Sunborn Gibraltar
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Gibraltar Guide – The Times Travel

By | 5 June, 2021 | 0 comments

As New Yorkers know, if you’re tight on space you have to look upwards. That’s certainly the basis of life in Gibraltar, barely more than 2.5 square miles in area, but with an enormous limestone monolith at its centre so crawled over and burrowed through it might as well be a termite mound. Thirty-four miles of tunnels weave through this hulking yet oddly elegant slab, which tapers to a narrow ridge that on a clear day can feel like the balcony of the Mediterranean.

Long gone are the days when this dinky British Overseas Territory could be derided as “Gosport with monkeys”, a reference to the naval presence and the wild barbary macaques that have both been a feature here for centuries. Today, the Royal Navy footprint is much reduced, though the richly layered military history is mercifully preserved. Into the vacuum have poured fresh ideas and a new energy. Paddleboard or try your hand at jetboarding in the shadow of the Rock, tackle those inclines on a custom-built Riese & Müller ebike, watch chess masters at work in one of the world’s biggest tournaments, admire the frothing Med coastline from a viewpoint higher than the Shard in London, and run or hike spectacular trails through the Gibraltar Nature Reserve of the Upper Rock.

Paddleboard or try your hand at jetboarding in the shadow of the Rock

Gib’s charm is in its indefinability and intriguing contradictions: tapas served alongside fish and chips; the feel of a provincial English town yet 14 miles from Morocco; forward-thinking with a rich Neanderthal history. Eccentricity isn’t so much tolerated here as prized and you’re never quite sure what might happen — witness the staging of the big-money Dillian Whyte-Alexander Povetkin boxing rematch during lockdown. Time to start planning your own rumble on the Rock.

Main photo: The Rock of Gibraltar (Getty Images)

What to do

You can’t visit Gibraltar and not scale the heights. The cable car, a heart-in-mouth institution every bit as thrilling as its equivalents on Table Mountain or Sugarloaf, departs from alongside the botanic gardens — six hectares of subtropical serenity dotted, like much of the territory, with cannons, crests and other military paraphernalia. The macaques you’ll find at the top are part of the only wild monkey population in mainland Europe yet it’s their habituation that’s most striking. At turns recalcitrant, ruminative and playful, they’re supremely at ease with the human presence and so make excellent photographic subjects. Just don’t get too close, and take cover if a rival troop shows up — cue bedlam.

The macaques you’ll find at the top are part of the only wild monkey population in mainland Europe

Stroll the paths, make your way over the grip-tightening Windsor Suspension Bridge, admire the busy port and the Bay of Gibraltar far below and make full use of one of the shady picnic spots. The glass-floored Skywalk viewpoint is fabulous and within easy reach. It was opened, bizarrely, by Mark Hamill, the actor who played its near-namesake in Star Wars all those years ago.

Loop up to O’Hara’s Battery, a still-imposing, century-old 9.2in Mark X BL gun trained out across the world’s busiest shipping channel (its range was 16 miles, more than sufficient to ruin someone’s day in Morocco). Then amble back down the mountain and past the Moorish Castle, an unignorable visual representation of the seven centuries that Gibraltar lay under Moorish occupation.

What else? Certainly a dip off the beach at Sandy Bay on the eastern shore, hooking up with the instructors at In2Adventures for a coasteer, paddleboard or surf. At Europa Point a mosque, war memorials and a state-of-the-art sports complex (where they held the Whyte fight) all jostle for position on this blustery southern tip. And those of a maritime persuasion will wish to see Rosia Bay, into which HMS Victory was towed after the Battle of Trafalgar, with Admiral Nelson’s body preserved in a crate of something intoxicating that the crew may or may not have been furtively tapping.

All can be easily reached astride an ebike, and you won’t struggle to remember the name of the best rental spot for these: Ebike Gibraltar.

Where to stay

Gibraltar is no New York. The scarcity of hotel beds in the territory is self-limiting in terms of visitors, and it’s something that tourism chiefs are urgently addressing. The good news is that the handful of top hotels are excellent, with each offering a distinct experience. My three favourites are Sunborn Gibraltar, a large yacht hotel that feels like it wants to be in Monte Carlo, perhaps on race weekend. It’s moored in the lively Ocean Village development and has its own casino, restaurant and wellness offering.

The good news is that the handful of top hotels are excellent, with each offering a distinct experience

The gleaming-white Rock Hotel, aka Little Raffles, is a sanctuary of art-deco styling and old-school service set into the slope high above the botanic gardens. There’s a pool over the road, signed photographs of its legions of venerable former guests (Churchill, Connery, Lennon) on the walls and some dazzling suites.

Little more than 500m away as the levanter cloud blows (but a 25-minute circumnavigation of the Rock by road) is the Caleta hotel, a characterful four-star on the more exposed east coast overlooking the brightly painted fishing cottages of Catalan Bay and with views of the Spanish coast disappearing into the haze beyond. This is the setting for the annual Gibraltar chess festival, a big-money event that finds itself very much à la mode after the success of the Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit.

Food and drink

If a full English breakfast followed by a chips chaser is your idea of haute cuisine, you’re in luck; Gibraltar does a roaring trade in authentic caff food, and few mariners over the decades would have complained. Main Street, flowing north into sunny, polished Grand Casemates Square with its lively alfresco bars, is the linear focal point for this, and unapologetically so. From here, follow the crowds out through the North Bastion — check out the thickness of those walls — to Ocean Village, which on a balmy evening almost brings to mind a mini Victoria & Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town, with the cocktails flowing and the yachtie set refuelling and exchanging salty tales. More peace and refinement is found in Queensway Quay, further along the water (Monique’s Bistro occupies prime spot here), while gourmands should make reservations at the Terrace restaurant and Nunos (at the Rock Hotel and Caleta respectively). The homemade lobster ravioli and praline chocolate soufflé in the former are absurdly good.

Don’t miss

Excited by Neanderthals? You will be by the time you leave. And that’s because, intriguingly, Gibraltar — as the southern tip of Iberia — was the last refuge of the species before extinction, possibly as recently as 24,000 years ago. Fossils are regularly unearthed and excavations continue in various caves including at Gorham’s, on the east side, named a Unesco world heritage site in 2016. Guided tours to the entrance of the cave can be arranged, weather permitting.

Know before you go

The currency is the Gibraltar pound — like the British version, only with cooler artwork (the £20 features HMS Victory being towed back to Gibraltar after the Battle of Trafalgar). Note that while Bank of England-issued notes and coins are legal tender, you may struggle with Scottish pounds — and Gibraltar notes are not usually accepted in the UK. Some businesses accept euros. If you’re planning to travel between Gibraltar and Spain, remember that entry requirements for the latter changed on December 31, 2020, at the end of the post-Brexit transition period. For details, see

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