What to do and what to see in Istán

The municipality of Istán is located in the southwest of the province of Málaga, 78 km from Málaga, south of Sierra de las Nieves Natural Park, part of its lands are part of it, and only 15 km from the Marbella beaches.

As a result of its geographical location, between the mountains and the sea, it is given a large part of its physical, socioeconomic and historical characteristics. It is one of the municipalities that make up the Sierra de las Nieves region.

Istán borders Tolox to the north, Monda to the northeast, Parauta to the northwest, Benahavís to the west, Ojén to the east and Marbella to the south.

The 95% of the municipality of Istán is a protected area of Sierra de las Nieves World Nature Reserve. The beauty of its surroundings, the flow of the largest river to the south of Sierra de las Nieves Natural Park, the Verde River and its sources, before reaching the Embalse de la Concepción (Concepción's Reservoir) through exceptional places, make Istán known as the Costa del Sol Spring, the Green Mile or the Coast Green Lung.

In the middle of this paradise is Istán town, full of fountains, viewpoints and picturesque corners. From the Dehesa de Bornoque (Bornoque's Meadow) to the Embalse de la Concepción, the Istán lands contain an endless number of places of extraordinary beauty. The Verde River Valley, the Charco del Canalón (Canalón's Pool), Sierra Blanca and Sierra Real are some of the places you should not miss in Istán. The area of the spring of Molinos River and the area of the Hermitage of St. Michael, have a recreational area to spend a pleasant picnic.

History of Istán

The geographical location of the municipality of Istán, its orography, its proximity to the coast and the richness of its aquifers led to the appearance of a human settlement in Istán in muslim times. Two farmhouses would be those that gave rise to the municipality that we know today, one Istán and the other Arboto, the latter being located to the north, bordering the municipalities of Benahavís, Parauta and Ronda.

The defensive system of the Kingdom of Granada was made up of three levels, the beacon towers near the sea, the castles and the inland towers. In the surroundings of these places, small towns that were called farmhouses were emerging, as happened with Istán.

Once the Catholic Monarchs conquered Marbella, there was a demographic increase in Istán as a consequence of the arrival of muslims from Marbella and other nearby places belonging to the coast. This resulted in a difficult coexistence between muslims and christians that was materialized in Sierra Bermeja rebellion where Arboto played a fundamental role.

After the year 1500, the pressures on the moors led to their departure to North Africa. Arboto was depopulated, but the moors of Istán were contained by the troops of Marbella near the mouth of the Verde River. All this came as a consequence of the expropriation of land by Francisco Vargas.

During the moorish rebellion in 1568, Istán became leader of the rebels and fierce battles were fought in his mountains, until the defeat of Arboto Fort.

In 1570 a process of repopulation began with old christians who came from different parts of Spain, among whom the properties of the moors were distributed. With the their settlement, a different way of life began than the previous one, which is the origin of the current social system.

Istán is today a municipality integrated in Sierra de las Nieves region whose privileged environment is its main claim for inland and nature tourism.

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What to see in Istán

Istán's cultural heritage is influenced by the importance of water, due to the large number of springs and ditches in its municipality, as well as by the two civilizations that have left their mark on these lands, the muslim and the christian.

From the muslim era you can see the Escalante Tower. Its construction was carried out during the nasrid period, in the 15th century. Today it preserves a vaulted enclosure, a courtyard of chivalry and a semicircular arch. It has been declared a Cultural Interest Asset for being considered one of the most important vestiges of the past.

Regarding the christian period, you will find the Church of St. Michael, built in the 16th century. During the moorish rebellion it was burned down in 1569, but was rebuilt later. It has a single wooden nave and inside it houses several paintings from the 18th century of important artistic value.

Also from the christian period you will see the Hermitage of St. Michael, which is located 3 km from Istán town. It is a cave in which the image of Saint Michael, patron of Istán, is housed. From here you can enjoy splendid views of the mountains, the Verde River Valley and the sea in the background.

Spread over the streets of Istán you can see a series of crosses, these belong to the stations of the Via Crucis. It is a path that is made up of small crosses located on the facades of some of the houses in Istán. Some of them have been kept in their original location, while others have been modified as their facades have needed.

