Short Break Holidays to Gibraltar a great place for a long weekend!
Now that Gibraltar’s dockyards are giving way to marinas, it has its very own literary festival and a wealth of fine beaches, restaurants and hotels. Come with me as I show you what a rewarding destination this is for a long weekend.
The planet’s great divides – the Bosphorus, the Panama Canal and the Strait of Gibraltar – may look on the globe as though they disconnect the continents on which they are located. However, in reality these critical bodies of water help to unite the world. That is especially true at one of the most southerly points in continental Europe, where North Africa can seem almost within touching distance.
From the Rock of Gibraltar history has witnessed the ebbs and flows of people and ideas – between the Mediterranean and the New World, between Europe and Africa. This would explain why this tiny territory – a peninsula three miles by two, and rising to a height of 1,300ft – has so many dimensions and surprises. Therefore, in the course of a short stay, you can delve in to its secrets and unravel them with a rewarding outcome.
In the past thirty years for example, Gibraltar has changed from a far-flung fragment of Britain to a cosmopolitan city-state, where tapas and calamaris are now just as common as fish and chips.
Marinas such as Ocean Village and Queensway Quay are more appealing than the dockyards they supersede, and bring in the colourful sailing community. Add new cultural ventures such as the inaugural Literary Festival that took place in October 2013, and Gibraltar has the feeling of being reborn for the twenty first century.
So, allow me to show you a three-day itinerary in Gibraltar, which I hope will whet your appetite so that you will want to visit the destination for yourself and discover that there is even more on offer than what I show you here.
It’s not often that a window seat has a greater use as on the approach to Gibraltar’s airport. With the runway on the strip of land that connects Gibraltar with the rest of Europe, you are flying over the Mediterranean until just before the wheels touch down, and in close proximity to the Rock – one of the Pillars of Hercules according to legend. The landing can, to some, be a little disconcerting as you actually have to look up at the cruise ships as they tower above the aircraft.
You arrive at the startling new airport terminal, which has played a vital part in the transformation of Gibraltar. From the terminal exit you can choose to head north to Spain, or go south to remain on British territory – first claimed in 1704 after the War of Spanish Succession, which was then set in geopolitical stone by the 1715 Treaty of Utrecht.
It’s the one place in Europe, outside of the British Isles, where a pound is worth exactly a pound: sterling is the currency, and Gibraltarian notes and coins are interchangeable with those of the Bank of England – in the territory, at least.
In terms of getting to Gibraltar, British Airways flies daily or more, from Heathrow, easyJet flies daily from Gatwick, Monarch has four flights a week from Luton, three flights a week from Manchester, and twice weekly from Birmingham. Flying time is between three and four hours, depending on the departure point.
Most flights touchdown around noon, an ideal time to arrive. Taxis (and a bus) will be waiting, but if you are not burdened down with luggage then walk – straight across the runway that welcomed you. In a pragmatic use of space, the runway reverts to its normal role of supporting Winston Churchill Avenue, the main road connecting Gibraltar with the rest of Europe. Take the highway – and walkway – to the heart of the Rock.
Take a stroll through Casemates Square, which sets the tone for Gibraltar; ancient stones seem to grow from the Rock, fortifications softened by the centuries. Then Main Street takes over as the back bone for the skeleton of streets and alleyways crowded into the western side of the territory, with names such as Bomb House Lane and Convent Ramp.
When it comes to accommodation, check in to the Rock Hotel for Art Deco splendour, combined with some good views. Or, for a warm Irish welcome try the O’Callaghan Elliott Hotel, which combines a fantastic central location with a rooftop pool and a terrace for dining to make the most of the balmy climate. For a perfect sunrise and a sense of escapism, why not stay at the Caleta Hotel, which merges with the Rock to create a very respectable Gibraltar fixture – and whose kitchens deliver some of the peninsula’s finest seafood at Nuno’s.
Head to the Gibraltar Museum on Bomb House Lane for a history lesson. Unwrap the layers of history, from the Phoenicians through the Greeks and Romans to the Moors, who named the Rock “Jebel Tariq” – Tariq’s Mountain – and provided the raw phonetic material for Gibraltar’s name.
To get the measure of Gibraltar – and a glimpse of Africa – continue south. Europa Point marks the southern tip of the peninsula, and the Africa connection is symbolised by the Ibrahim-al-Ibrahim Mosque. From this British Overseas Territory on the very edge of Europe, you can see two other countries – and gaze from one continent to another. You are also likely to see squadrons of birds flocking north or south: naturally, Gibraltar is one of the most significant points on migratory routes between Europe and Africa each spring and autumn. Watch out, also, for the Barbary Partridge: the territory’s ornithological calling card.
Explore the hunk of limestone at the heart of Gibraltar – and discover its remarkable repertoire of roles. The upper reaches on the outside comprises of a nature reserve, home to Europe’s only colony of apes – and, cheerfully coexisting beneath the surface, the continent’s most complex network of tunnels. You can walk to the top, an ideal activity for a fresh morning, but once the temperature starts to rise the cable car (£14.70 return, price correct as of November 2013) can save your energy.
To the south, St Michael’s Caves are the work of nature, a three-dimensional maze of limestone. To the north, the Great Siege Tunnels show what can be done in extremis – such as the conditions of the 1779-1783 siege by the Spanish, when army engineers created an astonishing thirty miles of passageways that comprised a small town shewn from bare rock.
