classic ‘white village’ with flowers at every corner and almond blossom in the spring. Artisanal cheese from local sheep and goats’ milk is manufactured at Los Balanchares workshop/factory and sold worldwide.
A restaurant is part of Los Balanchares and offers traditional cuisine with a gourmet touch. Four kilometres from Zuheros is a cave system Cuevas de los Murcielagos (Bats’ Cave) which is of interest for its stone age occupation and rock paintings as well as its natural limestone formations. Guided tours (in Spanish) are available.
A day at the 'beach'
The inland lake of Iznájar offers water activities and a beach-like setting that will please the whole family.
Although the region of Subbética de Córdoba is inland, there is an opportunity to have a day by the ‘sea’ at the small town of Iznájar. This town is built on a spit of land jutting into a reservoir-lake 30kms long (the largest reservoir in Andalucía). On approaching the town, it looks like Iznájar with its castle on the hill, is floating on the water—it really is an amazing sight. There are sandy beaches here and the facilities to swim and take part in non-motorised water sports (kayak, dinghy and pedalo hire etc). Like many towns in this region, the Easter week ‘Semana Santa’ festivals are elaborate with biblical re-enactments and theatrical displays.
Baena’s Semana Santa, in contrast is LOUD. This old and prosperous town, Baena, involves traditional factions of drummers who compete to make the biggest sound. There can be hundreds of drummers on the streets, all in colourful costumes, all going wild with their rhythms and beats. It’s an Easter celebration like you’ve never seen (or heard). Baena is particularly well known for the quality of its olive oil and visitors can buy gold-standard olive oil straight from local presses.
Even small towns here may have an impressive castle or a splendid baroque church.
Half an hour away from Baena and competing with it for grand architecture and prize-winning olive oil is the ‘Baroque jewel’—the town of Priego de Córdoba. The delightful town of Priego de Córdoba was noted historically for the production of silk and velvet. During Moorish times, it was of strategic importance for the crossroads from the coast in the south to the interior of Spain in the north, and from the western cities of Cordoba and Sevilla to Granada in the east.
The oldest part of the town, the Barrio de la Villa, has the typical medieval Spanish layout—winding narrow streets and alleys, too small for a car, only wide enough for a mule. This part of town is so picturesque, bright geraniums adorn the white walls and tumble from balconies.
Many of the old houses have interconnected cellars which form a system of tunnels leading up to the 13th century Arabic castle. The two churches of the Iglesias de la Aurora, and de la Asunción are fine baroque examples but the main masterpiece has to be the Fuente del Rey. This fountain has three pools with Neptune in his chariot at the centre, it’s an impressive centrepiece to the leafy park around it.
This region has been a melting pot and crossroads since pre-historic times. As a result, there are lots of interesting sights to see and local traditions to experience. The Sierras Subbéticas Natural Park is in the middle of this region and offers a beautiful, rugged landscape for hiking and climbing. This is a region for learning about the more cultural side of historical Andalucía, as well as those who like nature and relaxing in peaceful surroundings.
Photos on this page by Andalucian Sky and some of them courtesy of Jocelyn Erskine Kellie, Campanilla Clochette, Miguel Angel Garcia, Mara Carnero, Andrew Wilkinson, Olivier Bruchez, Jose angel, ErWin, PH Lopez, Masjota, Diverbo Idiomas and Jose vicente.