SANTA FE DE ANTIOQUIA
Charming town in the mountains of Colombia
Photos and Article by: Liliana Pérez
A visual spectacle is found with this population that seems to have stopped in the time of the Spanish colony established in the middle of the majestic mountains of the Andes. Fortunately, it is preserved almost intact architecturally and culturally thus providing its inhabitants and visitors a pleasant and interesting stay.
Just 55 km southwest of Medellin (the epicenter of trade, innovation and entrepreneurship) – thanks to the tunnel that runs through the mountains – Santa Fe is located on the skirts of the Andes, between the great Cauca River and the Tonusco River. I confess that for me the landscape that surrounds the city is one of its main attractions.
For a mixture of reasons Santa Fe is a municipality with a rich and great historical heritage. I am Colombian and although I cannot say that I know every town in my country, I dare say that the little towns of Colombia are not properly characterized by conserving and preserving their history or their architectural wealth (with a few notable exceptions such as the Old City of Cartagena de Indias and the illustrious Villa of Leyva). But Santa Fe de Antioquia has done well.
As César Alzate Vargas, writer and journalist of the Organizing Corporation of the Film Festival of Santa Fe de Antioquia, said, “it seems an architectural relic that would have jumped from its days as a Spanish Colony to postmodernity without getting dirty from the defects of the twentieth century”.
The architecture that has survived over the years presents Santa Fe de Antioquia with the appearance of a “stagnant” city stuck forever in colonial times: cobbled streets, squares, churches and houses of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Popular wisdom asserts in regard to Santa Fe de Antioquia that it has more churches per square meter than any other town in Colombia, but in fact it has only eight. What has occurred is that it being such a small town – by the standards of Latin American cities – (it has 24 thousand inhabitants) eight churches seems an exorbitant amount.
All of the churches are beautiful. The Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception is imposing, its white Renaissance facade conquers anyone. The Church of Santa Bárbara, with its brick façade, is also grandiose, which is why there are constantly marriages celebrated in it. The Church of Our Lady of Chiquinquirá and the Church of Jesus Nazareno, are cozy, perfect for Catholic celebrations such as baptisms and confirmations.
Its wide main square, Plaza Mayor de Bolívar, in the Spanish colonial style, was restored in December 2017, leaving it only for pedestrians. It is a fact that visually it looks very neat and beautiful, but simultaneously that displaced hundreds of merchants from the town, a mercantile tradition that has existed since the last century. It was there that commerce had traditionally developed as market booths covered by awnings or canopies; a beautiful socio-cultural activity, in which women dressed in white coats and white head scarves, sold fresh produce from their crops that their husbands brought down from farms in the mountains, as well as handicrafts, and other products. How nice it would have been to keep that tradition preserved!
One of the must-see attractions is the Puente de Occidente, built with wood and steel in 1800 by the Colombian engineer José María Villa, who also worked on the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. It is suspended over the majestic Cauca River to the northeast and is a true work of art that those concerned have taken care to preserve to the admiration of all. You can still cross it by car or on foot, either way it is worthy of experiencing yourself.
For those who enjoy riding mountain bicycles, the mountains surrounding Santa Fe de Antioquia are a paradise to perform that sport and at the same time, enjoy wonderful landscape. Recommendation: leave early in order not to die from the heat and bring a camera or cell phone and lots, lots of water.
CELEBRATIONS & OTHER DELIGHTS
The town is the venue for nationally recognized festivals, such as the Santa Fe de Antioquia Film Festival, which began in 2000 and has been running for twelve annual editions. For five days the town is filled with directors, producers and members of the Colombian film industry to watch outdoor screenings and it is totally free for the public.
This festival was created, in part, to share with Santa Fe’s inhabitants movies with scenes filmed there. Such as an international film, The Boy (2015) with the actor portraying the protagonist of The Lord of the Rings, Elijah Wood, who visited the town for the shooting.
The celebration of Holy Week is one of the most traditional festivities of the town. I was fortunate to witness the event and I know that the people of Santa Fe are striving to keep alive this solemn religious commemoration. Processions of people carrying their virgins and saints walk through all its streets, passing also the striking brotherhoods (young people wearing capirote and cape of different colors that identify each legion) with lanterns to light the Virgin and other Saints. All those huge figures (almost life-size) do not belong to the Church as is usually the case, but belong to individual families, as it is them who store them the rest of the year and adorn them for the processions.
The Festival of the Devils, in the month of December, is a festivity that has been celebrated since the seventeenth century when slaves went out to enjoy their single day of rest in a whole year and celebrated disguised as their masters. Nowadays people take the streets for ten days, dressed in handmade masks of mischievous and playful devils, and they make mischief to commemorate those slaves. An event without a doubt very particular.
