“The mountains are calling and I must go”, so wrote John Moore one of America’s most famous and influential outdoor enthusiasts in 1873.
And never has a quote been so appropriate when it comes to this blog post about my recent visit to the beautiful mountain village of Istán. Set in the midst of the UNESCO natural reserve of Sierra de las Nieves, on the southern slope of Marbella’s La Concha mountain, it is located in the verdant valley of the Rio Verde and overlooks the stunning lakeside scenery of the La Concepción reservoir and the Mediterranean sea beyond.
Although only 15 km inland northwest of Marbella Town, as a rather timorous mountain driver I’d never dared to venture there before. Having reconnected with my inner intrepid explorer however, thanks to this blog, for the past few weeks I was itching to go on an outing in nature and had been having this inexplicable “call” to visit Istán. So when my friend and fellow nature-lover Cate suggested out of the blue that we go on a voyage of discovery to the very village of Istán, it was akin to a call of destiny…
Heading west from Marbella Town, we took the A-7176 turn-off just after the 5-star Puente Romano Hotel. As we followed the winding road, leaving behind the last of the luxury residential complexes that dot the landscape for the first few kilometres, there seemed to be a sudden stillness in the air. Marbella’s La Concha mountain loomed before us in majestic greeting, while the surrounding hillsides swathed in green and the glimpses of the reservoir’s turquoise waters below made the remainder of the drive one of peaceful awe, as though we were gliding rather than driving along the road as it snaked its way ever upwards.
By the time we reached the whitewashed village of Istán, standing some 300 metres above sea level, the mountain landscape appeared to level out into a gently undulating backdrop awash with green hues.
As we stepped out of the car just by the Town Hall at the entrance to Istán, the first thing that struck me was the softness that seemed to permeate the air and this sense of being enveloped in nature’s gentle embrace, was heightened by being greeted by the sound of trilling birdsong, while a giant yellow butterfly fluttered past us like a sentinel leading us into the Garden of Eden we were about to discover…
Originally a Moorish settlement after the Christian Reconquest of Andalusia in the 15th Century, Istán’s narrow streets that hark back to this era, make it nigh on impossible to drive through the village which is blissfully traffic-free. The only sound we heard as we entered the village was that of running water from the original Moorish fountain of El Chorro which flows from the source of the nearby Molinos river and was also used by the villagers for centuries as the place to wash their clothes. The Moorish settlers also created an irrigation network that ran throughout the village to supply the inhabitants with drinking water while the remainder was channelled to the surrounding vegetable gardens and orchards. This spring still supplies the various drinking fountains scattered around the village today.
After stopping off for some tapas at one of the restaurants around the church square, we headed out to Las Herrizas viewpoint at the western edge of the village. We passed one of the village’s allotments on the way, bordered by a flowing irrigation ditch. It was here that we bumped into an elderly but very robust local resident brandishing a clump of spring onions he had just picked. I stopped to talk to him and told him I’d smelt the tanginess of the onions 50 metres away. “The smell alone is enough to feed you,” he chuckled proudly. “In this village we are connected to the land and going to the allotment every day is what keeps me alive and happy.” And with a friendly nod he went off on his way.
I found a few lines I had jotted down while we sat there absorbing it all: “Cocks crowing, birds chirruping and the distant roar of a waterfall in the valley below. No traffic, bees buzzing, butterflies fluttering …”
When I went off to take some photos of the lake and the sea beyond, I left my notebook with Cate and asked her to jot down her impressions – here is what she wrote: “Istán; a gentle air of calm and peace that seems to seep into your soul.”
I couldn´t have put it better myself and as we left, I felt an inexplicable tug at my heartstrings and knew it would not be long before I had to return for a “top up” and to explore this enchanting and enchanted Garden of Eden further.
Istán has called and I must go…
Photos and text: Liz Glazer
Additional photos: Cate Mansuri