The tunnels were pressed into active service again during the WWII, when Spitfire aircraft were assembled here. To seal the sense of Britishness, a Union flag flutters above the 14th-century Moorish Castle.
Time for a drink? Gibraltar used to be the place to which homesick British expatriates from Spain’s Costa del Sol retreated for some familiarity – and pints-for-pounds are still easily available on Main Street in traditional pubs such as The Horseshoe and The Royal Calpe. But these days I suggest you head for the Queensway Quay Marina, where you can choose between iced sherry (from Jerez, a short journey along the coast) and Californian cocktails.
Surf and turf are on offer, for example at Savannah, with the rather splendid address of 27 Leisure Island, and Biancas in Ocean Village and Marina Bay respectively. The latter made its name in 1979 by becoming the first Gibraltar restaurant to open on Mondays. Retire for a mint tea (to remind you of Morocco’s proximity) or an espresso at Sacarello’s coffee house – which is only four years short of its bicentenary; it was founded by a Genoese sailor in 1817.
Start with a splash – and a closely guarded secret; that Gibraltar possesses a trio of fine beaches along the eastern shore. For a more substantial encounter with the waves, take one of the excellent boat trips out into the Strait of Gibraltar. The waters around Gibraltar are home to whales and dolphins. There are several competing operators that operate dolphin-watching tours.
If you are visiting on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, you should acquaint yourself with the multi-faith nature of Gibraltar’s spiritual side: Muslims from North Africa, Jews from Malta and points east, plus Christians in English Protestant, Scottish Presbyterian and Roman Catholic denominations crowd into mosques, synagogues, chapels and cathedrals. The territory is becoming popular for weddings, offering a seductive combination of easy access, straightforward formalities (based on the English legal model), good value and the prospect of sunny skies.
One last cultural experience takes you to the origins of mankind. Gorham’s Cave is a remarkable find – it appears to have been a location where homo sapiens and Neanderthal man coexisted. It is also a candidate for the UNESCO World Heritage List, on a short list of two with the Forth Bridge, outside Edinburgh.
Make the most of a final sunny day and visit Alameda Gardens. Another bicentenary contender, it began life in 1816, when the governor George Don decided the residents needed some breathing space.
Save shopping to the end of your trip. Arguably Gibraltar is the ultimate frontier town – and, like many border communities, it offers some comparative retail advantages. You may wish to make the most of your baggage allowance thanks to the refreshing absence of VAT and sales tax. Then head for the airport. Enjoy one final view of the Rock, the runway and the corrugation of Andalucian and African hills. Oh, and then start planning your next grand entrance.
How to get to Gibraltar and a little more information
Aside from the air services mentioned earlier, Gibraltar is also accessible by road, via Spain. Gibraltar adjoins the southern coast of Spain at the western end of the Mediterranean. In order to be allowed past the border into Gibraltar you will be required to be in possession of a valid passport.
The land frontier is open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week and there are no limits on the number of frontier crossings you can make. There is no charge to enter Gibraltar .
If you are driving to Gibraltar from Spain, take the N340 or the A7 (Cadiz – Malaga highway) and turn off at Junction 119 into the N351 which takes you to La Linea, the border town between Spain and Gibraltar. The frontier is just a five minute walk away from La Linea Bus Station.
There are no camping facilities on the Rock, but there are a number of nearby camping sites in Spain. Caravans may only be imported into Gibraltar provided a licence has been previously obtained from HM Customs Gibraltar, Customs House, Waterport, Gibraltar. Drivers of camper vans are warned that Gibraltar’s streets are narrow. It is best that they be parked outside the city walls. Camper vans are not allowed into the Upper Rock or at most tourist sites. Be aware that camper vans are not allowed to park anywhere in Gibraltar.
The size of Gibraltar’s population is circa 30,000. Throughout its history, Gibraltar has been inhabited by a range of immigrants from differing cultural backgrounds including Spanish, Genoese, Maltese, Moroccan, Jewish and Portuguese who combined with the British settlers to form a varied and multi-racial community.
The religion practised in Gibraltar is predominantly Roman Catholicism; however, other religions such as other Christian faiths and Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Bahai and Jehovah’s Witnesses are also common. Gibraltar is a shining example of how all races and followers of different religions can live together in a peaceful and harmonious environment.
The official language in Gibraltar is English although a mixture of English and Spanish is spoken in casual conversation. This local “dialect” is referred to as “Yanito”.
Gibraltar’s educational system is based on that of the United Kingdom system and all professions are required to have British qualifications.
The people of Gibraltar, known as Gibraltarians, are a warm, fun loving, race. They are known by the English as “British” and by those in Spain as “Spanish”. However, neither is correct, as the Gibraltarians are their own people and are fiercely proud of their country, and rightly so. Interaction with them is a must, and you will soon find out why my comments are so true.
Gibraltar is a great place to visit and you will not be disappointed.
So, now you have read all about Gibraltar, and what it has to offer you, why not allow World of Transport Travel to book your travels there. We can book flights, accommodation, tours and excursions, and if required, car rental. Contact us with your requirements. Please note that we can also book self-catering accommodation, and cater for groups of any size, as well as schools and colleges (there is one youth hostel that we deal with, if this type of accommodation is required).