Friday, June 11, 2010

Alicante’s Sweetest Escape: Jijona

guest post by Fiona Hilliard

Jijona (or Xixona as Valencians like to call it) is one of those places you can only dream about stumbling upon. Set in the foothills of the leafy mountains, just a 25km drive north of Alicante, not only is it a town that’s little known to tourists but it’s also famous all over Spain for both luscious ice cream and a yummy almond treat called Turrón. Turrón holds a special place in the hearts of Spaniards everywhere. Jijona knows it. In fact the town is so thankful to Turrón that it has given it its very own museum, Museo del Turrón, an impressive emporium entirely dedicated to the crunchy nougat dessert.

The museum is situated in the same factory that manufactures the famous El Lobo and 1880 brands of Turrón.

Jijona’s Turrón tradition goes all the way back to the 11th century when the Moors were lording it over Alicante. King emir Ali was the local ruler at the time. As the story goes, he married a Scandinavian princess called Ilda who he loved very much. He would do anything to see her happy. When spring arrived in Alicante and the almond trees burst into blossom, the local landscape was covered in snow-like petals. The falling petals reminded the princess of the first snow of Scandinavia. Seeing how overjoyed Mother Nature had made his wife, emir Ali made her a promise that she would see the almond trees blooming all year round. Around the same time, a little bakery in Jijona came up with the idea to make confectionery flavoured by the almond tree. The meeting of two minds meant Ilda could indeed enjoy the spring blooms all year round.

In the 15th century, Turrón had become so popular that it was known as Dulce Espanol “Spanish Sweet”. These days in Spain, many do not consider Christmas complete without sharing Turrón with their nearest and dearest.

Turrón may have Arabic origins but its connection with Jijona is fascinating. It’s a real circle of life story that begins with the pretty wild flowers that grow in the mountains all around the town. These provide food for the bees that produce the essential honey ingredient. This honey is in turn combined with almonds from local orchards. There are two types of Turrón, soft and chewy Jijona and Turrón blando, a much smoother version which tastes similar to peanut butter.

Museo del Turrón’s guided tours are well worth doing if only to experience the Wonka-esque thrill of observing the inner cogs and wheels of a genuine sweet factory. Chocoholics can check out both traditional and modern production methods, including interesting exhibits of how Turrón was manufactured over the years.

Stand out aspects of the tour include a colourful display of packaging featuring a vintage Rolls Royce truck complete with retro advertising. Of course, at the end of the tour you have the option of tasting the chewy local favourite for free or snapping up your very own little souvenir in the museum’s shop.

But enough about Jijona’s sweet tooth – let’s talk jaw dropping views. All around Jijona, you’ll see beautiful oak and pine forests. The highest point of the town is known as Carrasueta and has a cloud-grazing peak that is 1300 metres above sea level. Driving along the fragrant mountain roads you’ll bear witness to blink after blink of sun-dappled valleys and plunging ravines. It certainly makes a change from the usual bucket and spade images churned out by package holiday brochures.

The town itself is charming in its architectural honesty. Highlights worth photographing include the Convento Franciscano de la Virgen de Orito (The Franciscan Monastery of our Lady of Orito, the Ermita de Santa Barbara and the Iglesia de Santa Maria.

While driving around Jijona, don’t miss out on the ruin of the old city castle, high in the hills. It offers a wonderfully scenic view over the whole landscape. Simply follow the route that crosses the city. You’ll find the view of the Costa Blanca to be quite unbeatable.

How to Get to Jijona from Alicante
Jijona is located 41.8km from Alicante Airport, with a total journey time of just 40 minutes.

Directions: Driving east, take the ramp to the N-340/Elche/E-15/A-7/Valencia/Murcia and then merge onto the N-338. You then have to merge again onto the E-15/A-7 via the ramp to the A-31/Madrid/A-70/Alicante/Benidorm/Valencia. Continue on as far as the A-70 and then take exit 67 towards the CV-800/Xixona. You can then merge onto the N-340. You will need to take a left, but stay on the N-340. After following 1 roundabout, take a right at N-340/Polígono 8 and continue to follow the N-340. Take the next exit. At the roundabout, take the first exit onto Ctra de Alicante. Continue on Calle del Vall. Take a right at Calle de Alcoi and the first left at Av de la Constitució. Take a left at Calle Doctor Fleming and another left at Calle de Vicent Cabrera/CV-810. You will see Jijona located on your right.

Museo del Turrón
Carretera Jijona-Busot
03100 Jijona Spain

Photo credits: turron nougat, turron, ruined castle

Fiona usually writes about Alicante car hire for award winning site Here she lifts the lid on the chocolate-box delights of one of Alicante’s best kept secrets, Jijona.


Heather on her travels said...

Anything sweet is my weakness and as I have a passion for nuts too I wouldn't mind some of that Turron - it sounds worth making a little side trip for

Arlene said...

I learned so much about Jijona here. We Italians have a similar nougat almond candy. This looks yummy and I sure would like a taste of that!

Donna Hull said...

Alicante sounds like a sweet treat of a visit. Think I better diet first before traveling there.

Barbara Weibel said...

OK, I'm officially hungry now. This stuff looks absolutely delicious and I may just have to go to Spain just to taste it.

islandmomma said...

My Spanish friends tell me that the Moors were responsible for almond trees being in Spain at all, and the Conquistadors then brought them here to the Canary Islands. Intercultural exchange even that long ago :=) The trees blossom here in late January/very early February, and several hikes center around "Las Rutas de los Almendros" at that time. It is quite breathtaking to see hillsides with trees groaning with blossoms.

These original turrones are much nicer than the modern chocolate concotions! The only trouble is that we can only buy them at Christmas......or maybe that's a good thing, actually! No more calories needed just now!

Vera Marie Badertscher said...

oh, YUM! Thank goodness I'm not going directly to Spain right now. It's late at night and I'd better sleep before I eat again.

Mark H said...

@heather: This is a pet favourite of mine too

@Arlene: I have seen several variations of such a sweet around Europe.

@Donna: At least the streets are steep to help walk off the effects of the sweet candy.

Mark H said...

@Barbara: Fresh nougat products are certainly tasty.

@islandmomma: It is funny how history can influence developed foods. Sounds like the Moors have done Spain a favour here.

@vera: I love nougat products.

Channel ferries said...

Is this place where nougat originally comes from?

Mark H said...

@channel ferries: I think nougat is historically European but I'm not sure where it is from. Turron (very similar) is historically assocaited with Jijoma.

will said...

Very interesting article, I live in Spain and I know how much they like Nougat, i'm not so keen myself!

Mark H said...

@will: Interesting. Not many fail to find the taste of nougat really alluring.

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