Long an object of dispute between Spain and Great Britain, the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar is a little enigma, tucked away at the very tip of Spain. It's a place where Spanish and English are intertwined.
To drive there from Málaga city, it is best to take the toll roads - speedy and quick - rather than the normal highway, where you will find a series of very irritating roundabouts to slow you down. Along the way, you will bypass Fuengirola, Marbella and Estepona, among other coastal towns, with some lovely countryside on both sides of the highway, and glimpses of the blue sea at most turns in the road.
You zoom along the Costa del Sol, also known as the Costa del Golf, and pass through around four traffic tunnels along the way. From around Marbella onwards, you can already see the enigmatic Rock of Gibraltar on the horizon.
As you near Gibraltar you first pass through San Roque in Cádiz province. The so-called “Very Noble and Most Loyal City of San Roque, where Gibraltar lives on”, was officially founded in 1706 and the Rock of Gibraltar used to form part of this city in the historic past until Great Britain got involved and pinched it. But that's another story, which can be read here.
While it was a popular beach resort at one stage, the city has, unfortunately, been rather spoiled by being the home of the CEPSA Gibraltar-San Roque oil refinery.
Then on to La Línea de la Concepción, the Spanish coastal town which is literally right next to Gibraltar and has close social and economic ties with the British territory (also, both San Roque and La Línea actually overlook the Bay of Gibraltar.)
View of the Rock of Gibraltar from La Línea de la Concepción.
From there it's a hop, skip and a jump to the border, where on an average day you just wave your open passport at your windscreen and smile, as you drive on through. Americans used to encounters with the TSA might find this just a little astonishing! To avoid queues, try to arrive after 10h00 and leave before 17h00, otherwise you might get stuck in a line of people on their way to or from work in Gibraltar.
Once that part is over, as long as there are no incoming planes, you just drive across the runway of the airport and into, well, England. Well, almost.
The signs are all in English - however, cars drive on the right (as they would in Spain), and not on the left (as they would in England). When walking in the streets, you mostly hear English, but often also hear Spanish. It is not unusual to hear a Spanish family speaking a combination of both languages. The majority of Gibraltarians are English, Spanish and Moroccan, with a smattering of other European nationalities, including Genoese, Maltese, Portuguese and German.
The streets are mostly narrow and winding, with a lot of one-way streets, and intersections can be confusing at times. The town is a mixture of modern, and also very old, buildings from Gibraltar's military existence and historical past. Strange names like "Ragged Staff Gates" and various "bastions" are seen throughout the town on signs on the old buildings. Some have been converted for more modern use.
The British Territory of Gibraltar - reflections on a more modern building.
On the economy in Gibraltar, while the British military traditionally dominated Gibraltar's economy, with the naval dockyard providing the bulk of economic activity, this has lessened recently, and nowadays Gibraltarians make money in financial services, Internet gaming, shipping and tourism.
Unlike most cities and towns in Spain, "to let" and "for sale" signs are rare and there are very few closed shops to be seen when walking the streets of Gibraltar.
Shopping in Gibraltar:
For everyday grocery shopping, there is one major supermarket in Gibraltar, a branch of Morrison's, which is a fair-sized store with a good selection of food and other items. Like the Morrison's supermarkets in England, there is a cafeteria for meals and snacks. Petrol and diesel are available at the Morrison's petrol station at prices which beat those found at the CEPSA petrol stations in town.
Other than that the majority of shopping is to be found in High Street. All the major clothing stores are represented including Tommy Hilfiger, Marks and Spencers and Mango, among others. Along the way are many quaint traditional English pubs, bistros, cafés and restaurants.
The British Territory of Gibraltar - Anglo Hispano Company Ltd, Established 1894.
On the subject of tobacco, for smokers, Gibraltar is an absolute bargain with duty-free cigarettes at very low costs.
Other restaurants and bars can be found at the harbour, some overlooking the Bay and Straits of Gibraltar.
There are some very attractive buildings lining High Street with unusual shutters and balconies to be seen:
Definitely worth at least one visit, the top of the rock is a nature reserve with various interesting birds and animals to be found, including the Barbary macaques. Beware, these little apes are famous for their thieving. Many have lost their sunglasses and other loose items, and the writer was devastated by the loss of a double-chocolate muffin some years ago! They are so darn quick.
The Rock of Gibraltar seen from La Línea in Spain.
It is actually possible to take yourself up there, without the aid of a tour operator. The Gibraltar Cable Car runs from outside the Gibraltar Botanic Gardens to the top of the Rock. Amazing views and pleasant walks abound up there.
Gibraltar is definitely worth a visit on your holiday in southern Spain. Should you wish to stay for a few days, the town has several excellent hotels available, or you could stay at a beachfront hotel in La Línea de la Concepción on the Spanish side and comfortably bus it into Gibraltar.
Below is an aerial view of Gibraltar, not taken by the writer: