Mention Gibraltar and most people would know that the rock that looms large on the edge of the Iberian peninsular is one of Britain’s last remaining colonies. Traditional red pillar boxes, Bobbies on the beat and plenty of English ‘pub grub’ make it a perfect destination for Brits abroad who like to feel at home.
Strategically located between Europe and Africa, the Rock is also famous for its tail-less Barbary Macaques – the cheeky monkeys who will cheerfully make off with your hat or snatch the ice cream from your hand and whose disappearance, legend would have it, would signal the end of British rule.
A slice of Britain in Gibraltar
The pedestrianised Main Street is stocked with plenty of names familiar in Britain’s own high streets and shopping centres, and keen shoppers can pick up duty free perfumes, tobacco and alcohol, as well as checking out prices in a throng of electrical goods stores.
But Gibraltar is so much more than a sunny slice of Britain abroad. It crams an amazing amount of history and culture and geological wonders into an area of less than six square miles. It is the stuff of dreams for those fascinated by military history stretching back through the ages and has been a strategic UK military base for 300 years, guarding the entrance to the Mediterranean.
Gibraltar was ceded to the British Crown under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, having been captured from Spain by a Dutch-Anglo fleet nine years earlier, and it has been British for longer than the US has been American. And though many of the inhabitants may appear to holidaymakers to be Spanish and speak Spanish as well as English the population has made clear that it wants to remain British, despite the Spanish Government’s belief that Gibraltar should be part of Spain.
Gibraltar has pre-historic caves, well-preserved military fortifications and architecture that straddles the ages, from Moorish to modern times. With two mosques, two cathedrals, a Hindu temple and 11th century baths among its architectural treasures there is plenty to reward the visitor with an eye on culture.
For those whose interest lies in military history Gibraltar oozes a wealth of treasures. Nelson’s Anchorage, south of Trafalgar Cemetery, is the spot where Admiral Nelson’s body was brought ashore from HMS Victory – preserved in a barrel of rum according to legend. A 100 tonne gun made in Britain in 1870 was shipped to Gibraltar to mark the spot.
During World War II British Prime Minister Winston Churchill regarded the Rock as vital to the fight to secure peace and freedom and the caves where the Allied invasion of North Africa was planned are on the tourist trail. Fascinatingly, there were also contingency plans drawn up to use the network of caves to house a hospital and 6,000 troops to repel the opposing forces should the need have arisen.
With military heritage centres, fortifications and a honeycomb of caves and tunnels – many off-limits – and extensive remains of gun emplacements those interested in military history will enjoy a feast.
You cheeky monkey!
Nowadays too the Rock is home to an extensive flora and fauna reserve as well as hosting the Macaques, Europe’s only free colony of primates, who live on the upper reaches of the Rock. From the top the views are stunning – a rewarding way to enjoy both the nature reserve and the views is to embark on the testing one mile of heavy climbing to the top, but those who prefer to conserve their energy can also enjoy the scenes via taxi, coach, car or cable car.
After soaking up the history and natural beauty of Gibraltar, shopping ‘til you drop in Main Street and exploring the sprawl of narrow alleyways that lead off the busy main shopping street, you can head to the glamorous Marina, where luxury yachts nestle near to traditional fishing vessels. With plenty of restaurants, pubs and bars, serving anything from a cream tea to traditional style tapas, the discerning day visitor from Spain’s Costa del Sol will find that there’s a lot more to Gibraltar than just a little Britain. Do remember to take your passport because you have to cross the border with Spain!