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Gibralter rocks

Everything you need to know with our travel editor, Neil Sowerby's

Written by . Published on February 17th 2011.

Gibralter rocks

You can’t fail to be impressed by your first sight of Gibraltar – a 1,396ft-high boulder - sheer on one side, a city of 30,000 folk clinging to the bottom third of the other.

History? You can’t escape it here. From its mythical position as one of the Greeks’ PIllars of Hercules to the turbulent events of the 20th century it has been an important port and garrison. Nearly as famous as the Blackpool version, Gibraltar’s Rock has had its own sticky moments with big brother Spain contesting sovereignty. The Spanish still officially regard Britain’s presence as an “illegal occupation” but economic and cultural advantages of the link have mellowed the stand-off.

Today’s Gibraltar has so much going on, including the Gibraltar Food Festival 'Calentita Nights' www.calentita.gi This year's event is in June. Call Gibraltar Tourist Board for updates

The European Show Dance Championships July 14-16.www.eurodanceshow2011.com

The Miss Gibraltar pageant takes place in June. The show has never beenso popular since Gibraltar's 2009 pageant Queen went on to win the MissWorld title. www.missgibraltar.gi

Finally, not to be missed. National Day, September 10 – festivities and street parties. across Gibraltar.

Gibraltar’s synonymous with its Apes. There are 200 of them in five packs living free on the Upper Nature Reserve (£8 entry), munching wild roots and berries while awaiting their latest photo-opportunity. Barbary Apes are in fact a tail-less breed of monkey (Macaca Silvanus), whose natural habitat is in the mountains of Morocco and Algeria. The British imported them in the early 18th century. Legend has it, if they disappear, Britain will lose Gibraltar.

Despite its spectacular setting, several of Gibraltar’s tourist attractions lie hidden from view. You’ll inevitably find the Apes chilling out by the entrance to St Michael’s Cave. The name comes from a similar cave in Italy, where the saint was sighted. Gib’s version consists of an Upper Hall filled with stalactites and stalagmites, connected by five passages with drops of 40-150ft to a smaller hall. A series of narrow holes lead to further chambers, reaching a depth of 250 ft.

During the Second World War the cave was set up as an emergency hospital, but never used. It's entrance is now the tourist exit. It hosts concerts, ballet, drama, and son et lumiere shows.

And get that siege mentality. During the American War Of Independence, France and Spain made an all out attempt to recapture the Rock with the Great Siege, which lasted from July 1779 to February 1783. Eventually their trenches were so close Gib’s normal batteries couldn’t fire on them.

The governor offered a reward to anyone who could tell him how to get cannons to the top of the Rock’s steep north face. Tunnelling was suggested. Fumes from the blasting nearly suffocated the miners. Fortuitously the ventilation holes created half way up were the perfect places to mount a gallery of cannon to defend the Rock. Royal Engineers extended the underground complex to some 30 miles during the War. They are know as the Siege Tunnels.

Below the tourist section of the Rock, much of the town life revolves around Casemates Square, a broad plaza just inside the entrance to the city walls. The square is lined with former 18th-century barracks, most of which are now office space with restaurants and bars at ground level. Once the site of public floggings and executions, Casemates is now the perfect place to eat, drink and catch some live music.

Familiar British and Spanish brews fuel the fun around Casemates in a very un-lager lout Brits abroad way, but Gib aficionados swear by the refreshing fruit-filled red wine spritzer called a tinto verano.

What is it about Gibraltar that attracts the marrying kind? Sean Connery got married here twice (to different women, in 1962 and 1975), so did another Bond, Roger Moore, and Des O’Connor’s permatan didn’t stand out in the Med sun when he tied the knot. I can’t imagine why rock stars John Lennon and Yoko Ono chose the Rock for their wedding, but lots of folk do. If you fancy following in their footsteps, visit www.wedgibraltar.com or www.medweddings.com

Well, even if the locals speak an odd hybrid of English and Spanish, Gibraltar still prides itself on being Little England. That means for shopping around Main Street there’s BHS, Marks, Next and Morrisons. As a bonus it offers the lure of tax-free goodies, especially alcohol, electrical goods and jewellery.

