I was asked by a friend planning a trip to Europe whether a visit to Gibraltar was worthwhile, whether I treated Gibraltar as a travel wonder. It made me reflect on my two visits on this tiny territory held by the British since the Spanish yielded it in the early 1700s.
Entering Gibraltar from Spain, the famed Rock of Gibraltar stands in front of you, majestically standing guard over the once strategic waterways on Europe’s border. Bizarrely, you cross the runway for the airport and stroll a kilometre of so and you are in the main street (Queensway) of the country. In that short distance, visitors change from paella, tapas and fine riojas to fish and chips and pints of ale; from Euros to pounds and can again be acquainted with several well known English high street chains.
Before indulging too much, the highlight of Gibraltar is walking (or driving or cable-car for those looking for an easier path) up the rock and enjoying the views. As you walk up the rock, pay a thought to the numerous kilometres of both natural caves and man-made tunnels which thread through this limestone monolith. Past the elegant botanic gardens (see top photo) is St Michael’s Cave is richly decorated with elegant lighting and worth a quick detour half way up the climb.
Most visible up the climb are the symbol of Gibraltar, the Barbary Apes (technically Barbary macaques), tail-less monkeys which both entertain with their precocious nature and infuriate with their bold thieving from inattentive tourists. They’ll happily snaffle items from handbags, backpacks and straight from unsuspecting hands. Cute babies cling to their parent’s stomachs as they race around the rock walls.
Towards the top as the road turns back on itself is the Moorish Castle with its distinct Tower of Homage flying the Union Jack and the long snaking walls down almost to sea level. Though much has been reconstructed, elements of the castle are over 1200 years old. The whole of the upper area of the rock is preserved as a nature reserve.
The very southern tip of Gibraltar is Europa Point where you can view the busy shipping of the narrow entrance to the Mediterranean and on a clear day, the continent of Africa. A lighthouse, mosque and church share this stunning vista.
Gnawing into my fish and chips at The Angry Friar on the main road and rinsed down with a pint of ale, Gibraltar seems a strange anachronism in modern Europe. The population are fiercely protective of their British status (as shown in recent referenda) and so Gibraltar is likely to stay in this form for many years to come. As for a visit, I personally wouldn’t travel too far out of my way, but if you are heading to Africa or nearby in Spain, it makes for a different and pleasant one day journey to enjoy the views, the antics of the Barbary Apes, a touch of history and a small feel of a gentler, comfortable Britain.