Gibraltar Day Trip
Gibraltar Day Trip
Our first, and hopefully not our last, destination of 2018 and it’s to a tiny 5km long limestone ridge in southern Europe and the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar. Is it Spanish, is it British?, for now who cares about politics, it’s a place we have wanted to visit for quite some time and now finally we have made it to the “Rock” with its famous Barbary Macaque residents and close proximity to the African continent. On a sunny Saturday afternoon we headed south to sample a little piece of Britain on the Iberian peninsula. A destination with a colourful history, but also an area with an interesting future with uncertainty about Brexit hanging in the air. Add to this stunning scenery out over the Mediterranean Sea and it makes for quite a day out for our Gibraltar Day Trip. (February 2017).
Gibraltar Day Trip Monkeying About On The Rocks
As we are currently based on the Spanish mainland it would be sinful not to get out and explore this vast and fascinating land. Spain is a country where you can easily sit back, relax and never leave its shores until the day you die. A wonderful climate, delicious cuisine and a melting pot of cultures all in just over half a million square kilometres. As keen adventurers and travel addicts it is our mission to get out when we can and explore the nation and beyond from our base here on the Costa Blanca.
During our short time here we have been lucky to visit, Valencia, Murcia, Cartagena and Alicante along with previous visits to Barcelona and Madrid. Many foreign tourists will be familiar with the southern provinces and major beachside resorts from Benalmadena to Torrremolinos and Marbella which are easily accessed from Malaga airport. If you look at a map of Spain you will notice the many provinces from Asturias to Almeria, but look closely and you will see a piece of land jutting out in the Mediterranean Sea, almost touching the continent of Africa, and that is Gibraltar, so what better thing to do than jump into the car and make our way down south for a budget friendly weekend and enjoy a Gibraltar Day Trip.
Such a strategic position on the European continent attracts attention and it is this which gives Gibraltar its friction filled history. An Anglo-Dutch force captured Gibraltar from Spain in 1704 during the War of the Spanish Succession. The territory was subsequently ceded to Great Britain permanently under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. The sovereignty of Gibraltar is a major point of contention in Anglo-Spanish relations as Spain asserts a claim to the territory. Gibraltarians overwhelmingly rejected proposals for Spanish sovereignty in a 1967 referendum and again in 2002. Under the Gibraltar constitution of 2006, Gibraltar governs its own affairs, though some powers, such as defence and foreign relations, remain the responsibility of the British government.
During World War II it was an important base for the Royal Navy as it controlled the entrance and exit to the Mediterranean Sea, which is only eight miles (13 km) wide at this naval “choke point”. It remains strategically important to this day, with half the world’s seaborne trade passing through the strait. Today Gibraltar’s economy is based largely on tourism, online gambling, financial services, and cargo ship refuelling services. Much of it depends on access to the EU single market, which a prospective Brexit makes uncertain.
So is reaching and exploring this small pocket of land difficult? For now pre-Brexit and from our recent experience, certainly not! We enjoy walking so decided before we left on our Gibraltar Day Trip that we would park our car in Spain and walk across the border, although you can indeed drive into Gibraltar along with the many visitors and residents. The access point from Spain is through the town of La Línea de la Concepción and it was here where we parked our car in an underground car park (Focona Parking Lot) (cost €2.50 per hour). From the car park it was a two minute walk through some bars and shops, crossing a busy road and in front of you is the border checkpoint with Gibraltar. Most of the Spanish exit point was operated by automatic passport readers with some guards there to assist, after a quick passport scan we made our way through into the next cabin where the Gibraltar Police inspect your passport, as quick as a flash we were now through onto Winston Churchill Avenue giving the instant reminder that you are now in a British Territory.
Gibraltar Day Trip Fish and Ships!
The iconic red buses, comparable to London, use of the English language, British traffic lights, red pillar boxes and red telephone booths were also another reminder that you were back in Britain but the blue skies and sunshine overhead begged to differ! The other fascinating feature on Winston Churchill Avenue is the airport, its not many places on the planet where the runway intersects the main north-south street, requiring movable barricades to close when aircraft land or depart. As we crossed towards town with a runway beneath our feet it felt strange, but also with a hope that we might just catch a glimpse of a landing or departure plane before we left!
As we walked towards the imposing rock and town centre we commented on how alien the environment felt, certainly different to mainland Spain. The red buses whizzing by, the red postboxes, Natwest bank branches, Morrisons, street names such as Sir Herbert Miles Promenade and British pubs on each corner. However some things did remain authentically Spanish such as the Cepsa petroleum station, the blue skies and the fact that the cars still drove on the right instead of the left back in the UK. The more we walked towards the rock the more familiar the place felt, walking down main street was akin to walking down many streets in the UK and even our home in Ireland! The majority of the accents heard on the street were british ones and as Gibraltar offers tax free prices, the shops were quite busy on this Saturday afternoon, you could be forgiven for thinking you were in London, Manchester or Birmingham. We swiftly moved passed the shops to the most popular tourist site on the territory, the famous Rock Of Gibraltar.