Gibraltar’s “English” culture on display has a quaintly bygone feel. Café Solo, on Casemates, offers traditional Sunday roasts with Yorkshire pud while the Star Bar and the Angry Friar pub do full English breakfasts. Brits have ruled here for 300 years and created a unique hybrid. In very Spanish backstreets you chance upon iconic English phone booths and red Royal Mail boxes and pubs called the Lord Nelson.

Unless your craving for Marmite or baked beans lures you into Morrisons, it’s really best go native. Typical are raciones, plates of a single food that are larger than tapas and meant to be shared. Among ther best on Gibraltar are puntillitas (delicately fried baby squids), boquerones (fresh anchovies lightly battered and fried), gambas pil-pil (spicy prawns) and montaditos (miniature sandwiches of pork or veal).

So close it would be a shame to miss it. Take a day trip to Morocco, which is just 15 miles from Gibraltar and provides a fascinating contrast. Dine on an authentic mutton tagine, saddle up a camel, souk it and see. Or get a glimpse of dolphins on a boat trip into the Bay of Gibraltar.

Some Gibraltar tips

Tourist info:
The official tourism site is www.gibraltar.gi. For privately arranged tours visit www.gibraltar-rock-tours.com

Climate: Gibraltar may lean towards its English heritage but there’s no doubting the weather’s Spanish, year-round. The hottest months are July and August with temperatures averaging 27º C, while Winters are mild and you if you are lucky you will enjoy the warm Mediterranean sunshine at any time of year.

Currency: Gibraltar Pounds (GBP) which are allied to UK Sterling and exchanged one to one. Euros and sometimes US dollars are also accepted.

Accessibility: By air it is just over three hours from England by plane (for the best deals visit www.monarch.co.uk). Gibraltar, linked to mainland Spain by an isthmus, is surprisingly small, at just over 5km long and at its widest 1.2km. The easiest way is to get the No3 bus from the frontier which drives through town to the lighthouse at Europa Point and back. If you buy your ticket online or at the Gibraltarinfo ticket office on the Spanish side of the frontier you will receive a free Gibraltar Bus Company day pass. Walking into the town centre will take about 15 minutes along Winston Churchill Avenue, across the airport runway and finally following the signs via Landport Tunnel into Casemates Square. Taxis offer you a full tour of the Rock and its sights but you will need to negotiate the price. Parking is difficult.

Ride the Cable Car: It’s the best way to reach the big attractions. Tickets for the Nature Reserve, as well as the Cave and the Tunnels, can be bought on the same ticket. And there are spectacular views from the Mons Calpe Suite at the Cable Car Top Station.

Accommodation: A lot of it. By far the most famous lodging is the Rock Hotel (www.rockhotelgibraltar.com). Perched high above the city, it has hosted the likes of and Winston Churchill and Errol Flynn. Epect complimentary sherry in room and rubbed ducks in your bath.

Other hotels include:
The Eliott Hotel, Governor's Parade, telephone 70500, www.gib.gi, is a modern building in the middle of town with 120 contemporary rooms.

The 160-room Caleta Hotel, Catalan Bay, 76501, www.caletahotel.gi, is the only hotel on the Mediterranean side of the Rock, set on a promontory above a beach.

Bristol Hotel, 10 Cathedral Square, 76800, www.bristolhotel.gi, is a simple lodging with a pool and garden in the old town.

Places to eat:
Café Solo, 3 Casemates, 44449, faces the Square and has outdoor seating. Trad Sunday roast a speciality.

Jumpers Wheel, Jumpers Bastion Rosia Road, 40052, Try their gambas pil-pil (spicy prawns) in a simple setting.

Marina Inn, Tower Marina Bay, 79241, on reclaimed land on the way to the airport, offers affordable specials based on the day’s catch.

Sacarello's, 57 Irish Town, (350) 70625, is a local favourite, roasting its own coffee. Past and Full English both offered.

Star Bar, 12 Parliament Lane, 75924, oldest tavern on Gibraltar, also does English breakfasts.

Monarch Airlines (www.monarch.co.uk) are offering £10 off return flights to Gibraltar. They are running a special exhibition at the Trafford Centre on Thursday and Friday, February 17 and 18, from 10am to 10pm.

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