Day 1. A week in Gibraltar

What better way to escape the bitterly cold British winter weather than to spend a week in the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar.  At only 3 miles (5km) long and 0.75 miles (1.2km) wide it’s a tiny relic of the former British empire but with more than enough to keep us entertained during our stay.

Check in desks at Heathrow Terminal 5
Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport

After an overnight stay at the Ibis London Heathrow Airport ahead of our 7.10 a.m. British Airways flight, three hours later we were walking down the aircraft steps at Gibraltar airport.  Looming in front of us was the 1400 feet (426m) limestone rock for which the territory is world famous.

Gibraltar airport runway
The airport dominated by the famous limestone rock

The fun started straightaway as Gibraltar airport is one of the most unusual in the world as it is bisected by the busy Winston Churchill Avenue.  A barrier comes down and the road closes before a plane takes off or lands.  For spectacular landing views I would recommend sitting on the right hand side of the aircraft but depending on the wind direction this isn’t guaranteed, as was the case with our arrival.

Road barrier at Gibraltar Airport
Winston Churchill Avenue, Gibraltar Airport

Getting into the centre couldn’t be easier as Buses 5 & 10 operate regular services between the airport and the centre, day tickets are good value at just £3 with taxis also available outside the arrivals hall.  By 11.30 a.m. we were checking in to the landmark historic Rock Hotel nestled into the lower rock and affording the best views in town.  As we were early we left our bags at reception and looked forward to seeing our room later in the day.

The Rock Hotel, Gibraltar
The Rock Hotel, Gibraltar

With so much to see and do in Gibraltar there was no time to waste and we were soon on our way to Gorham’s Cave Complex located on the steep sided limestone cliffs on the eastern side of the Rock.  The four sea level caves here are considered to be one of the best known habitations of the Neanderthals in Europe and since 2016 the site has been bestowed with UNESCO World Heritage status.

Sign at Gorham's Cave Complex, Gibraltar
Information board at Gorham’s Cave Complex

We took part in a tour escorted by a guide from the Gibraltar National Museum.  Please note that the tour is to the viewing platform of Gorham’s Cave but does not go inside the caves in order to protect the fragile archaeological deposits.  Our guide was very informative and explained that the caves contain 39,000 year old etchings described as some of the earliest examples of abstract art ever found.

Coastline at Gorham's Cave Complex, Gibraltar
Coastline at Gorham’s Cave Complex

From Gorham’s Cave we had views across the headland to Europa Point so we decided to head there next.  This is the southernmost point of Gibraltar and on clear days there are great views to be had across the Strait of Gibraltar to Morocco.  We’d arrived on a hazy day but could just make out the outline of the Moroccan mountains.  It was hard to believe that we were standing a mere 15 miles from Africa, a continent I’m yet to visit but I’m confident of getting there one day.

Europa Point Lighthouse, Gibraltar
Europa Point Lighthouse

Standing proud is the red and white striped Europa Point Lighthouse serving as a beacon for the large number of vessels travelling along the strait between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea and the only Trinity House Lighthouse located outside of the U.K and the Channel Islands.  Since 1994 the lighthouse has been fully automated with its old historical optic now on display at the University of Gibraltar Europa Point Campus just a five minute walk away.

University of Gibraltar, Europa Point Campus
University of Gibraltar, Europa Point Campus

Also located at Europa Point is the Ibrahim-al-Ibrahim mosque, the most southerly in Europe and one of the largest in a non-Muslim country.  The mosque was a £5m gift from the King of Saudi Arabia.

Ibrahim-al-Ibrahim mosque, Gibraltar
Ibrahim-al-Ibrahim mosque, Europa Point

We then popped into a café on the headland for a welcome cup of coffee and on leaving strolled over to take a look at the Sikorski Memorial which commemorates the former commander-in-chief of the Polish army and Prime Minister of the Polish Government in exile.  General Sikorski died when his plane crashed after take off from the Gibraltar British military base in 1943.

The Sikorski Memorial at Europa Point, Gibraltar
The Sikorski Memorial at Europa Point

Next on our itinerary was a visit to the Upper Rock Nature Reserve (entrance £13) which includes admission to numerous attractions.  Please note that only local cars and taxis are permitted to enter the nature reserve.  Visitors can also arrive by cable car or follow one of the marked trails but please be advised that these can be very steep in places.

St. Michael's Cave, Gibraltar
St. Michael’s Cave concert hall

We’d come to visit St. Michael’s Cave, the largest chamber of which has been transformed into a concert hall.  With its extremely good acoustics the Cathedral Cave is equipped with a stage and seating for approximately 700 people.  Upon entering the cave, it feels like a magical experience with its glimmering red, white and grey stalactite columns, resembling a cathedral complete with pulpit, chancel and organ pipes.

