The Rock is a strange place. It’s an independent British colony stuck to the bottom of Spain and its inhabitants who are fiercely independent speak a strange hybrid of the two languages. Being such a key strategic point at the mouth of the Mediterranean, it’s steeped in colonial British history, but it has an atmosphere all of its own. The only way to really understand is to sample it for yourself. It sometimes gets a bit of a rough ride in guidebooks, but there’s heaps to see despite the tiny size of the place and I really like it. Here are some of my favourite spots.
Hop on the Cable Car
Given that the Rock is basically a huge chunk of limestone rising 425 metres out of the sea, it’s no surprise that all roads and just about everything else lead up. And the views from the top are tremendous – even a little vertigo-inducing. The best way to see them is to hop on the cable car from the top end of town. It takes you all the way up for views way out across the Mediterranean and to Africa on the other side of the Strait of Gibraltar. If you’re relatively fit, you can then spend 3 or 4 hours wandering back down to the town visiting the various monuments en route. Otherwise get a round ticket or take a taxi back down.
Beware of the Apes
The Rock’s most famous residents are a bunch of slightly scary macaque monkeys (Why they are called apes seems to be lost in the mists of time.) They’re wild, but they get fed a lot by tourists and this has meant they tend to be very fearless, even nicking sandwiches from people’s bags if left unattended. You’ll see them all over the place up on the Rock. Just remember they are wild animals and don’t let them clamber over you the way some less savvy tourists do. According to the British the day the apes leave Gibraltar will be the day the British leave too. I can’t see that happening any time soon.
Check Out the Big Gun
The Rock’s an impregnable natural fortress and that’s what attracted people to it in the first place. So why not stick a super-gun on the top and then you’ll be totally untouchable? O’Hara’s Battery is the site of a huge Victorian-era gun which had a range of nearly 20 miles – easily enough to fire a shell across the sea to the African coast. It’s named after General Charles O’Hara, governor of Gibraltar from 1795 to 1802 and it was never fired in anger. You can take a wander around the vast gun emplacement and see just what a mighty weapon it was.
Head Down the Tunnels
The surface area of the many tunnels and rooms carved out inside the Rock is allegedly greater than its road network. You can see examples of this labyrinthine interior at two different locations. If you’re walking down from the top the first set you come to is the Great Siege Tunnels created during the Great Siege of 1779 to 1782. Most of this was carved by hand by a population weak with hunger – a remarkable feat. Long passageways lead down to a point in the Rock that looks out across the Spanish mainland, perfect for repelling attack. Just below these tunnels you find the World War II tunnels. Thousands of people lived and worked here during WWII when the Allies were convinced the Germans would try to take the Rock by force. It never happened.
Most of the eating options are all lower down the Rock in the main town. Casemates Square, the natural focus of the town doesn’t offer much to excite, but this deli-café is the exception and it’s particularly good for lunch offering healthy salads and more substantial eats. There’s a good chunk of space outside too perfect for people-watching on the square.
Unit 3, Casemates Square, Gibraltar. Tel (+350) 200 44449
The new Ocean Village marina development is absolutely where you can see the Rock going in the coming years. It’s the focus of the nightlife and there’s a slew of theme restaurants here – all of them fairly decent and buzzing with activity at night. Ipanema is Brazilian and the huge all-you-can-eat-buffet is a real winner. If you’re in the mood for a flutter, the casino is just across the way too. There are plenty of bars nearby that stay open late too.
Unit 11, Ocean Village Promenade, Gibraltar. Tel:(+350) 216 48888
Jeremy Head is the author of Frommer’s Seville, Granada and the Best of Andalusia (which includes a full section on Gibraltar).
This post was written on behalf of P&O cruises. You can visit Gibraltar on many of their Mediterranean Cruises – click here for more info.