Gibraltar is one of those destinations that conjures up certain stereotypes, from the Rock of Gibraltar, to the barbary macaques to the ongoing political tensions with Spain. All of these stereotypes are not without foundation, however Gibraltar has experienced rapid growth and development over the last 25 years which have transformed this previously sleepy military outpost into an increasingly dynamic and varied tourist destination.
The history of Gibraltar is closely intertwined with Britain, forging close ties that have been maintained to this day. This is not just the red telephone booths and the prevalence of British brands on Main Street, but also extends to the close political and social ties. Gibraltar forms part of the South West of England constituency in the European Parliament, and will also have a vote in the forthcoming EU referendum and many Gibraltarians both live and study in Britain.
Where once this overseas territory depended on the Ministry of Defence budget, military cuts forced Gibraltar to diversify, and nowadays, whilst still militarily strategic, it has forged a diverse economy centred on finance, online gaming and tourism. Indeed, Gibraltar’s economic growth rate would be the envy of many Asian economies. This period of sustained growth has seen Gibraltar transformed, from the sleek new Airport terminal to Ocean Village Marina and newly opened Gibraltar University. Further ongoing developments include a tunnel underneath the runway, which is currently under construction, thus avoiding the need to close the main road into the territory when flights land or take-off. The regeneration of the highly underrated Upper Town is arguably one of the most exciting urban changes in Gibraltar. The addition of a new open air escalator to improve connectivity to the Upper Town and the beautification of Castle Street are just some of the recent developments. The opening of a new boutique hotel and the conversion of subdivided dwellings into single family homes are part of the gentrification of this part of Gibraltar. In a territory as space constrained as Gibraltar, the rejuvenation of this tight network of alleys and streets represents a unique opportunity.
The gleaming skyscrapers of this new Gibraltar represent its exciting future, however much of its tourist appeal lies in the heritage value of its unique and chequered history. Gibraltar represents a chaotic melee of Spanish, British and Arab influences. The locals speak a unique Llanito dialect, whilst there are also notable Jewish and Moroccan communities. The Moorish castle hints of the historic links to Morocco that lies within touching distance on the horizon, and the newly renovated Rock Hotel exudes 1930s British charm and sophistication, sitting elegantly above the town. The War Time tunnels are also worth exploring providing a unique insight into Gibraltar’s wartime role. Any first time visitor will want to venture via the cable car, and the marauding Macaques, to the top of the rock. Even for the frequent visitor, the views from the top across the Bay of Gibraltar and beyond are breathtaking. From here it is truly apparent how and why Gibraltar was fought over as an important military asset for much of its history.
The unique topography of this small territory means that one is never far from interesting and varied views from the oil tankers and ferries that jostle in the Bay of Gibraltar, to the fleeting views of the Top of the Rock, which is often shrouded by the infamous levante clouds. Aside from the top of the Rock, the finest view is arguably afforded from Europa Point, at the very southern tip of the territory. The distinctive red striped lighthouse juts out into the Straits of Gibraltar, with the towering peak of Jebel Musa in Morocco on the horizon. On a clear day, it feels as though it could almost be reached via a leisurely swim. Europa Point has a certain edge of the world feeling and is well worth a visit. Standing prominently nearby, lies the Ibrahim Al-Ibrahim Mosque. A gift of King Fahd of Saudi Arabia (as featured in our Marbella feature), it was opened in 1997 facing Morocco to serve the territory’s Muslim community and symbolise the linkages between Europe and Africa.
If you have had enough sightseeing for the day, spending a leisurely afternoon at one of Gibraltar’s marinas would be recommended. The sleek lines of the Sunborn Gibraltar, the territory’s superyacht five star hotel which sits discretely in Ocean Village, is well worth a visit. Even non-guests are welcome aboard to enjoy its restaurants and casino, and glimpse inside its luxurious interiors comprising chrome balustrades, marble floors and elegant mood lighting. From the top deck, there is a unique panorama of Ocean Village to the Rock behind and across the runway to La Línea, the Spanish frontier town.
Gibraltar has not been far from the news in recent years, whether that is for frontier queues, Spanish diplomatic tensions or indeed allegations that it is a tax haven. However, what has arguably had less coverage is Gibraltar, the success story. This small territory of just over 30,000 residents, has seen tremendous growth and development. Building on its fascinating and varied history, Gibraltar is an ideal city break destination, with excellent air linkages to Britain. The opening of the Sunborn and the renovation of the Rock Hotel have significantly upgraded the accommodation for visitors. Combined with new shopping and eating offerings in Ocean Village and a fascinating selection of historic sites, all within a short distance of each other, means that this hybrid of Mediterranean and British influences is a truly unique destination.
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