This guide provides an overview of the scenic driving route from Marbella to Istan. Along the way, you’ll pass through lush valleys and mountainous terrain, with plenty of opportunities to stop and take in the breathtaking views. Istán itself is a charming ancient village with narrow crooked streets and running water everywhere. It’s a great destination for a day trip from Marbella.
Turn off the N-340 at km 177, just west of Puente Romano and the Mosque, and follow the 16 km (10 mile) long C-427 road. Although narrow and unmarked, cautious drivers should have no problem navigating it. After about 2 km (1 ¼ miles), you’ll pass the Club Sierra and the last signs of urbanisation. From here, the countryside begins to unfold. Big, established villas scatter on your left while the Sierra Blanca rises steeply on your right. The road twists through small folding hills, revealing avocado and citrus trees in the lush valley below.
Soon you get to the toll road and a bit further the wall of the Embalse de la Concepcion, the dam that supplies water to the coastal communities. Scrubland – some of it terraced – is dotted with juniper gorse and wild herbs, along with pockets of cork-oak olives. Soon you are in the municipal area of Istán. Pine, fig, citrus and carob make an appearance, and in spring, a profusion of wild flowers. The mountain rises on the right, while cortijos (farm estates) dot the view to the left. Just below Istán, you pass the Ermita de San Miguel in the rock face, to which the villagers make a romería (pilgrimage) at the end of September. Don’t be put off by the messy buildings on the approach to the village. You should find parking spaces as you are entering.
Istan sits on the southern slope of Sierra de las Nieves. On September 29th, its residents celebrate their patron saint San Miguel Arcangel. While there may not be many notable sights in Istan (population 1,300), strolling along its narrow, crooked streets gives the impression that this ancient village has changed little in domestic building style and street layout since its founding by Moors in the 9th century. The burbling sound of running water can be heard everywhere. It’s no wonder that Moors liked this place so much: The village’s sole monument is Torre Arabe, featuring a Moorish arch on its tower. Renovations are underway; check at Town Hall (952-869-603) for visiting times.
For more information check our guide about Istan.
Many locals work on the coast. Fewer now till small plots or tend the valley’s citrus trees. Sheep and goats that once sustained the village are now less common. Some locals run bars whose weekday regulars are retired men, with day trippers on weekends. Have a drink and absorb some local life before returning to the Marbella road.
Refugio de Juanar
From the eastern edge of Marbella, turn off the N-340 onto the A-355. It’s 19 km (12 miles) to Refugio de Juanar. After negotiating the outskirts of Marbella, the road twists up between fir and eucalyptus trees. On your right, terraces of citrus trees step down to a ravine. After passing Venta Barranco, you’ll have a fine view of the village of Ojén. Take the turn-off down to the village, which faces southeast above the green valley of Río Real where fertile ground is cultivated to maximum effect.
Park along main road and walk into village. Although much of village has undergone restoration in its cobbled streets and aquares there is still atmosphere of typical pueblo. You will find widows dressed in black contrast with thick whitewashed walls weather-beaten men sit in groups on dining chairs outside doorways striped curtains blowing in breeze.
After village scenery becomes more dramatic as road twists up to 580 m (1,900 ft) high Puerto de Ojén pass. Take turn-off to left (signposted to Juanar) and road travels 5.5 km (3 ¼ miles) into nature reserve’s stark landscape. It eventually reaches oasis of trees surrounding Refugio de Juanar (952-881-000) where peacocks often display their feathers as means of welcome.
From here, more than 1,000 m (3,281 ft) above sea level, there is a fine view of the valleys and hills to Marbella and on clear days you can see across to Africa. If you’re here until dusk you might catch a glimpse of wild ibex among rocky crags that often descend to drink water. Back at Refugio if you’re feeling energetic and have good walking shoes you could follow part of forested trails into Sierra Blanca Istán or Ojén.
It was built by state-run Parador organisation on foundations of Larios family hunting lodge. Staff formed management cooperative and with help of provincial authorities they have made it very comfortable and friendly hostelry with attractive pool and terraces.
In conclusion, driving from Marbella to Istan offers a scenic journey through lush valleys and mountainous terrain. Along the way, you can stop at Refugio de Juanar for a breathtaking view of the valleys and hills to Marbella. Istán itself is a charming ancient village with narrow crooked streets and running water everywhere. It’s a great destination for a day trip from Marbella. If you need to rent a car for your trip, you can check out Malaga car hire. With its rich history and natural beauty, Istan is a must-see destination for anyone visiting the region.