Six things to see and do in Gibraltar
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2020 has been quite a year. With so many travel plans thwarted and desperate to grab a slice of sunshine before the winter sets in, I headed to quarantine-free Gibraltar. Gibraltar, one of the few places we can still travel to is justifiably having its moment in the sun and there's never been a better time to visit. The tiny territory at the entrance to the Mediterranean really needs no introduction. The Rock, Saint Michael's Cave, The Great Siege and World War Two tunnels will all be familiar to my fellow Silver Travellers. Many of which will have visited on a cruise excursion. I therefore set out to discover some unique new activities as well as enjoying some of the old favourites. Here are a few of my highlights.
Take an e-bike tour of the Rock
Life feels good when you are back enjoying the outdoors, more so on an e bike, pedalling is required but the electric motor really does all the work. EBike Gibraltar offers an alternative way of exploring the rock by premium, emission free, electrically assisted bikes suitable for anyone capable of riding a bicycle. It was my first go on an electric bike, and I was surprised how incredibly easy they are to use and amazed how effortlessly I was able to coast through the nature reserve and to the top of the rock, over 400m above sea level. Sharp climbs suddenly become easily manageable and I'm not sure how I’m ever going to go back to using my trusty old war horse in London. All the must-do sights of the rock can be done by bike either on a tour (with a maximum of 10 people and 2-hour minimum booking) or independently. I was able to let the bike take the strain, whilst enjoying the views in a brand new and eco-friendly way.
Have a go at stand-up paddleboarding
I've always fancied having a go at stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) another activity that has increased in popularity this lockdown summer. Sandy Bay, a sheltered bay on the east of the Rock provided the ideal conditions to view the Rock and watch the sun rising over the Mediterranean. It's not just a young man's activity, no one is too old to have a go and there's a reason that SUPing is one of the fastest growing sports in the world. It didn't take long to develop essential skills like balance and paddle movement and what a way of overcoming the stress and anxiety of the last few months by connecting with the peaceful surroundings and soaking in the tranquillity. It helped that my instructor, Tom, was straight out of the central casting school of surfer dudes, not only easy on the eye but also calm and extremely knowledgeable, you get a history lesson along with your SUP session. In2Adventures, a recognised British Stand Up Paddle Boarding Association school operate year-round and take the more adventurous on SUP safaris further out to sea, exploring the spectacular southerly coastline of the Rock.
Familiarise yourself with the infamous macaques
An informative and unique way of familiarising yourself with the world-famous barbary macaques is to take The Monkey Talk Tour hosted by primatologist Brian Gomila. Rather than a quick photo stop on a tour of the rock, Brian takes you of the beaten track to observe the macaques in their natural habitat. There's nothing that Brian doesn't know about macaques, and he imparts his knowledge and enthusiasm for the monkeys in an entertaining but also extremely educational way. I've tracked mountain gorillas in Uganda and orangutans in Sumatra and this was an equally fun and humbling experience, although I probably know a little more about the primate's mating habits than I'd have chosen! According to popular belief as long as there are barbary macaques in Gibraltar, the Rock will remain British. The legend was taken to heart by Winston Churchill who famously ordered the repopulation of the animals when these dwindled to just seven in 1942. The encounters are intimate, personal and improvised on the day according to the macaque's trajectories but normally last a minimum of two hours and always take place in the last two hours of daylight.
Observe more primates at the Alameda Wildlife Conservation Park
The Alameda Wildlife Conservation Park (within the Botanic Gardens, just above the cable car station) is home to a collection of both exotic and native species. They care for exotic animals confiscated by Gibraltar customs, unwanted exotic pets and animals such as the cotton-topped tamarin on loan from international zoos, to raise awareness about important endangered species through conservation education. As their tag line goes 'The small park with a BIG message'. Gibraltar is one of those easy to get to, ideal multi-generational holiday hotspots with no shortage of heritage, history and entertainment. But what about younger families? Grandparents can earn some serious brownie points by offering a walk with the park's lemurs, an opportunity to get face to face with the ring-tailed or brown lemurs and a chance to help the keepers feed the gentle round-eyed primates.
Relax on a dolphin boat trip
A boat trip out into the Bay of Gibraltar to see the dolphins also has obvious appeal to all generations. Gibraltar's ever-present population of wild dolphins visit the bay and Strait of Gibraltar for food, shelter and to breed in their thousands. There are three types of dolphin, the striped, common and bottlenose. Whales and turtles are also occasionally spotted. On my trip with Dolphin Adventure we'd barely been going for 5 minutes before our first dolphins were spotted, who then promptly set about to entertain us with their aerobatic displays. When not watching a wild dolphin surfing on the bow wave, I took in the stunning views of The Rock of Gibraltar, Spain and North Africa. Dolphin watching trips depart from Marina Bay.
Visit Spirit of the Rock - Gibraltar's gin distillery
Gibraltar seems to be ticking all the boxes with current trends, e biking, SUPing but none more so than the Brits current love affair with gin. For a memorable way to spend an hour I can recommend the Gibraltar Gin Experience at The Spirit of the Rock, a micro distillery producing Gibraltar's premium Campion Gin. The tour begins with a brief history of the Art of Distilling, plus an explanation of how gin is made, and a comprehensive timeline of gin's chequered past, including the parallel histories of gin and Gibraltar. You also get to taste 6 historic gins created by the Spirit of the Rock team, designed to help you choose your preferred gin in the future (something I had no difficulty in undertaking). At the end of the tour you can take home a complimentary sample of your favourite spirit. However, at excellent value I’d buy a larger bottle or two along with some miniatures. The latter hanging by a ribbon make unusual Christmas tree decorations, although I'm not sure how long they'd last on my tree.
When it comes to accommodation, top of the list for everybody from presidents to pop stars is The Rock Hotel, all old-style colonial glamour, with panoramic vistas of the bay and the largest swimming pool in town. For a younger, cooler vibe, see a different side of the city from the deck of a luxurious superyacht hotel. Sunborn Yacht Hotel are also offering the chance to set up your office onboard and work remotely through the winter months. With lockdown2 set to finish on 2 December, easyJet and British Airways plan to resume flights to Gibraltar whilst Wizz Air has announced the launch of a new route from London Luton commencing on 11 December.
I spent most of this year dreaming of far-flung destinations or simply just dreaming of getting away. Because the Rock of Gibraltar can be seen for over 100 miles, it has attracted visitors (and conquerors) since the dawn of time, and I couldn't have been happier to join this list. Gibraltar was my first trip abroad since February and although I was familiar with its history and main attractions, the fact that the rock offered up some more adventurous activities proved a wonderful discovery.
For general information on Gibraltar visit www.visitgibraltar.gi
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