Stalactite columns in St. Michael's Cave, Gibraltar
Stalactite columns in St. Michael’s Cave

The upper section of the cave was discovered more than 2000 years ago and over time has been used for various purposes including a hospital during the Second World War.  In 1942 additional deeper descending chambers were discovered leading to an underground lake.  Special 3 hour guided tours can be arranged to view this part of the cave but unlike the upper section, a certain amount of scrambling and some minor climbing with ropes is required to view the lower cave.  This wasn’t open to visitors at the time of our visit but it would certainly be interesting to explore on a future visit to Gibraltar.

Windsor Suspension Bridge, GIbraltar
The Windsor Suspension Bridge on the Upper Rock

Not far from St. Michael’s Cave on Royal Anglian Way lies the Windsor Suspension Bridge, at 71m long the attraction boasts spectacular views over the city and Bay of Gibraltar.  The bridge is suspended over a 50 metre deep gorge and as it was a windy day it swayed gently as we crossed it, so it’s perhaps not for the faint hearted.  It’s actually part of the Thrill Seekers Trail, more of which we planned to undertake during the coming week.  There’s no need to worry about crossing the bridge though as it is completely safe and supported by huge anchors on either side driven deep into the rock face.

View from the Windsor Suspension Bridge, GIbraltar
View from the Windsor Suspension Bridge

From the middle of the bridge we were rewarded with more breath taking views and after taking lots of photos we set off again, this time for Queensway Quay on the waterfront for some lunch.  This stylish quay is one of three marinas in the territory.

Queensway Quay, Gibraltar
Queensway Quay

Overlooking the water are a selection of inviting restaurants and bars each with a spacious terrace facing the marina.  We enjoyed lunch at Monique’s Bistro sat at a window table in the conservatory as it was a little too breezy for dining on the terrace.

Monique's Bistro, GIbraltar
Monique’s Bistro, Queensway Quay

This was our first taste of local cuisine and Monique’s definitely set the standard as my Risotto Marisco (seafood risotto) tasted fresh and creamy.  My son, Simon opted for the steak and caramelised onion sandwich which was served just to his liking and was reported to be delicious.

Risotto Marisco, Monique's Bistro, Gibraltar
Risotto Marisco at Monique’s Bistro
Steak & caramelised onion sandwich, Monique's Bistro, Gibraltar
Steak & caramelised onion sandwich, Monique’s Bistro

As we’d eaten so little since leaving the U.K. we decided that a lunchtime dessert was in order.  I selected the very British, apple and berry crumble served with custard and ice cream whilst Simon’s huge slice of Bailey’s cheesecake was also a clear winner.  The bistro has a relaxed atmosphere, good food with a friendly service. With its waterfront position it’s perfect for sitting out on the terrace, sipping a cocktail and dreaming of owning one of the expensive yachts moored in the harbour, what could be nicer?

Barbary Macaque, Upper Rock Nature Reserve, Gibraltar
Barbary Macaque, Upper Rock Nature Reserve,

After our long, lazy lunch it was approaching 4.00 p.m. and time to meet some monkeys, the famous Barbary macaques to be exact.  Gibraltar is home to around 300 macaques and Brian Gomilla, a Barbary macaque expert is Gibraltar’s only qualified primatologist.  He runs Monkey Talk Gibraltar taking small groups to observe a particular troop and to describe their interactions.  Tours commence during the two hours prior to sunset and start outside St. Michael’s Cave near the Jew’s Gate entrance to the nature reserve.

Apes on the Rock of Gibraltar
One of the macaques near to St. Michael’s Cave

After a brief introduction about the species, we followed an uphill path towards a rocky outcrop above Spur Battery overlooking Europa Point.  Whilst there, he explained that there are seven distinct groups of macaques in Gibraltar, with each one moving around as a unit led by the alpha male, and sleeping within their own established territories.

Crouched down with the apes, Upper Rock Nature Reserve Gibraltar
Crouched on the ledge with the apes

Numerous inquisitive monkeys were running around and we were advised by Brian to try not to look them directly in the eye, remain unflustered and to stand our ground.  After a short scramble up the cliffside we crouched down on a ledge to quietly observe the macaques who carried on with their daily routines, just giving us a cursory glance before moving off.

Windsor Suspension Bridge, Upper Rock, Gibraltar
The Windsor Suspension Bridge that we’d walked across earlier

It was interesting to learn that by not cowering in fear from the macaques, we were asserting our dominance resulting in the apes losing interest.  When apes come close, tourists frequently shriek in terror creating the impression that the monkeys are the ones in charge and they then take the opportunity to seize bags or take things out of people’s hands in the search for food, so it’s advisable to remain calm and to leave bags behind when visiting the Upper Rock Nature Reserve.