This municipality is characterized by its frequent mining activities and its rich cultivation of exotic fruits such as tamarind, pistachio, anones fruit and cherimoyas, which are sold in the Plaza Nuestra Señora de Chiquinquirá, and are enjoyed in juices and other products around the town.
Hotels can be found of all kinds of styles. Small boutique hotel types in restored houses, very nice, like Hotel Casa Tenerife, or traditional style, bigger, like the Hotel Mariscal Robledo, (which bears the name of its conqueror and founder, Marshal Jorge Robledo) which is like a museum turned into a hotel. It is full of little corners with antiques that decorate and make it a space full of history, very attractive and interesting. The actor Elija Wood stayed there during the filming of The Boy in 2015.
The enchantments of Santa Fe de Antioquia are plural not singular, as many foreigners have come to visit and have discovered and ended up so enamored with the place and its people, that they have decided to stay and organize their lives there. I think that’s where the number of restaurants, of a very good standard, that you find in this fascinating town derive from:
La Casa Campesina Solariega, a colonial restaurant, half museum, half restaurant, where they serve European, French, Spanish, Hungarian and German dishes, like a delicious classic French boeuf bourguignon, which seems to have been prepared by Julia Child.
Sabor Español, where the Chef prepares each dish impregnated with his Spanish roots, without neglecting his culinary creativity and innovation when cooking. Delight yourself with shrimp with garlic or an exquisite paella fideuá.
The Restaurant Bar La Comedia, is a bohemian and lively place, where some artists come to visit due to its live music nights. So I was surprised one night we ate there, to encounter Andrés Cepeda, renowned Colombian singer of ballads and boleros who actually toured in Houston in February this year.
Or the Jumaye Restaurant, a small corner of spectacular fish and other seafood, which is in the top ten dining spots according to Tripadvisor. Maybe sea food is not what one would typically look for in a place like Santa Fe de Antioquia (it is far from the coast and very much between mountains). But when you taste the first spoonful of the Cazuela de Mariscos (Shellfish stew) from Jumaye, everything makes sense.
JESSICA IS ENERGY AND PASSION
We were able to meet Jessica Asprilla, Chef and founder of Jumaye who received us with a coconut frappé lemonade -with her secret touch- that is tasty and refreshing, very appropriate for the Santa Fe’s heat.
Jessica is one of those women that you want to meet and know everything about. At least that’s what I felt since people in Santa Fe told me about Jumaye’s origins. When I finally met Jessica, I confirmed my suspicions, so I want to share a bit of her with you.
Originally from Chocó, department of the western coast of Colombia on the Pacific, Jessica grew up in Medellín where her childhood was spent with her grandmother and aunts. When she began to come to Santa Fe, she fell in love with its mountains and its people. “I fell in love with Santa Fe, because I used to walk on the Tonusco River, which is incredible, or the walk to the West Bridge… they are the things I like most about Santa Fe, when you get up and see that giant mountain… oh My God… Santa Fe, for me is a visual spectacle, of course I didn’t see the heat, I didn’t see anything else! “
You told us about your grandmother, how does she influenced in your cooking when you were growing up?
When I finished high school, I liked cooking a lot but being raised with my grandmother, she would not let me do anything, she did everything with an incredible seasoning… Doña Paulina, or doña Pau, as I say, exaggerated with the serving, with eating, the love she gave, and still at 82 she still gives her love, through food. Then until I was 17 years old I did not cook anything but I had the seasoning in my mouth, I had the palate.
What did you like best about her kitchen?
The lentils with coastal cheese; Chocó uses garlic, paprika, celery a lot, so they are all strong flavors. The “arroz clavao” or “arroz arrecho” which is rice with a smoked pork sausage also with cheese, typical of Chocó. The “three-phase sancocho”, (traditional Colombian soup with three meats) which you cannot miss on the 31st of December; it is made with smoked pork, roasted chicken and salted bee, it’s crazy!
And how did you become dedicated to the kitchen?
The kitchen came to me while I was studying to be a flight attendant. I wanted to work on something (my mom taught me to be a good worker, she instilled a lot of independence in me), and I started working in “El Santísimo”, a restaurant that is now in Cartagena, but it is from a “paisa” (native from Antioquia) who studied in France, Master Don Federico Vega. El Santísimo has been captivating the most demanding palates for two decades. There they taught me that one does not sell food; one sells service, attention… he educated us in service.