Bearing witness to the importance of water in Istán, you will find El Chorro Fountain and Laundry. It is one of the popular style fountains that you will see while taking a walk through Istán town. Along with its crystalline water pipes are also the basins in which the women of the town went to wash clothes.

In El Calvario Square you can see La Esfera Fountain, the work of Salvador Calvo Marín. In it, modernity is fused with traditional aspects, where a series of symbolic elements that relate to Andalusia, Istán and the place in which it is located are taken into consideration.

Finally, crossing Istán town and with ramifications that irrigate the orchards and terraces that are around, you will see the Moorish Ditches. These ditches are from muslim era and were used to canalise the water used in irrigation and domestic use. Today they are used to canalise irrigation water and constitutes a framework that runs through the subsoil of many of the streets of Istán.

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What to do in Istán

The municipality of Istán is characterized by the surrounding environment, the Sierra de las Nieves, a protected area that received the EDEN "European Destinations of Excellence" award in the category of Tourism and Intangible Heritage. Within these natural enclaves there are a dozen hiking routes and mountain bike routes that cover places such as the spring of Molinos River, Verde River Valley, Charco del Canalón, Sierra Blanca, Sierra Real or Cañada del Infierno (Hell's Cattle Road) after passing through the El Coto Recreation Area. From most of these places you can get magnificent views from the Youth House Viewpoint, the Azufaifo Street Viewpoint and the Rock Viewpoint. In addition, you can practice fishing and canoeing in the Embalse de la Concepción, where you will find fish such as rainbow trout and barbel. From the Tajo Banderas Natural Viewpoint (Flags Gorge Natural Viewpoint), where the fighting groups placed the flags in the dispute to conquer these lands, you will be able to get wonderful views to this reservoir and the surrounding mountains.

Before starting to get to know the natural environment of Istán, you can expand your knowledge in the Water Museum and Interpretation Center. This is a space for exhibition and interpretation on water resources in the Sierra de las Nieves region. Its objective is to spread the importance of these water resources.

And to finish getting to know the town, you can take an urban route that will show you the corners with history of Istán. An initiative that has about twenty information panels distributed throughout the urban area of Istán and the surroundings with the aim that you can learn everything about the history of the municipality.

Touring a series of cork oaks, gall oaks and some Spanish firs, in Istán there are a series of hiking routes that will take you to discover places such as the waterfall of Charco del Canalón or reach La Concha peak in the neighboring municipality of Marbella. You can also do walking tours that link Istán with the municipalities of Ojén or Monda.

In the same Istán town begins the Istán - La Concha peak PR-A 135 Route, a 5.5 km linear route with a high level of difficulty, overcoming a gap of 845 meters and that will take you to the summit of La Concha peak with a height of 1,215 meters, one of the highest in the area. From the top you will have the opportunity to get spectacular views of the Costa del Sol, on a tour of limestone terrain where you will find typical vegetation of medium mountains, scrub and scrubland and where you can also see Spanish ibex and different types bird's. Once up you can enjoy the wonderful views, from the mountains of Morocco to Sierra Nevada, passing through the Torrecilla, the Rock of Gibraltar and the entire Costa del Sol Occidental.

Also, from Istán town starts the Istán - Cañada del Infierno PR-A 136 Trail. It is a linear route of about 5.7 km, with a high level of difficulty, which runs through the northwest area of Sierra Blanca. On your way you will be able to get some beautiful panoramic views of the Sierra de las Nieves Natural Park and in particular its highest peak, Torrecilla with 1,919 meters high. It consists of two sections, the first from Istán town to Puerto Cirolá (Cirolá Refuge) and the second from this last point to the lane from Istán to Monda.

A circular route is the one that makes up the Istán - Camino de la Cuesta - Istán PR-A 137 Trail, with 3.8 km, a medium-low difficulty level, which starts in Istán town and will allow you to go down to the tail of the Embalse de la Concepción at its junction with the Verde River, enjoy its valley and the Hermitage of St. Michael, and rest in the adjacent recreational area and then return to the town. On the descent you can get a nice view of the Verde River Valley and on the climb wonderful views to the reservoir.