Barbary macaque balanced on the edge of the Upper Rock
Barbary macaque balanced on the edge of the Upper Rock

Brian indicated that part of the problem is that the macaques are seen purely as a tourist attraction on the Rock but visitors to the nature reserve should instead treat the apes with respect and be proud to be in the company of the only non-human primates in Europe instead of trying to pose for selfies with them and invade their space.

Apes Den, Upper Rock Nature Reserve, Gibraltar
Apes Den, Upper Rock Nature Reserve

After scrambling down from our vantage point we continued along to Apes Den close to the Cable Car middle Station.  We learnt that the group living around Apes Den is known as the Queen’s Gate troop.  They feed on the nature reserve’s natural vegetation but also receive food left out for them at feeding stations by park rangers.  It is illegal to feed the Gibraltar macaques and hefty fines are handed out to those breaking the law.

Stunning views from Apes Den, Upper Rock Nature Reserve, Gibraltar
Stunning views from Apes Den, Upper Rock Nature Reserve

The two hour familiarisation experience with Brian changed our perceptions on the macaques and we found it to be both interesting and educational.  During the coming week we’ll undoubtedly be coming across apes again and I now feel assured that we will behave correctly in their presence.

The Rock Hotel, Gibraltar
The Rock Hotel, Gibraltar

What an interesting day we’d had and it wasn’t over yet as we returned to the Rock Hotel to pick up our room keys and settle into our gorgeous room.  The hotel exudes timeless elegance and adorning its hallway is a hall of fame with photos of famous guests including Winston Churchill, Prince Charles and Bruce Forsyth.  During our stay we had great fun trying to recognise as many of the pictures as we could.

Hall of Fame, The Rock Hotel, Gibraltar
The hotel’s Hall of Fame

Our colonial style room on the third floor with its French windows opening out onto a spacious balcony with views across the bay was everything that we could have wished for.  The art-deco hotel opened in 1932 and has recently been refurbished meeting the needs of the modern traveller whilst retaining its charming character.

Sea view room at The Rock Hotel, Gibraltar
Our sea view room at the Rock Hotel

The wind had dropped and it was warm enough to sit out on our balcony taking in the twilight views of the twinkling lights on the boats moored out in the bay and of the Spanish coastline almost within touching distance.

View from balcony of the Rock Hotel, Gibraltar
The view from our balcony
Terrace Restaurant, Rock Hotel Gibraltar
The entrance to the Terrace Restaurant

Later in the evening we dined in the hotel’s elegant Terrace Restaurant with its chequered tiled floor, palms and starched white tablecloths.  The restaurant excels in fine dining and stability with the head chef taking up his role at just 22 and still at the helm over 40 years later.  It’s the same with a number of the waiters who have given lifetime service to the hotel with their impeccable service and friendly smiles.

Enjoying dessert in The Terrace Restaurant, Rock Hotel, Gibraltar
Enjoying our desserts in the hotel restaurant

We selected from the daily changing three course house menu and my starter of tomato and asparagus salad, followed by baked hake with celery and potatoes were beautifully presented and tasted just as good as they looked.  Although we’d already indulged in desserts at lunchtime we couldn’t resist again and our mille-feuille and rich chocolate mousse were the perfect end to our first day in Gibraltar.  Would we ever want to leave?  It seemed unlikely.

Desserts, Terrace Restaurant, Rock Hotel, Gibraltar
Our delicious desserts

 

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84 thoughts on “Day 1. A week in Gibraltar

  1. We’ve been in Gibraltar twice…both on cruises on flying visits and had only time to scratch the surface – the gardens – the rock summit – one set of WW2 caves and a quick once around the island. There is so much more to see than I imagined. Wouldn’t mind going back to see the rest after seeing your post. Thank you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for taking an interest in this series of posts on Gibraltar. I’m certain you would enjoy spending a few days there and being able to see more at a leisurely pace. Let’s hope we can all resume travelling again soon. Marion

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  2. Pingback: Day 6. Paddle boarding & dolphin watching in Gibraltar – Love Travelling Blog

  3. ThingsHelenLoves

    Gibraltar has a lot to offer for being a small place! How lovely that the hotel chef and waiting staff have been part of the team for so long. A wonderful reflection on the hotel, I think.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Gibraltar has so much to offer for its size and I really couldn’t understand why I’d never been before. The Rock Hotel is lovely and the staff so courteous and helpful. Thanks for your welcome thoughts Helen and hope your weekend goes as well as it can in the circumstances. Marion

