Click here to print this page

Planning Retirement Online

Travel & Holidays in later life

GIBRALTAR - Fortress into tourist highspot

Visitors enjoy the sun at Caleta Bay HotelRather like Malta, Gibraltar has switched from being a military bastion into a tourist resort. There's the lure of bargain shopping, the famous colony of apes and genuine British pubs.

But the biggest attraction is the historic appeal of this three square miles of limestone rock, riddled with 32 miles of tunnels: a fortress built within a fortress.

Prehistoric man occupied some of the caves. But ancient Greek mariners were nervous about sailing further west of this Pillar of Hercules for fear of falling off the edge of the world. 

There was really no permanent settlement on the Rock until 711 AD, when a Moorish leader called Tarik ibn Ziyad used the site as a launch-pad to conquer Spain. 

Travel Facts


Travel Insurance for over 50s

Visit our  holidays, breaks and travel options pages


Tour prices: Historical Rock Tour 12; Trip to Ronda 20; Tangiers 45; Jerez 43. Lunch is included on some of the longer tours. 

Leading hotels: 
The Rock - Tel: 00 350 73000.   

Caleta Hotel - Tel: 00 350 76501. 

Elliott Hotel - Tel: 00 350 70500. 

Gibraltar Tourist Board, Arundel Great Court, 178/179 Strand, London WC2R 1EL. Tel: 020 7836 0777. 

Travelsphere escorted holidays


The Arabic word for 'mountain' is 'Jebel'. So the Mountain of Tarik - Jebel Tarik - became Gibraltar, which remained in Moorish hands until mid-15th century.

Their castle, dating from 1160, is a reminder of that occupation, and has survived 14 sieges. St Mary Cathedral started as an 11th-century mosque.

The Rock changed hands several times over the centuries, but has remained defiantly British since 1713, despite the four years of 1779-1783 when Spain and France joined forces to mount the Great Siege. That's when tunnels were first built, to give access to gun emplacements.

Today the annual influx of seven million peaceful tourists may seem overwhelming for a resident population of 30,000. But most of those visitors are just on day trips from the resorts of southern Spain.

They arrive in big tour buses which park in the coach terminal. Holidaymakers then take taxis or 22-seater minibuses for touring the highlights. Big coaches are banned from jamming the narrow streets and getting stuck on very acute hairpin bends.

Over 200 cruise ships make Gibraltar a port of call, landing a quarter-million passengers at the cruise terminal, close to the coach park and airport. 

The airport is built on the sandy isthmus that saves Europe from being totally isolated from GIbraltar. The frontier at La Linea was closed by Franco in 1969, depriving Spanish workers the chance of earning better wages by commuting in to the bar, restaurant and hotel jobs of Gibraltar. 

But relations today are much more friendly, and at least 6000 employees flood in every morning, and out in the evening. The airport has recently been upgraded to international status, and flights now arrive from Spanish airports.

Early evening in Casemates SquareAll this border area is within walking distance of Casemates Square, the social and commercial hub of Gibraltar. The former 18th-century barracks makes a grand setting for events like the Queen's Birthday Parade. Modern terraced apartments rise up the background hillside in theatrical style.

From bars and restaurants to gift and craft shops, you'll find everything here. Cafeterias and restaurants by day convert into discos at night - especially on Friday and Saturday night when the local youth assemble. 

Meanwhile the day trippers have all gone back to Spain by early evening, rejoicing in their purchases of Scotch at 5 and cigarettes at 8 to 10 for 200. Electronic goods are VAT-free, but check UK prices before you travel. 

The shopping scene is concentrated along the very narrow but pedestrianised Main Street, which heaves with shoppers especially when the day visitors have done their essential sightseeing of Caves, Apes and World War II Tunnels.

A Barbary Ape enjoys the remains of a sndwich, stolen from a rubbish binThose tourist highspots are located on the Upper Rock, which is mainly preserved as a Nature Reserve. 

Everybody loves the Barbary Apes, and the feeling is mutual. The animals greet you on your arrival at St Michael's Cave, the cable-car terminus or at the Apes' Den. They pose cheerfully for photos.

The Rock played a key part in WW2, guarding the entrance of allied forces into the Med. Hitler tried to persuade Franco to permit the passage of troops and guns through Spain for an attempt at capturing the fortress. However, the Spanish dictator preferred to sit things out.

Meanwhile most of Gibraltar's population was evacuated to the 'safety' of London and other locations, while the Rock itself was never attacked.

But the upgrading of the fortress continued non-stop. Tunnels and caverns were equipped with Nissen hut sleeping quarters, a bakery, hospital facilities, wards and an operating theatre. The Rock bristled with heavy guns. Excavated rubble helped extend the airport runway.

Protecting the route between Atlantic and Mediterranean ensured the final success of the North Africa campaigns.

While the great bulk of tourists just come for the day, Gibraltar encourages short-break holidays based mainly on direct flights by British Airways and Monarch Airlines. There are well-established high-grade hotels for those who prefer to use The Rock as a base to visit the cities of southern Spain, or Tangiers in Morocco - while returning each night to the familiar British environment. 

With more time, visitors can enjoy the three peaceful sandy beaches on the east side: Eastern Beach, Catalan Bay and Sandy Bay. At this narrow point between Europe and Africa, migratory birds make a short break to rest and feed up for their long desert and open-sea routes. 

Seen from the cable-car: luxury apartments have been developed up the terrced slope, all offering gret viewsMore hotels are in the pipeline to increase the bed capacity. At the same time, luxury apartment developments are aimed at ex-pats attracted by very cosy tax benefits for the seriously wealthy. 

As a global leader in the virtual gaming industry, and with its respected financial sector, Gib's future may be that of a sterling Monte Carlo.

Some other suggestions on where to go in the Med region

CYPRUS - enjoy the off-season sunshine

LUXOR - Luxury living and the pharaohs

MALLORCA - Breakaway to the Spanish grandee rural life

MED CRUISING - get Insight into the ports of call

TUNISIA - the sandy-beach oasis.

"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below

Gibraltar by Sir John Chapple - a historic guide to the world's most famous Rock. 

Gibraltar 1779-1783 (Campaign Series) - the story of the Great Siege, when the Rock was besieged for four years by the combined forces of France and Spain. 

Where to Watch Birds in Southern and Western Spain: The Definitive Guide to Finding Birds in Andalucia, Extremadura and Gibraltar (Where to Watch Birds S.) - See birds in Gibraltar, at one of the great migratory routes between Europe and Africa. 

The Fortifications of Gibraltar 1068-1945 - a unique record of the evolution of fortifications and associated defences spanning over six hundred years. Publication date: October 2006. 

Back to



Visit our Pre-retirement Courses section here on laterlife or our dedicated Retirement Courses site

back to laterlife travel

Site map and site search



Advertise on