There are rare things in life that never lose their impact, no matter how many times one experiences them, and for me, these have usually come in the form of a handful of visual experiences. Sometimes, it’s just the sheer majesty and or beauty of a vista that never pales, while at other times it has something to do with the emotional context of the scene, and occasionally, it’s a combination of the two. For instance, due to my lifelong fascination with King Saul, standing at the top of Mount Gilboa in northern Israel, looking out across the Jezreel Valley has been top of my enduring impact chart for the past forty years or more, but lately, running it a close second is our now oft-repeated approach to Gibraltar on the highway from Spain. This latest viewing was the most memorable yet, with the rock adorned by a plume of cloud, blown backwards like a massive shock of silver hair.
Perhaps, in this lunatic, unpredictable world, the sight of the great rock, immoveable and timeless, boldly withstanding all that the elements can throw at it, offers a sense of reassuring permanence which only seems to increase with repetition.
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.
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…
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…
* 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.