Istán is a town and municipality in the province of Málaga in Andalusia in southern Spain with an estimated population to roughly 1,500. It lies in the valley of the Rio Verde about 15 km to the northwest from Marbella and the Mediterranean coast. It is situated on the southern slope of the Sierra de las Nieves. Its just 25 minutes from Marbella but feels a million miles away. Istán is one of a number of villages of Moorish origin which owes its survival to its distance from the coast. After the Christian reconquest of the Iberian peninsula in the 15th Century, Arabs were barred from living within a league of the shoreline in order to prevent them from communicating with their kinsmen across the straits in Morocco. Istán, 15 kilometres inland, was allowed to remain while the coastal Arab settlements were depopulated and frequently destroyed. That is not to say that the mountain villages were unmolested and left in peace. Istán was lucky. Two associated villages – Arboto and Daidin – were erased from the landscape so effectively that their precise locations are no longer known. Even so, the Arab population dwindled, and was largely replaced by Christian settlers from Castile and Murcia. So many came from the Murcian village of El Cristo de Panocho, that the people of Istán acquired a nickname – panochos – which has survived to this day. The village is tucked away beneath the Sierra Blanca, close to the Serrania de Ronda hunting reserve. Istán’s streets are narrow and unsuited to the motor car. The only sensible way to experience it is on foot.
There are four à la carte restaurants in Istán, Troyano, El Baron, Rincon de Curro, Entresierras and the new Las Harales in the Rural Hotel at the entrance of the village. There are also bars that serve an excellent selection of tapas. The village aptly echoes night and day to the sound of water running constantly from its drinking fountains. Aptly, because it stands close to the huge reservoir created by the Presa de la Concepción dam, which was built in 1972 and provides drinking water to towns all along the coast. The water feeding Istán’s fountains, however, is the pure, unprocessed mountain variety which was much prized long before the coming of the dam. Just outside the village, where it cascades freely from the rocks, motorists often stop to fill their jugs and cans.
Very little remains of Moorish Istán, merely the crumbling remains of a tower hidden in a side street, but at least there is some, and the village still has the timeless air that outsiders find so appealing. Some foregneirs do live here, but if you don´t consider living in an old white spanish town, it is definitely worth a visit!