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a little piece of Britain but with Spanish and Moroccan influences and there’s so much history, you’d love it Sue. Even went to a vegan restaurant for the first time and the food was delicious. Later in the series I’m featuring it so perhaps keep a look out! M xx

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for taking an interest in my posts in Gibraltar Allan. Just before Christmas it was the last remaining restriction free travel corridor open to us but I don’t know why it’s taken me so long t get around to visiting as it’s so interesting. Best wishes, Marion

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Fantastic. I was there 20 years ago just for a day. I took a bus and remember walking across the airport .it was very windy and after 2 months of traveling around Europe. I was so happy to hear English. I stayed in the pub..walked the town.i loved it and will return….thanks great post

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you Kelly for your kind words. Gibraltar is a small slice of Britain on the Mediterranean but with much better weather. I’m pleased that my post brought back some fond memories and I do hope you will have an opportunity to return one day. Hope your weekend is going well. Marion

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh I visited Gibraltar two summers ago, but unfortunately I had only one day to spend there and I missed most of the places you showed. What a dream to come back! And by the way, I fell in love with the Barbary macaques, they seemed so fluffy 😄

    Liked by 4 people

    1. It’s so nice to read that you visited Gibraltar a couple of years ago and enjoyed your day there. Hopefully you’ll be able to make a return visit one day soon and see more. The Barbary Macaques are gorgeous. Thank you for taking the time to comment, it’s appreciated.

      Liked by 3 people

  6. Pingback: Day 1. A week in Gibraltar | MANTA Piece

  7. Nice blog, hotel looks amazing. We need to revist Gibralter judging by your great photos so much has changed, the last time I was there was back in the seventies. By the way you will love Morocco, especially Marrakesh. Also Fez, and Rabat.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thanks for your kind words Bob, I’m so pleased you enjoyed the first of my series of posts on Gibraltar. I’m certain some aspects of the territory have changed considerably since your visit but the Rock, monkeys and the history remain the same. I’d love to visit Morocco when we can travel again and can perhaps combine a visit with a return trip to lovely Gibraltar. Regards, Marion

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Han for taking an interest in my recent visit to Gibraltar. I don’t know why it had taken me so many years to get around to visiting as it’s a delightful British outpost. Do hope you enjoy the rest of the series and are inspired to see it for yourself when restrictions allow. Take care, Marion.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Reena Deshmukh

    Wow..
    That was a real adventure trip. Especially over the suspension bridge beside the bay. It was breath-taking. The Coastline at Gorham’s Cave Complex was I guess a bit of goosebumps in real? Amazing views Marion.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. St. Michael’s Cave is STUNNING! I’ve only ever heard of the Strait of Gibraltar, but I had no idea that it was a British territory! Really is fascinating that it’s connected to Spain, yet is considered part of England…looks like a worth place to check out, especially to get away from the colder months! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you for your kind words. I’m sure it won’t be too much longer before everyone can travel freely again. We’ve just taken opportunities whenever restrictions have been lifted and Gibraltar was gorgeous so I hope you are able to visit at some point. Marion

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Ian. I don’t know why I hadn’t considered visiting Gibraltar before as it is indeed such an interesting little territory. I’m pleased too that their Brexit issues have now been resolved as it must have been worrying for them all. It was a splendid first day and I hope you enjoy the rest of this series. Stay safe, Marion

      Liked by 3 people

    1. I’m so pleased you’ve also had an opportunity to visit Gibraltar Jo. Were you on a cruise or just visiting for the day from Spain? We’d not been before but loved it. It’s not actually an island but a peninsula off Southern Spain. Hope things are going well with you. Marion

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Tom, thanks for taking an interest in this, the first of my series of posts on Gibraltar. We travelled out there during the second week of December during the short period when it was permitted to travel again. At that time, Gibraltar was the only restriction free place within the travel corridor with no quarantine or testing required. It was an amazing trip and I hope you continue to enjoy reading the rest of the series.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. I’m amazed at how much travel you’ve managed during the pandemic. I’ve only done day trips, won’t fly until 2022 at the earliest and am hoping for business/pleasure trips to Cologne and Paris in September post-vaccination.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I’m sure you will enjoy traveling by air once again when the vaccine is rolled out. We’ve just taken opportunities to travel overseas when it has been possible to do so and being careful have felt very safe. Just loved Gibraltar, have you ever visited there Sheree.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. jasonlikestotravel

    Wonderful post and definitely a series I’m looking to read more on. You packed a lot in to your day! Hotel looks lovely too, I was tempted to stay there so encouraging to know it was nice 🙂

    Liked by 6 people

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