When I booked my latest P&O cruise, the British colony of Gibraltar was one of the destinations I was really interested to see.
A little piece of Britain with a Mediterranean climate sounds very appealing – temperatures average 27 degrees in July and August. Our cruise ship, Ventura, pulled in through the Gibraltar Strait, a stretch of water that is just nine miles wide and divides the continents of Europe and Africa. Gibraltar is found at the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula at the entrance to the Med. It’s very compact at just 2.6 square miles, dominated by the rugged Jurassic limestone rock. Although small, the city area at the foot of the rock has a population of around 30,000 Gibraltans.
As the ship arrives in port, it’s strange to look out of our cabin balcony to see a Morrisons, familiar street signs, red pillar boxes and very British pubs. As a cruise destination it’s easy to find your way around; ships can dock directly in the port so there is no need to waste time on a tender. Disembarking early, as we had to be back on-board around 2pm, our big priority was to walk to the cable car to take a lift up to the top of the rock before the queues got too long. It was a 35 minute fast-paced walk from the port but we were rewarded with just a short wait before taking the ride to the top. The cable car is located at the southern end of the Main Street shopping area and we paid £12 for an adult return journey, child tickets are £5.
The famous Barbary apes live on the Upper Rock and legend says that if the apes ever leave, Gibraltar will cease to be British. Fortunately there were out in force to greet tourists with inquisitive stares and well timed swipes at passing handbags in the hope of food. The apes are apparently monkeys rather than apes, they are a tail-less species called Barbary Macques that live wild in Algeria and Morocco, the ones which inhabit the rock are the only free living monkeys in all of Europe.
It’s an offence to feed the monkeys and the penalties are heavy so it’s important to watch them from a distance. They are fed twice a day by Government appointed keepers.
The rock stands 426-metre-high (1,398 ft) and the views from the top are stunning. In Gibraltar you can admire a view that takes in three countries (Gibraltar, Spain and Morocco) and two continents (Europe and Africa) all surrounded by the sparkling Mediterranean sea. If you just want to see the rock, admire the view and have a walk around to look at the monkeys, there is no need to do an organised tour, you can see all of this easily on your own.
We were hassled by tour sales people outside the cable car station who claimed there was an hour’s wait for the cable and that we should book their taxi tour instead. We ignored this and found there to be almost no queue at all when we arrived around 9.30am so it’s worth popping in first to check on the genuine waiting time. The rock has around seven million tourist visits a year, many of which are on a cruise timetable with just a few hours to see the sights.
Throughout the rock there are a series of World War II tunnels that were excavated between 1939 and 1944, these add to the The Great Siege Tunnels excavated during The Great Siege of 1779-83; the network is around 32 miles long and was opened to the public for tours in 2005. We didn’t have time for a tunnel tour but heard that it’s fascinating so possibly one to do on a return trip.
Coming down from the rock we took a walk through Main Street where you’ll find all the British chains such as Marks and Spencer, Bhs and Top Shop, sitting alongside souvenir and craft shops. Gibraltar is a VAT free jurisdiction and the currency, the Gibraltar Pound, is equivalent to Sterling so there are no conversions to worry about.
There is a lovely square for coffee or lunch at Grand Casemates Square where you can sit and watch the world go by. After a quick rest it was time to get back to the ship for the sail away towards our next port of Monte Carlo. As the cruise ship left Gibraltar we had a great view of Europa Point, the southernmost point of Gibraltar where you can see the 1838 lighthouse and the Ibrahim-al-Ibrahim mosque.
- Next stop: Monte Carlo – post coming soon.