Less than two and a half hours flight time from the UK, within walking distance to southern Spain and a catamaran ride away from North Africa is the British gem that is Gibraltar. Gibraltar's geographical position is unique standing guard at the entrance to the Mediterranean.
With 365 days of sunshine and cool North African breezes, with its Pound currency, Sunday roasts, cream teas, English 'bobbies' and traditional red telephone boxes, Gibraltar is a veritable home away from home for the British, just a lot warmer.
The first things you'll notice as the plane begins its descent into Gibraltar are the swaying tropical palm trees and the deep, blue azure of the Mediterranean. The next thing will be remarkably short runway, built during the Second World War, and located right in the middle of the road! In fact, the traffic in Gibraltar literally stops every time a plane comes into land. You will not find an airport anywhere quite as unique as Gibraltar.
Gibraltar is a duty-free country which means that you can stock up on electronics, jewellery, perfumes, cigarettes and alcohol at lower prices than found in the UK. Main Street, the pedestrianized, cobbled area dedicated to duty-free shopping, is filled with all sorts of bargains from high street stores to high-end brands. The absence of tax on goods is reflected in the bars and restaurants also where prices are significantly lower than anywhere else in Europe.
The currency, the Gibraltar Pound, is also on par with the British Pound Sterling which means there's no need to change your Pounds into Euros. The only difference is that here, your Pound goes much further, and no umbrella needed.
Going back into history, however, who would have thought that a country originally named 'Jebel Tarik' by a Moslem general, Tarik ibn Ziyad, who landed his forces at the southern end of the Rock to begin the initial Muslim conquest of Spain in 711 AD, could end up being so intrinsically British! For 400 years, Gibraltar was made a fortress by the Moors and after the first siege in 1309, the Spanish retook the Rock, but ten further sieges were to follow.
In 1704, the English and Dutch marines landed and captured the Rock. It was ceded to Britain by Spain under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. During the 19th century, Admiral Nelson based his fleet and fought the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 at the western end of the Strait. Sadly, it was to Gibraltar that Nelson's body was brought and the Trafalgar Cemetery can still be visited today in Gibraltar.
Modern day Gibraltar is a surviving part of the British Empire and a Crown Colony and feircly proud of its British ties.
With a plethora of things to do and see in Gibraltar, you will be hard pushed to find the time to pack everything into a short visit. It's no wonder then that we have such a large number of repeat clients visiting Gibraltar year after year, celebrating special occasions with friends and family and even getting married or having their marriage vows renewed there! After all if it was good enough for John Lennon & Yoko Ono to wed, Sean Connery to get married (twice) for Roger Moore to honeymoon in and HRH Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer to start their honeymoon at, why not come and see what all the fuss is about.
What to See and Do
Yes it is sunny in Gibraltar (over 300 days of it in fact) but then considering its Herculean dominance at the entrance to the Mediterranean, blue sunny skies are just par for course. Add to the mix white sandy beaches (Catalan Bay, Eastern Beach & Sandy Bay), crystal clear Mediterranean waters and to me Gibraltar is a gem of a beach holiday with guaranteed sun and only a short flight of less than 3 hours.
What makes Gibraltar even better than other Med destinations is that you don't have to exchange your British pounds, just spend them in the shops, restaurants and bars as if you would at home, just less of them, because Gibraltar is a tax free haven. Wander the colonial Main Street and enjoy the duty free experience that is Gibraltar. Don't get too carried away buying duty free booze in town though; remember you won't get it past security at the airport. I suggest buying cigarettes and cigars in town and alcohol at the airport.
The local "Gibraltarian's" are friendly and fiercely proud of being British. Stop for a bite to eat or a drink at Latino's Bar & Restaurant in Casemate Square (once the site of public executions) and strike up a conversation with a local, you won't be disappointed, everyone (including the local teenagers) will be happy to tell you what you should see and do whilst in Gibraltar.
Gibraltar has many faces and when you need a break from all that relaxing on the beach this lump of Jurassic Limestone has plenty to offer because there is more going on inside the rock than you might imagine. In fact there is more miles of tunnel inside the rock than there are roads outside the rock, so it makes sense that we start the journey here.
After taking numerous photos of the local Macaques (Gibraltar's famous Barbary Apes) and I guarantee you will, they are very cute and amusing (but do give them a healthy respect, they are wild animals after all) marvel at the wonder that is St Michaels Cave.
This natural auditorium inside the rock, Cathedral Cave - so named because the mineral formations around the walls resemble the pipes of a cathedral organ, is full of stalagmites and stalactites of all different shapes and sizes. You can also visit the famous Leonora's Cave, said to be an undersea link with North Africa, some say this is the path used by the Apes to come to Gibraltar. The temperature inside the cave is constant year round and a welcome relief from the heat of the day.
For the more adventurous, why not explore the Lower St Michaels Cave, it's like caving but not so difficult or dangerous. An experienced guide is required and visitation is strictly by appointment only. Speak to the folks at My Gibraltar.co.uk to book this exciting glimpse of Gibraltar that so few ever see.
Once you have had enough caving for one day come back out into the sunshine and explore the Upper Rock Nature Reserve. Take a few more Ape pictures at the Apes Den and then head off to The Great Siege Tunnels or the WW2 Tunnels. Both are a fascinating glimpse of history and military genius. Allow more than 1 day to enjoy all that the upper rock has to offer.
I also recommend the Mediterranean Steps, 1400m long and aprox a 1.5 to 2.5 hour walk. You will witness some truly spectacular views, including an uninterrupted view of North Africa. Enjoy the flora, the views and bird watching along with WW2 buildings and the Goat' Hair Twin Caves. Did you know that the Neanderthal Man should have actually been named The Gibraltar Woman. Prehistoric remains were discovered in the caves before the ones in The Neanderthal Valley, it's just they forgot to tell the rest of the world about it.
Situated at the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula, Gibraltar is known as 1 of the pillars of Hercules, the other being Jebel Musa just 18 miles across the sea in North Africa, easily viewable most days. So why not take the opportunity to visit Tangiers as well. Have breakfast in your hotel in Gibraltar and then at 8am transfer to Tarifa (a small Spanish town) to pick up the catamaran to Morocco. On arrival in Tangiers enter the medieval Medina, a vast, vibrant and picturesque souk (The Grand Socco). After a walk around the Medina the tour heads out to The Caves of the Oracle of Hercules, where legend has it this Greek demi-god, son of Zeus, breathed his last breath after separating Europe from Africa. Along the way pass the most north-western point of Africa, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Mediterranean Sea. Just before reaching the square shaped lighthouse, this scenic drive takes you to long golden ocean beaches inhabited by the blue Atlantic Ocean. It's then back to the old medina of Tangier for lunch at a traditional Moroccan restaurant. At the end of the guided tour you will have plenty of time for refreshments, a leisurely walk in the town, souvenir shopping or just relaxing and enjoying the atmosphere. The tour has you back in Gibraltar in time for dinner. Details available from My Gibraltar.
If you have more time why not try an authentic Sahara desert experience, a trip to picturesque Rhonda or a little Dolphin watching. It's all possible from Gibraltar.
So is Gibraltar "Britain in the Sun"?...Yes if you live there, but for the rest of us it is a Mediterranean beach holiday with centuries of culture and history and loads to do. It's relaxation, its diving, its Fishing, its exploring, it's nothing like any place you've been before, it's quite simply Uniquely Gibraltar.