The Great British Staycation In The Sun
Updated: Oct 2
The government had produced a green list of countries as foreign travel started once again and it coincided with Eastern Airways commencing a new service from my local airport of Southampton to Gibraltar.
A short break was booked and I was one of 15 passengers who boarded the Embraer one grey June morning from a deserted Southampton Airport.
A few hours later the plane circled the dramatic Rock and landed on the runway that separates Spain from Gibraltar in warm sunshine.
After showing my relevant COVID documents I then queued for my lateral flow test - all very slick and well organised.
Then off walking back across the runway towards the town centre and my hotel - the quaint Hotel Bristol perfectly positioned to explore the town.
Later in the afternoon I couldn’t resist going down the the other Ocean Village (I live in Ocean Village in Southampton!) and looked around the new developments along the waterside - even seeing David Hasselhoff being interviewed on stage in a bar - very bizarre.
I had dinner and then found a shady corner to sketch a vista along the waterfront before returning to the heart of the marina for a few beers before bed.
Deciding over breakfast on a plan for the day plus a quick sketch. As it was a little grey but still warm today, I decided to delay my visit to the Rock until another day.
Instead I decided to walk to the south to the very end of the peninsula towards the Europa Lighthouse. On the route through the old town, I was struck by the almost surreal juxtaposition of architectural styles - traditionally Spanish in places whilst populated by distinctively British maritime period architecture.
The western coast is dominated still by the naval port and history and as a pedestrian, you don’t rediscover the coast until Camp Bay - the perfect place to stop for a coffee and a sketch.
Then the walk continued through one of the many tunnels before emerging Europa Point itself - dominated by the lighthouse, a mosque and the university. The wind had become very blustery on this exposed peninsula but I did manage to find a partly sheltered spot to quickly draw the lighthouse before returning to the old town once again to get lost in the narrow hillside streets for more coffee and sketches.
Today was ‘Rock’ day and I got up ready for the hike ahead. After breakfast I made an early start following one of the suggested routes to the nature reserve passing by the famous ‘Rock Hotel’. Following some research and after paying the entry fee, I chose the Mediterranean Steps as my route to the top. I wasn’t disappointed as the views are stunning as the narrow pathways meander along the cliff edge. There are a series of military sites that you can visit en route within the reserve and near the top you start to meet the very cute (but don’t get too close!) residents of the Rock - the Barbary macaques - the only population of wild monkeys in Europe. They are truly the stars of the Rock and I was completely activated by their cheeky charms.
Then skimming the top of the Rock, I came across the dramatic Skywalk - standing 340 metres directly above sea level, the Skywalk is located higher than the tallest point of London’s The Shard and offers breath-taking 360º views spanning three countries and two continents. Then I stopped for a quick black and white sketch of the Rock before having lunch in a cafe where an ape crept up on guy and stole his ice cream and then sat by the door proudly eating it in front of an amused audience.
I almost gave St Michael’s cave a miss, but I’m so glad I didn’t - it turned out to be a real highlight. The scale and dramatic form of the caves are awesome and this was complemented by a stunning light and music display that added to the atmosphere. I sat in the auditorium section and watched 2 shows - it must be an amazing venue for live concerts.
Then I wandered down from the nature reserve to upper parts of the old town, eventually settling in Grand Casements Square for a beer and a sketch before dinner by the marina. On the way back to the hotel I took a longer walk around some of the new residential developments around the coast - a very mixed bag and disappointing how few take advantage of their waterside location.
I managed to get a breakfast with a view today allowing me to draw the cathedral along Main Street between toast and coffee. Then off to try to capture the Parliament building in John Macintosk Square before a walk to the other side of the Rock on a moody, overcast but still warm day.
I remember seeing photographs of Catalan Bay with the distinctive Caleta Hotel ever since I was a kid looking at holiday brochures with my family. The bay didn’t appear to have changed too much and I spend a lovely afternoon eating, drinking, sketching and swimming by the beach.
The day ended by returning to Ocean Village to eat and watch England lose in the Euro finals on one of the may big screens watched by hundreds of spectators. A great atmosphere for my last evening in Gibraltar!
Leaving day today but one advantage with the compact size of Gibraltar is I could walk to the airport in 30 minutes and so I had one a final chance for one last look around the town - while not huge, there is so many things to see in the labyrinth of the historic town. I managed one final sketch in the beautiful Govenor’s Parade.
Gibraltar was perfect as a long weekend getaway - a shame because of Covid restrictions I couldn’t get across the border to Spain, but there was more than enough to keep me entertained In this surreal fusion of England and Spain that sits at the gateway to the Mediterranean.