Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Iznate: grapes, raisins, muscatel. Iznate: bristling streets, cobblestones, ambiguous corners. Iznate: climbs and hills, ups and downs. Iznate: nice people. Iznate: Axarquía through and through. Iznate: history and stories. Iznate: getting around, getting lost, and finding your way back. Iznate: Moor, Moorish, Mozarabic, Arabic. Iznate: an impossible layout. Iznate: full of Iznateños. Iznate for travellers. Just Iznate.

Arrival and Breakfast

Leaning on the foot of a hill, Iznate opens up into an overwhelming landscape. It’s a wide river bed crisscrossed by hills and valleys, and crowned by Pico Chamizo (Sierra de Camarolos), La Maroma (Sierra Tejeda), and Navachica (Sierra Almijara), jutting out against the horizon. The only thing your eyes can meet are more or less densely planted vineyards, raisin mats, and small farmhouses sprinkling the brownish earth with white. Coming from the seashore, you’ll sea a big welcome board reading “IZNATE,” but you’d rather drive on along the downhill road and follow directions to get to the town centre. A longish square, a small amphitheatre, gardens and benches, and the Town Hall: this is what I saw as soon as I found the place. Parking my car, I got ready to walk. Soon I found how to get to the church, entering a puzzling maze. Since it’s really hot outside, I’m setting out earlier these days, so I’ve substituted breakfast for lunch or afternoon snacks. Breakfasts in Málaga are hearty enough for you to face a busy morning afterwards, and there’s a wide array of foods to choose from. My choice was a crowded bar located where the streets get really narrow. I ordered two cafés au lait (sombras), a ham and cheese sandwich, and a bacon and cheese sandwich. The bill = €4.20. The sandwiches were huge, so they gave me enough energy to climb the town up and down.

Starting Point and Curious Facts

Iznate is one of the smallest townships in Málaga Province, covering a surface area of 7.5 square kilometres only. In the sixteenth century, it was one of the most important grape producing townships in the area. So you can imagine what you’ll see when coming here: a tight village, clustered together on the slopes of a steep hill and wrapped in the strong smell of muscatel grapes. Its present gives away its past, with streets coming to a halt and climbing up and down with no apparent order or pattern. Thus, there’re big surprises here, there, and everywhere. The town’s Arab past lies dormant all around. In those times, Iznate was a behetría: a town whose residents could choose their own authorities. Now this is so common, but it didn’t use to be like this. In fact, it wasn’t like this in Iznate after the town was seized by Castile; an alderman was appointed by royal decree. Iznate has challenged Parauta as the birthplace of Umar ibn Hafsun, the leader of the ninth-century rebellion against the Emirate of Cordoba in Serranía de Ronda and Sierra de las Nieves. Documents and evidence seem to favour one of the two townships, but it won’t be this blog that settles the issue. Leaving the town square behind, I entered a world of equivocal streets, climbs, hills, crooked streets, bends, and corners. Flowers and pots brightened the walls and added a jasmine perfume to the dense summer air. 50 metres along Vélez and Málaga streets and I came to Plaza de la Virgen, where the Parish Church of San Gregorio lies. Six lanes have their starting points in this square.

The Parish Church of San Gregorio and Fuente de Palsonada

The parish church is apparently simple, reminding you of Italian architecture. In fact, it’s considered to be Tuscan style. The façade in creamy colours singles it out, displaying two images and a shield that used to belong to Pope Gregory VII. No convoluted columns or intricate filigrees. The Iznate Town Hall website says that inside “we can see three chapels on the Gospel side, displaying valuable works, like an oil painting of San Francisco de Paula, associated to the School of Rivera, and a seventeenth-century polychrome wood sculpture of the Immaculate Conception.” From Plaza de la Virgen you barely see the church’s belfry, hidden behind the nave. There’re benches scattered in the square for visitors to take a break, and there’s a fountain to cool down too, Fuente de la Palsonada, whose two spouts and little shield are part of the town’s architectural heritage.

Secret Corners

There’re countless secret corners in Iznate, opening up to curious travellers who’re ready to explore the town’s streets. You’d better wear comfy shoes, then, and bring some water and a hat. Also, you’ll need to be a talkative visitor. The best possible way to get to know Iznate is getting lost in its streets to discover amazing treasures. From many of the streets you can get fleeting views of the vineyards, olive groves, and gardens. The whole town is covered in cobblestones, and corners mark the end of one street and the beginning of the next one –a collection of discontinuous bends and blind alleys. When there seem to be no more bends, a new one emerges out of nowhere. There’re houses with their own patios (which come as a spatial relief to construction-packed streets), and they all feature flower paths, little trees, plants, and pots. The quintessential Iznate is to be found in some of the town’s steep climbs. Local people are friendly and ready to engage in conversation. This makes tours even more exciting. A snapshot: women climbing streets up slowly, laden with their shopping bags, step by step. Most houses have their doors open for draughts to come in and make rooms cooler. Dilapidated manor houses can be seen around as well. The narrow streets cast wise shadows, sheltering travellers against the midday sun. Iznate at your feet, a puzzle of climbing thoroughfares.


Hey, haven’t you brought your coats and scarves?”
“We have them in our bags, in case it gets cooler,” the visitors replied. It was 37º C and they were roasting in the midday sun.
“Thank God, I was afraid you’d be cold,” one of the locals laughed.
“How do you climb down the streets when it rains?,” the visitors asked after seeing an impossibly steep hill.
“Carefully or… on our backsides!” Everybody laughed now.
I stayed for a while, talking with locals about everyday matters, asking questions, telling stories, listening to interesting things, and, above all, laughing hard.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to do: Walk around without maps. Be ready to get lost. Iznate’s best gift is the possibility of a quiet stroll along its streets, talking to residents.
What to take: Comfortable footwear, a cap or hat in the summer, and a bottle of water.
What to see: Muscatel Grape Fair: On August 1, Iznate holds the Muscatel Grape Fair, paying tribute to a food that has been a staple of the local economy since time immemorial, and also to the men and women involved in grape production tasks. This fair’s been declared a Fiesta of Provincial Tourist Interest.
Useful links: Use the website of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board as your main reference. Also, the Town Hall website,, contains a lot of useful information. And then there are the regional websites El Portal de la Axarquía and Mancomunidad de Municipios de la Costa del Sol - Axarquía.

Comments, suggestions, and opinions from travellers/ visitors to this blog are very welcome. This is intended to be an open door, so the more things shown and said, the better. See you under the Bright Blue Sky.