With 1.2 km of linear route and with a medium-low level of difficulty, you can follow the Istán - El Picacho PR-A 139 Trail. This trail starts from Istán town and, in a zigzagging way, will allow you to ascend to El Picacho, from where you will get impressive views to Istán, with Sierra Real in the background, the Plaza de Armas (Weapons' Square) peak (1,330 meters) and a little behind the Torrecilla, the highest peak in the province.

The Istán - Marbella PR-A 140 Trail is a linear route of about 8.8 km in length, with a medium level of difficulty, which runs along the old road that connected Istán town and Marbella before the road was built. During your tour you will pass through farms dedicated to olive groves, through the base of the Peñón Bermejo (Bermejo Rock) and Atajo Fountain, although you can also cross glens and observe beautiful views of the Embalse de la Concepción, the coast and the natural auditorium in the old quarry of Sierra Blanca.

Another route is Istán - Cañada de los Laureles PR-A 141 Trail, with about 1.5 km of linear route and low level of difficulty. This route starts from lstán and reaches an old miera oven (liquid similar to honey that is extracted from juniper and used to cure certain animal conditions) that is located in Cañada de los Laureles (Laureles' Cattle Road). The route has no difficulty, although it is necessary to cross the Verde River, so it cannot be done during the flood season. It runs along a path in a descending direction until it crosses the river and then ascends the ravine without a path.

If you want to make another circular route, the Istán - Herrizas de La Gallega - Istán PR-A 166 Trail is made up of 2.3 km, with a low level of difficulty, which begins and ends in Istán town. This route will allow you to visit some of the most beautiful corners of the orchards in the municipality of Istán, one of the least known and most interesting parts of the municipality. In it you will be able to appreciate the work carried out by arab farmers to take advantage of the unevenness of the terrain and to trace their network of ditches.

You can visit the municipality of Ojén thanks to the Istán - Ojén PR-A 167 Trail, a 10.5 km linear trail with a medium-high level of difficulty. Its route, which runs almost entirely through ravines, will take you from Istán to Ojén, on the west-east slope of Sierra Blanca. The itinerary has a first section ascending through the Cañada de Juan Inglés (Juan Inglés Cattle Road) in an environment of limestone rocks with the presence of oleanders and low scrub, as well as cultivated areas with an olive grove of mountainous typology until it crowns the port after the esplanade of Los Arenales. From here the descent begins with beautiful chestnut trees and pine forests, passing through the old Refugio de Juanar (Juanar Refuge), today converted into a Hunting Research and Recovery Center and the Cerezal Recreation Area.

The Istán - Charco del Canalón PR-A 280 Trail is a linear path of 6.7 km long with a medium level of difficulty that will take you to one of the most beautiful and popular areas of the municipality of Istán, the Charco del Canalón. It is an extraordinary place full of beauty and freshness on the southern edge of Sierra de las Nieves Natural Park. During the tour you will find a varied landscape, going from the typical terraced orchards to the pines and cork oak groves and the excellent riverside forest of the Verde River. You will also be able to observe the different orography of the terrain made up of three geological types, limestone, gneiss and peridotite.

Joining the municipalities of Istán and Monda through Sierra de las Nieves Natural Park, you will find the Istán - Monda GR-243 Trail, 18 km long and of a medium-high level of difficulty. It runs almost entirely along the old path that linked the two towns, today turned into a forest trail. The route begins at the spring of the Molinos River and on its way you will pass through pines and cork oak forests. First you will cross the Cañada del Infierno, then ascending the Camino de Bornoque (Bornoque's Way) until you reach the Puerto de Moratán (Moratán's Refuge). Later, through the Dehesa de Moratán (Moratán's Meadow), where the cereal fields harmoniously coexist with the cork oaks, holm oaks, gall oak forests and heather, you can enjoy excellent views of the entire Moratán area and the northern slope of Sierra Canucha, where, in addition to its steep slope, a some Spanish firs attracts attention. Finally, after descending to the bottom of the Seco Stream bed and crossing it, you will reach Monda by the only section that remains of the original mucking path.

The natural puddles of Verde River have always served as a natural pool, so they are an ideal place for you to take a good dip. In order to get to these puddles, there are two routes around Istán that will take you to them.

One is the Charco La Huerta SL-A 241 Trail, which will take you, between orchards and ditches, to what is undoubtedly the most familiar of all the puddles in Istán. This may be due to its easy access, since it is done on a concrete track, and also because the shallow depth of this puddle makes it an ideal place for the little ones.

