Olive oil tourism: discover Úbeda, in Spain – 04/02/2024 – Tourism

Olive oil tourism: discover Úbeda, in Spain – 04/02/2024 – Tourism


In the wake of wine tourism, a new type of travel emerged: oleotourism or tourism around the production of olive oil. An increasing number of travelers are interested not only in tasting different brands and types of olive oil, but also in learning details about olive cultivation and the history and culture of olive oil.

Unlike what happens with wine tourism, there is a destination that can be called the olive oil capital of the world. Mecca of oil tourism, Úbeda is in the province of Jaén, in Andalusia, Spain. It is a beautiful historic city, with Renaissance architecture with Moorish influence.

Anyone who goes from Madrid to Andalusia by car soon notices the landscape taking on grayish green tones. With each kilometer, this tone becomes more present until it takes over the entire scene. When you arrive at Úbeda, there are no other types of plantations next to the road, just olive trees.

Spain is by far the largest olive oil producer in the world. In the Google Maps satellite photo, from a distance, more than half of the country looks like a desert. It is sand-colored, similar to the Sahara. However, when we zoom in, we notice that the sand is dotted with green. They are olive trees.

In the 2022/2023 harvest, even with the huge crop failure caused by climatic factors, according to the IOC (International Olive Council), the country produced 665 thousand tons of olive oil while second place, Turkey, produced 380 thousand tons. In a normal harvest, Spain produces more than twice as much.

Úbeda, in turn, is the largest producer of olive oil in Spain, with 31 thousand hectares planted. “In 2023, the Spanish government allocated around 2.7 million hectares of olive groves for olive oil production”, says Antonio Martínez, responsible for the communications sector at Azeites de Espanha.

“Of these, 1.6 million are in Andalusia and 550 thousand in Jaén. There are many more olive trees than people. It is estimated that in Jaén there are around 66 million olive trees, for a population of around 630 thousand inhabitants. There are 105 trees per person.”

“Practically all mills offer tourist visits,” says Martínez. “Those who don’t yet offer it are already adapting their facilities to receive visitors, hold tastings and even serve meals with olive oil as the protagonist.” According to a study carried out by the University of Jaén, more than 80% of the companies consulted, including mills, olive groves and tourism agencies, already offered some activity linked to oil tourism.

Regarded as one of the best extra virgin olive oils in the world, the super award-winning Oro Bailén, which in Brazil is imported by Adega Alentejana, offers a guided tour of the oil press for 16 euros (R$ 87). There, the visitor sees the equipment and receives an explanation of the olive oil production process, from receiving the fruit, cleaning, shaking and extraction, to storage and packaging. You can also combine visits to olive groves, lunches and experiences that involve the whole family.

After the visit, there is a guided tasting of different varieties of olive oil. Oro Bailén produces varietals of picual, hojiblanca, frantoio and arbequina. Visitors, for example, discover that arbequina yields a milder oil than picual. Know that picual is the most planted variety throughout Spain. Learn that extra virgin olive oil is olive juice and that, like all juice, it is best when it is fresh.

Today, in Spain, as well as in countries that follow his school, the best olive oil is that made from green olives.

“Traditionally, the harvest started at the end of November, beginning of December”, says José Gálvez González, CEO of Oro Bailén. “We were the first to start harvesting in October. When we did this, less than 20 years ago, they called us crazy, since green olives yield much less oil than ripe ones.”

It yields less, but is richer in polyphenols. Therefore, it brings more health benefits. Soon, the public took a liking to the fresher and more spicy aromas of green olive oils. And all producers realized that it could reach a much higher market value than its mature counterpart. Today, most Spanish mills make at least one premium line from green olives. Even cooperatives.

At the Nuestra Señora del Pilar cooperative, in Villacarillo, the largest olive oil extractor in the world, the reception of olives begins at the beginning of November and continues until the end of February. The first batches are intended for the finest olive oils. Over 2 thousand tons of olive oil are extracted there per day.

Shortly before the pandemic, the cooperative created an education and reception center for tourists. There are four floors full of interactive attractions that talk about the region, the olive oil production there, its history and its terroir. The ticket costs 12 euros (R$65) per person and includes a tasting of three or four olive oils. Reservation is required. Note that at the entrance there is a grove of olive trees. There are more than 50 different varieties.

Oil tourism in the region is not restricted to visiting producers. There are a number of olive oil-related museums and associations nearby with different approaches and offering different types of experiences. The Olivar y Aceite Interpretation Center, in Úbeda, for example. in addition to a small museum, it offers tasting workshops, in which you learn techniques for evaluating the characteristics of olive oils and, above all, detecting when there is a defect. There are also olive oil cooking classes.

The Museo de la Cultura del Olivo, in the rural area of ​​neighboring Baeza, attracts the richness of its collection, which includes a series of equipment for extracting and storing olive oil from different historical periods. It is based in a 17th century palace and even has a small olive grove where, during the harvest period, visitors learn (in practice) how olives were harvested in the past.

In restaurants in the region, such as Los Sentidos, olive oil is usually the central figure. Some, like Antique y Tapas, even offer different olive oils for customers to taste. There are also haute cuisine options, such as Cibu, in Úbeda, or Vandelvira, in Baeza, which has just received a Michelin star. These are for the more adventurous ones willing to try very exotic dishes.

Some of the olive trees in the region may even be older than the buildings in the historic centers of Úbeda and Baeza, yet let’s say that these also have their attractions for tourists.

In Úbeda, the central point is Vázquez de Molina square. There are the city’s main historic buildings. Highlight is the Sacra Capilla del Salvador del Mundo from 1536. Its construction was carried out at the behest of Francisco de los Cobos, the king’s private secretary. It is, in fact, a funeral chapel – the largest in the world. Francisco built it so he could be buried there one day. Quite interesting is also the Sinagoga del Agua which, in fact, is not a synagogue, but a Jewish museum.

In Baeza, the Jabalquinto Palace is one of the greatest exponents of the Elizabethan Gothic style and currently houses the International University of Andalusia. Its facade is fully decorated and the entire building is a beautiful example of the Muslim influence on Spanish architecture in the Renaissance.


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