This 426 metre high limestone promontory dominates the landscape and can be seen from almost everywhere in Gibraltar and over the border in La Linea. We could possibly have walked to the top but took the easier route along with many other tourists via cable car. It wasn’t exactly cheap £14.50 pounds per person return, so approx €21 Euros, but well worth it. The short trip of about five minutes upwards gave us spectacular views out over the Med with the Spanish and Moroccan mainland visible on this glorious day. It was easy to see how important a port Gibraltar is with many cruise ships and sailing vessels visible all around the territory.
After disembarking the cable car we immediately set eyes on the territory’s most famous residents, the Barbary Macaques, which remain the only wild monkey population on the European continent. The Macaque population had been present on the Rock of Gibraltar long before Gibraltar was captured by the British in 1704 and according to records, since prior to reconquest of Gibraltar from the Muslims. We had gotten up close to Macaques back in Bali Indonesia during our visit to Ubud in 2015 so knew that although cute, they were wild animals so caution was advised. The Macaques we saw seemed very chilled and uninterested in the tourist presence, although we did see some visitors being carefully watched as their backpacks proved irresistable for the monkeys. Their main routine appeared to be scratching each other and relaxing in the afternoon sun. The babies were the main attraction for many with cameras clicking at every opportunity. It was fascinating to see the mothers keeping a protective eye over their young but they were happy to let us tourists gaze with curiosity.
At the top are some coffee shops and restaurants where you can sit, relax and take it the awe-inspiring views away from the hungry monkeys. There are plenty of benches and rest spots but we advise you not to take food as you will be a target for the monkeys. Otherwise you can follow one of the nature trails if you have time which is a unique experience. After taking in the spectacular views and having our nostrils filled with monkey scents it was time to go back down and check out the rest of the territory.
Gibraltar Day Trip Hasta la Vista Baby I’ll Be Bac
Back on lower terra firma we wandered slowly back towards the border point and passed Commonwealth Park, which is the first public park built since the Alameda was opened in 1816. Built to the south of King’s Bastion and the north of South Bastion it provides a rare open and green space close to the city centre. Flanked by the city walls with a range of water features it offers an oasis of calm from a hectic and busy city. It certainly wasn’t the most eye catching parks we have ever set foot in but when you look around and see towering buildings and construction everywhere it was most welcome. Added to this is the fact that Gibraltar is one of the most densely populated territories in the world, with a usually-resident population in 2017 of 34,571 equivalent to about 5,000 inhabitants per square kilometre (12,840/sq mi). The growing demand for space is being increasingly met by land reclamation; reclaimed land currently comprises approximately one tenth of the territory’s total area!
We ambled our way through the very British streets and up to Grand Casemates Square where the locals and tourists were relaxing in the winter sun enjoying a beer or tea. It was then back out towards the border crossing and before we knew it our time on Gibraltar was nearly over. I noticed a small football stadium, Victoria Stadium on our way out and my wishes upon entry were granted as we heard the alarms signalling incoming aircraft just ahead.
The traffic was stopped both pedestrian and vehicular by Police and the barriers were down so it meant only one thing, the runway we walked across earlier was about to be put to use. From the corner of our eyes we watched a British Airways aircraft touchdown before turning around and making its way to the terminal which almost touches the town of La Linea. Only then, after it taxied safely, were we signalled to pass the runway and life went back to normal quick as a flash.
As quickly as we entered on the way in it was even faster leaving with a brief glance of our passports at the checkpoints and before we knew it we were looking back at the rock from the streets of La Linea and back on “official” Spanish soil. If you are planning on visiting southern Spain this summer whether it be Seville, Malaga or one of the many beach resorts, do try set aside a day to visit Gibraltar, you certainly won’t regret it. Other sites not mentioned were Europa Point (most southern point of Gibraltar), St. Michael’s Cave which is located in the upper rock, the Great Siege tunnel inside the northern end of the rock, the Moorish Castle and Gibraltar botanical gardens. Who knows what may happen with the territory when Brexit hits!
As a cystic fibrosis sufferer my only complaint was the air quality. Despite its idyllic coastal position, and sea breezes, the sheer scale of the population density brings its own pollution issues with the many scooters, cars and buses. A recent report has shown that Gibraltar exceeds the World Health Organisation’s recommended levels for air pollution. Don’t let this statistic stop you however, just let Gibraltar’s scenery take your breath away, it certainly took ours!
Gibraltar Day Trip.