On the other hand, there is the Charcos Naturales SL-A 224 Trail, which will bring you closer to the more traditional puddles of Istán.The Charco El Cancho (El Cancho Puddle) which appears as the deepest of the Verde River and that in summer can reach 4 meters deep, as well as the Charco El Cojo (El Cojo Puddle), more collected and flirtatious than the previous one, is more demanded by those who seek a calmer environment.

In addition to all these hiking routes, in Istán there are other mountain bike routes that you can do depending on the effort and the distance you want to travel.

The first, with a linear route 1.2 km long, is the Istán - Hermitage of St. Michael Route. This route starts from Istán town and, from there, climbs up to the Hermitage of St. Michael. From the recreational area surrounding the hermitage, you will have the opportunity to get one of the most beautiful views to the Embalse de la Concepción.

The second, the Istán - Castaño Santo Route, contemplates a much greater distance. It is a linear route of 37 km in length, with a high level of difficulty that runs through a forest track with vegetation made up of rockrose, pines and cork oaks, where you will have the opportunity to spot Spanish ibex and different types of birds of prey, until you reach a wooded area of special charm, the Hoyo del Bote (Bote Hole). The route will take you to a destination of impressive landscape beauty and where there is a very large tree, considered one of the longest-lived and most emblematic trees in Andalusia and Spain, the Castaño Santo (Holy Chestnut Tree) of Istán. This is a tree that is more than 800 years old and has a trunk perimeter of 19 meters. It is said that Ferdinand II celebrated a mass in its shadow in 1501.

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Traditional festivities and celebrations in Istán

In case you do not have enough with everything seen so far about Istán, you can make your visit coincide with one of the celebrations that take place in this town. This will allow you, not only to enjoy a party atmosphere, but to better understand the tradition and culture of Istán.

To begin with, one of the nights at Christmas time, the Pastoral Contest is held, in which different pastorals act in the Church of St. Michael.

The weekend before February 28 or Andalusia Day, the Los Quintos Fest takes place in Istán. In it the protagonists are the young people who turn 18 years old who liven up the streets of the town with music.

On a weekend in March or April, the Food Show and Orange Day are celebrated, as well as the Tapa's Route. During this day, the bars and restaurants of Istán expose their culinary knowledge with traditional recipes and orange juices, in a festive atmosphere with traditional dances of the verdiales pandas and the performance of the charanga. It is declared a Provincial Tourist Singularity Festivity.

Also in March or April, depending on the year, Holy Week is celebrated in Istán, as in many places in Spain. In addition to the processions through the streets of the town, the Paso is staged, a live representation of the Passion of Jesus that has its origins in the 17th century and which has been declared National Tourist Interest Festivity in Andalusia and Provincial Tourist Singularity Festivity.

With a great tradition in Istán, Corpus Day is celebrated, when the neighbors adorn the streets of the town with bushes, they set up altars that decorate with flowers and the balconies show off their best quilts and embroidery. This day they take Christ out in procession, accompanied by the children who made their First Communion that year.

Cultural Week takes place in early September. During this week Istán town offers a wide range of activities such as talks, art exhibitions, videos, movies, rock concerts and, the most important one, the Istán Flamenco Meeting.

The St. Michael Fair has its celebration is the weekend closest to September 29. In it the town square becomes a party without rest and contests, games are held and the music band parades through Istán.

On the other hand, on the Sunday before September 29, the Pilgrimage of St. Michael is celebrated, in honor of its patron, also known as the Thyme Festival. This is a day of coexistence and fun with family and friends in a natural environment.

Other celebrations with deep roots in Istán are the Tostoná, on the All Saints' Day, and the Zambombeos prior to Christmas.

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Gastronomy of Istán

The gastronomy of Istán, like most of the municipalities that make up the Sierra de las Nieves region, is influenced by the products of the land.

Among the typical dishes of Istán we must highlight tomato soup, corn soup, gazpachuelo, cabbage, migas, cooked soups, fried rabbit, salmorejo and fennel stew.

In desserts and pastries, you cannot leave without trying the oil cakes, the wine donuts, the sorghum and the hornazo, a bread with intertwined egg.

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