When my husband and I made the decision to have a daughter, I started with ideas to have more time available, to seek my independence, and so I was inclined very much toward the kitchen. One day, sitting with a couple of friends talking about Santa Fe de Antioquia, which I knew was spectacular, when I came here I noticed that the city did not offer much to tourists at that time, nor service, nor were there any restaurants that focused like this on a single flavor… Coming from a family with little purchasing power, where we have been very careful taking care of money and thinking about how to multiply it, after talking with friends and with Juan, my husband (who unlike me did study cooking) we decided to come to Santa Fe in December 2010, a decision very enterprising for the two of us.
And so Jumaye was started.
How was that start?
At the beginning it was a small place, the kitchen was a bar, I had to bring the stove, the microwave and the fridge from my house, and so I started calling my grandmother to ask her how to do some things, going online to look for the recipe … But I think that cooking is a gift and I had it. Many recipes I made and they had my flavor. I tried and put in some other ingredient that I thought was missing. And so I began.
The kitchen for me has been that. I created some flavors that worked for me and one learns along the way… Jumaye has been open for eight years, with many falls, many of them, many setbacks, but with the help of many people, my mom, my aunt, many more people we went forward.
Growing up here has been a passion, because I really want to enjoy what I do. The work team for me is paramount, we are all women. Maybe because of my upbringing, I tend to understand myself better with women who see that burden, that responsibility with which I grew up. Then I studied Gastronomy, but I’m still studying, since I do not have enough time to study, because what I love is being here.
How has Jumaye been influenced being in Santa Fe and not in Medellín or in Chocó or elsewhere?
Santa Fe welcomed me with a lot of love. Perhaps what has happened to me is like with “prophets in a foreign land”… Although the people here did not offer much or have much faith on our seafood menu, with each entree they tasted, they later returned. When I see a client who comes back to us and also brings more people, that assures me that what I do with pleasure, is seen and enjoyed by people.
The key is not the ingredients millimetrically organized by grams, the difference is the preparation of things with pleasure, with love, the team that does so while keeping their tasks happy … I have to control them, say “girls behave, stop dancing, please!” (laughs).
Santa Fe is cozy and rich, so for its history and its beauty, many people come from abroad who want to try other flavors without having to go to Chocó. Quibdó is beautiful, Chocó is beautiful, but it needs much more work in the area of tourism so it was better to be in this space where it was already more advanced.
|What is Santa Fe de Antioquia for you?
It is visually refreshing, the mountains, the water of the Tonusco River, the access to people from other cultures, it is security and a lot of cultural tradition.
Do you use Tamarindo?
Yes, of course! I make tamarind mousse, frappé juice and lemonade … we focus a lot on lemonades because for me, citrus is very important, it is a flavor that I like a lot; then we have a coconut lemonade, with a secret touch… we smoke the coconut and process it and we make a reduction with shredded raw cane sugar, sugar, coconut milk and whole milk; it is reduced until about half of it, and then it is like sweet honey to which lemon and lots of ice are added.
Finally, what does Jumaye mean?
Jumaye… ah… It makes me cry… initially it was Juan, Maria Paulina (my daughter) and Jessica.
Oh! I thought it was an indigenous word from the Chocó! (laughs!)
Well, imagine that it coincided with something like that! Conversing with my husband we tried several options combining the names of the three of us, and when we arrived to Jumaye we liked it. It sounded like “jungle”, like the jungle of the Chocó… then I went online and found Jemanjá, I discovered that it was the goddess of the sea. Then people hear Jumaye and think of “fish and seafood”. It is a new word and its definition is that: fish and seafood. It is jungle, it is water. Jumaye is my passion. Jumaye-is-my-passion!
Jessica’s passion for her kitchen and for her Jumaye is noticeable and it is contagious, she feels in the atmosphere of her restaurant and her place in her food… I think that passion and living life with such joy is a scarce ingredient in the world. If each of us could find and dedicate ourselves to our passion, we would live in an earthly paradise, because it is like a good virus that spreads and multiplies very fast. And that’s what we came for but I think we forget and we get distracted with work to generate money and possessions, and we have less and less to give to the world.
We took a bit of that passion and that energy of Jessica to continue touring Santa Fe de Antioquia and enjoyed the warmth of its people… and its climate! The average temperature throughout the year in Santa Fe is 82 ° F, but can reach the high 90s in summer seasons (around the months of May and December); therefore it is important to be prepared for the heat.
But the most important thing is to be prepared to walk through its beautiful streets, to find unexpected corners behind beautiful wooden gates, to breathe the refreshing air thanks to the huge mountains that surround it, to walk along the banks of the Tonusco river as does Jessica, but above all, to enjoy, meet very kind people, eat the delicious food and restore ourselves. As we discovered, Santa Fe de Antioquia offers all that and more!