Surrounded by the majestic Los Alcornocales Natural Park and dominated by its Moorish castle, Jimena is a real Spanish gem …
Nuestra Señora Reina de los Ángeles
Carnival, February / March
Agricultural Fair, 2nd week of May
Annual Village Fair, 2nd week of August
Devotion to the Reina de los Angeles, 1st week of September
Jimena de la Frontera is one of the most charming of Andalucia's small towns, its Moorish castle presiding over a village well known for its traditional houses, narrow winding streets, bars and restaurants.
With a population of just over 10,000, it is located 35 kilometres inland from Gibraltar on the road which heads north to Ronda. High on a steep hillside, it lies between two rivers, Hozgarganta and Guadiaro.
Surrounded by the majestic beauty of Los Alcornocales Natural Park, it is a real, white-washed pueblo, a welcome contrast to the impersonal grandeur of the golf and polo belt around Sotogrande further south.
The town is dominated by the impressive ruins of its Moorish castle which dates back to 750 A.D. Its hilltop position was strategically important, a military stronghold in their titanic battles with the Christians. The pretty town has grown up over the centuries on the hillside below the castle, accessed by steep and narrow, cobbled streets.
While it is possible to drive most of the way to the castle, much better to take an unhurried 15-minute walk up through the little streets, taking in the unhurried, traditional atmosphere.
The people of Jimena are justifiably proud of their village and colourful flower pots and planters decorate many of the houses. Do not be surprised to see, hitched to a bar, a family donkey. The streets are, after all, more suitable for donkeys than motor vehicles!
Once in the castle enclosure, you will enjoy sensational views across the beautiful countryside all around and down the valley to the Bay of Gibraltar with the Mediterranean - and Morocco - beyond.
The town was officially declared of Historical and Artistic importance in 1983 and its typical Andalusian architecture is now carefully preserved. With a present population of just over 10,000 (some 1,000 of whom are foreign residents, many of them British), its narrow, cobbled streets and white-washed, tile-roofed Andalusian houses retain a village ambience.
The surrounding countryside is a joy for nature lovers and those looking for calm and relaxation. Just outside Los Alcornocales Natural Park (named after its handsome and beautifully kept cork forests, the largest in Europe), there are stunning mountain and hilly landscapes in every direction.
This huge natural park stretches from Tarifa in the south all the way to Grazalema and is the best example of what the densely wooded, primeval Iberian forests would have been like. There is plenty of scope for first class rambling and horse riding here. Jimena is a fantastic location for bird watchers, too.
The countryside is as varied as it is beautiful. There are several cotos de caza (game preserves) as well as rich forest land and mountains all around. Then there are the fertile valleys of the villages of San Pablo de Buceite and San Martín del Tesorillo, where orange groves, irrigated by the River Guadiaro, are important local industries in the area.
It's all so different from the manicured golf courses and grand villa gardens on the coast!
If you head inland, the timeless beauty of some of Spain's most impressive Natural Parks awaits you. There are lots of charming towns and villages to discover along the way - Gaucín, Genalguacil and, further to the north, delightful old Ronda and the mountain village of Grazalema are all attractive, lovely places, well worth visiting.
There is excellent swimming in the pools of nearby Hozgarganta river, or in the attractive village pool, and the sea is less than 45 minutes away.
You can choose between Mediterranean beaches on the Costa del Sol or, just a little further away, the wilder beaches on Spain's Atlantic coast. Sotogrande and Tarifa are both popular choices for day trips.
For golf enthusiasts, there are at least 25 top quality golf courses (including Valderrama, Sotogrande and San Roque) close by and, if you are looking for something really different, how about nipping over to Morocco for the day!
One great day out not to be missed is on the narrow gauge railway from Jimena to Ronda. The railway station is situated just outside the town in nearby Estación de Jimena. The little train stops at the little white villages along the way and passes through fabulous landscapes; it's air-conditioned and you can buy drinks on board!
Further afield the great historic cities - Sevilla, Granada and Córdoba - are between two and three hours drive.
Other interesting monuments are the historic canals of the Real Fábrica de Artillería (Royal Artillery Factory), which transported water from the Hozgarganta River to the factory that produced canon balls for the great siege of Gibraltar (1779-1783), and the cave paintings of La Laja Alta, seven kilometres west of the town. The paintings depict Phoenician style ships and sea scenes dating back to 1,000 B.C.
Celebrations include Carnival in February / March, the Agricultural Fair in the second week in May, the Annual Village Fair (second week of August) and the Devotion to the Reina de los Angeles (first week of September).
In the vicinity of the village square, dominated by its ornate clock tower, you will find a choice of bars and restaurants. They all serve tapas as well as full meals. Don't leave Jimena without trying some of the local gastronomic delights. Revuelto de esparragos (asparagus in scrambled egg) and Chantarella, a type of wild mushroom are two examples.
For something sweet, Piñonate is a specialty of Jimena with Arabic origins, its recipe handed down through the ages. Ingredients include olive oil, honey, almonds, cinnamon and orange peel. For something a bit more British, we have enjoyed good fare at Hostal Anon. Local residents speak highly of the restaurant by the train station, "La Estación"; even more love the restaurant (also on the station, also called Estación) at nearby San Pablo de Buceite.
Jimena de la Frontera is one of those places that draws you, again and again. It's a gem. If you want to see real Spain this is the perfect place to start.