By Guy Hunter-Watts
MARBELLA without La Concha would be like Cape Town without Table Mountain.
Wherever you are in the town you catch sight of its seductively symmetrical form, rising volcano-like above the coast.
Its appearance constantly changing as the sun slips round the horizon.
And from the top? Well, the views are mesmerising: east and west along the coast, south to Morocco and all the way to the Sierra Nevada on a clear day.
This classic route up the mountain numbers among Andalucia’s most special walking adventures.
You approach the peak from its northern side, setting out from Refugio de Juanar (it’s a wonderful place to overnight).
From here the walk leads you past a hidden, flat-bottomed valley before you climb steeply up through pine forest towards the Cruz de Juanar.
After crossing a first col you follow a ridge for most of the way to La Concha: on this section you’ll occasionally feel safer using your hands as well as your feet.
That said, so long as you have a reasonable head for heights you shouldn’t find the walk intimidating: a friend regularly takes her teenage kids up and down this route and even sleeps out on the summit.
One of Andalucia’s most stunning adventures, an ascent of La Concha is one of the harder trails in my book though well within the capabilities of anyone in good health who walks on a regular basis.
Getting to the beginning of the walk
From the A7 motorway exit for Marbella/Ojen on the A355.
Continue on towards Ojen via two roundabouts.
Passing by two turnings off right towards the village, cut left from the A355 at a sign Refugio de Juanar along the MA5300 which you follow all the way to the Refugio.
The walk begins at the entrance of the car park of El Refugio de Juanar.
From here descend 100m to a junction then turn right at the sign that says ‘Mirador’.
Looping up through the pines you reach a parking area then pass a green metal gate.
Passing by a sign pointing left towards Ojen, continue along the track following a sign GR243.1 Istan.
Head on along the eastern edge of a flat- bottomed valley where an abandoned olive grove is bordered to both sides by a thick stand of pines.
After passing a ruined stone hut you reach a sign that says PR-A 168 La Concha pointing right off the track. (20 mins)
Here, cut right away from the track towards the green mesh fence of Cortijo de Juanar then angle hard right down through an olive grove for 100m to a four-way junction.
Cutting left into a stand of pines you come to a threeway junction.
Here angle left following another sign that says PR-A 168 La Concha.
The pines thin out as the path becomes sandier and climbs more steeply: you’ll soon see a fence running to your left.
To your left the Cruz de Juanar is visible as you climb on up the left side of the valley.
Reaching the top of the ridge, head straight on for a few metres then angle right and continue along the ridge, now heading almost due west between low-growing ilex oaks.
Big views now open out to the south and to the Mediterranean.
Having run just left of the ridge the path cuts up right to its highest point and passes a large cairn (1 hr 10 mins) before descending for a short distance, now just north of the ridge.
Cairns mark the way as well as P.R. waymarking.
Angling slightly left, the path passes beneath a steep cliff face, El Salto del Lobo, where there are steep drops to the right: care should be taken on this section.
Zigzagging steeply up left (a hands-on approach at this point will be useful) it then drops steeply back down to a more level path which runs on towards La Concha.
Climbing back to the top of the ridge the sea and Marbella again come into view as the path angles right, adopting a southwesterly course.
Cairns and P.R. waymarking still mark your path as you head on just south of the ridge before angling back up to the top of the ridge as you head on round the south side of the Cerro del Lastonar.
A massive panorama opens out to the south as you reach a cairn where you’ll see blue and red stripes on a rock. At this point you’re actually a few metres higher than the official summit of La Concha.
From here angle down left following cairns and red and blue waymarking, sticking close to the ridgetop.
The Istan reservoir comes into view to the west.
The path runs a few metres beneath the ridge, on its southern side, before cutting up to a 3 way marker post. (1 hr 45 mins)
Here carry straight on following a sign saying La Concha 15 mins along the ridge to a large cairn.
Here the path angles right, descends, then picks up the continuation of the ridge before climbing steeply once more (where you may feel safer using your hands from time to time: there are steep drops to your left).
Red and blue flashes still mark the way and lead you up to the summit of La Concha (1215m). (1 hr 55 mins)
It’s worth continuing on along the ridge for 60m to the southern edge of the Concha, from where the views down to Marbella are even better.
A trig point here marks 1203m.
After gulping in the amazing panorama, retrace your footsteps back to the Refugio. (3 hrs 45 mins)