Gibraltar’s Very Little Italy

We’ve been to Gibraltar several times over the past two years and each time we seem to discover something new. For such a small territory it’s surprising how many little secrets it manages to keep from the general tourist and day tripper, who’s itinerary seems restricted to a cable car ride to the top of the Rock, finished off with a pint at the pub and a plate of fish and chips. Not that there’s anything wrong with these activities, which do at least ensure the preservation of hidden gems like Rosia and Catalan Bay for the lucky few.

Our discovery of Catalan Bay was particularly accidental, as we had to arrange a last minute trip to Gibraltar, and the only room available was at the Caleta Hotel, on the relatively remote (remote only in a Gibraltarian sense), sparsely populated, eastern side of the Rock. But while the the bay on which the hotel sits may be named for Catalonia, the seaside hamlet along which it resides is far more reminiscent of a Sorento on the Italian Riviera – albeit, in microcosm.

Moreover, with the Caleta Hotel being Italian owned, with an Italian head chef, this tiny enclave has a feel and an atmosphere all of its own.

I would recommend the hotel as a decent place to stay (comfortable rooms and a bar and restaurant with a stunning, maritime outlook), but it’s to be torn down in January, with a Hilton rising up in its place. Nevertheless, for those visiting Gibraltar for more than a day or so, Catalan Bay is a charming place to visit.

Despite the overcast skies, I think these photos offer something of the peaceful, secluded atmosphere of the place.

A “ROSIA” FUTURE FOR GIBRALTAR – and a rock-solid present…

Following on from my earlier post on our initial return to Gibraltar after a gap of over twenty years, we have managed to visit several more times, and on each occasion, we have become increasingly impressed with life on the Rock. There’s no doubting that the drab and dreary Gibraltar of last century has been consigned firmly to the past and that a new, confident and energetic modern little city is rising in its place. Moreover, the once-faded and shabby old town centre has been sensitively spruced up and now stands above its modern surrounds like a proud grandparent watching over its thriving progeny.

“Unique” has become a much overused and abused term, but in the case of today’s Gibraltar it really is just about the only adjective that does the place justice. From its airport runway pedestrian crossing (sadly, to be lost very shortly to a new tunnel) to Rosia Bay, where one swims alongside giant container ships, not to mention it being Europe’s only truly harmonious “multiculture”, Gibraltar is a total one-off.

The iPhone snaps below hopefully transmit some of that uniqueness, and a sense of its intoxicating optimism…

Looking south from Rosia Bay, across the Straights toward Jebel Musa (the “other” Pillar of Hercules) and the Moroccan Coast. An anglers and swimmers idle, a mere fifteen-minute walk from the old town…
Looking north-west from Rosia Bay toward the southern Cadiz province coast. My intrepid wife Dido can just be made out taking a choppy swim to the right of the photo. The waters here, where the Mediterranean meets the Atlantic, are very cold this early in the year, and the only other person in the water was a retired Royal Navy diver, and he was in a wet suit – the wimp!
A decaying old mooring jetty between Rosia and Camp Bays, one of the few remaining monuments to the “old Gibraltar”…
Concrete picnic tables at Camp Bay, looking remarkably like an Anthony Gormley sculpture (only better, for being accidental), with the busy Straights in the background…
For those craving authentic Spanish beach cuisine, but too lazy to traipse across the border into neighbouring La Linea, Gibraltar is now blessed with a handful of genuine frieduras and chiringuitos, such as Cabana on Camp Bay. The only difference from La Linea, is that here your waitress or waiter is as likely to have a Scouse accent as an Andalusian lilt, but never fear! The fried boquerones (whitebait) and the grilled calamares are every bit as delicious as along the coast…
Meanwhile, just a short stroll away in the old town, one is suddenly in a different world, that feels something like a cross between Hampstead (in London) and Valetta, with a touch of Toulouse, depending upon the light, the weather and the time of day. The one place it doesn’t feel anything like, despite being filled with Spanish workers and tourists, is southern Spain!
The old centre of Gibraltar has been blessed with fine English buildings since the Georgian period, but again, it’s only in the past two decades or so that both its government and its people have restored these architectural gems to their former glory. This house is an excellent example of what I mean, and with it’s Decimus Burton-style balconies and iron work, it has a fabulously classy colonial look…
And I could not end this piece without a couple of views of Gibraltar’s most famous feature. This one, taken early on a chilly late Spring morning, with a high sea mist clinging on to the Rock like grasping fingers…
And finally of course, a slightly unusual shot (from Western Beach) of what is arguably the most famous sphynx-like profile in the world (except of course for that of the Sphynx itself).

VIEWS FROM THE ROCK…

anD ONE OF THE ROCK…

Normally, we fly to and from Malaga airport when traveling to our Spanish home from the UK, but due to COVID-19 flight disruptions we were forced to fly in and out of Gibraltar this past trip. Not having been to Gibraltar for more than twenty years, and with mostly bad memories of the place, we were not too happy about this particular expedience. However, we found it almost unrecognisable in the harbour areas especially, where there has been billions of pounds of investment in new port-side developments. We also sensed an energy and a confidence about the town which was missing before, making it a far more pleasant place than we remembered to spend time in.

Moreover, Gibraltar’s gastronomy for so long stuck in the Britain of the 50’s and 60’s is also experiencing an exciting overhaul. Those wishing for a decent meal that isn’t fish and chips, a full English or a toastie, are now spoiled for choice, from local Iberian fish-based chiringuitos to the full range of continental choices, and a host of excellent ethnic eateries, from Indian street food to high end pan-Asian fusion. And in addition to the traditional British-style pubs*, the Rock now boasts a large choice of gastro pubs and sophisticated bars.

Thus, much to our very pleasant surprise, we not only thoroughly enjoyed our little break, we can’t wait to return…

1) LOOKING SOUTHWEST: We stayed at the famous Rock Hotel, which offers splendid panoramic views of the bay, Algeciras, and across the straights to Morocco, where sits the mountain in this picture, Jebel Musa – widely believed to be the Rock of Gibraltar‘s fellow “Pillar of Hercules…”
2) LOOKING NORTHWEST: Algeciras – one of Spain’s busiest cargo ports – lies across the Bay of Gibraltar (Bay of Algeciras for the Spanish) and together with Gibraltar’s own, far smaller harbour, offers a constantly changing vista of animated shipping. A ship spotters paradise…
A small container ship leaving Gibraltar shortly before sunset, heading for the Straights and the Atlantic Ocean beyond…
3) The La Alameda Botanic Gardens were just across the road from the hotel, and although dating from 1816, were new to us, and were a particularly exotic and lush surprise…
4) Although relatively small, the gardens are beautifully laid out, and crammed full of flora and fauna from all over the world…
5) Of all the airport lounge views we have ever seen, this takes some beating.

* My only gripe about drinking in Gibraltar is that we could not find a hand-drawn British beer anywhere on the Rock. There are “serious” ales and bitters available in all of the pubs, like London Pride and Old Speckled Hen, but these are all on smooth-flow taps, so not quite the same.