20 Aug 2017 15:42 IST

Sunny side up

Gibraltar is the unlikely weekend getaway for those who like a road less travelled

When tourists look to holiday in Europe, it is easy to seek the beautiful but obvious destinations spread across France, Germany, Italy, Spain and beyond. This is how it started for my friends and I as well. When you study in the UK, it is tempting to travel to other countries in Europe (most destinations are an hour or two away from London by air) but Indians require a Schengen visa, making such travel less probable.

One afternoon, sitting in the café of one of Oxford’s newly renovated colleges, three of us decided to head to sunny Spain during the Easter break; unlike in India, the desire to travel to sun-kissed spots is real and acceptable in the UK. Armed with tickets to Barcelona, we overlooked the lengthiness of the Schengen visa process and were consequently left with no thoroughfare to Spain.

Dejected, we soon discovered a mid-path: Gibraltar. It is a British overseas territory in Spain, with the Mediterranean Sea on one side and the sun shining all over. We took a 90-minute flight from London, which lands on one of the riskier airstrips in the world. It’s risky but idyllic; it is flanked by the Rock of Gibraltar and doubles as a highway leading into Spain.

Our first day in Gibraltar seemed confusing. Its landscape and architecture belonged in Spain but Gibraltarians spoke Spanish with a Spanish accent and English with a British accent. They savoured their wine like the Spanish and chugged their pint of ale like the British. They devoured tapas as lovingly as they ate fish and chips. After seven months of living in Oxford, we made it a point to enjoy its parts that belonged to Spain.

Instead of following achievement tourism — where one visits each and every spot on every travel magazine’s must-do list — we designed ours as a lazy, walk-around-town staycation of three days. For a conventional holiday, though, the list is undoubtedly promising, ranging from the World War II tunnels to the Mediterranean Steps. However, the only key point covered by one of us would be the Rock of Gibraltar, easily accessed by a five-minute cable car ride, and offering hilltop views of the sea, and of African and Spanish territories.

In line with our staycation plan, we decided on an Airbnb instead of a hotel. And luckily for us, our surprise of an Airbnb — with a balcony overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and hosting the calls of countless seagulls — only facilitated such a stay. A 10-15-minute walk from home (or from anywhere in the town, for that matter) led us to Main Street, the town’s central area.

The most unforeseen element of Main Street is the number of options for shopping. From clothing and accessories to food ingredients (British, Spanish and Moroccan) and wine, it has everything. The shopping is something no one tells you about, but Gibraltar is a happy discovery once you arrive at Main Street, more so because the prices are cheaper than in mainland UK.

With a fully-equipped modern kitchen at our disposal, and lovely ingredients to pick from, our dinners were prepared indoors, while enjoying the best views of the sun setting in the sea. It was for our lunches that we tasted all the delicacies the town had to offer: a joyous experience for seafood lovers, such as yours truly.

While most of the crowd parks itself at restaurants around the Main Street, our two favourite spots were down the street. The first was at Casemates Square (the town’s main square), where at a restaurant called Tunnel Bar, you can savour the best seafood paella, drizzled with lemon, out under the sun. The other was around the corner at Chatham Counterguard, where La Pampa serves the most delectable small bites that can be enjoyed as tapas, including the best cheeses and ham cuts from Spain. All of this, with a delicious glass of red, for those who like their wine, is a great way to enjoy Europe with friends on a budget.

Besides the food and history, Gibraltar is also blessed with six beaches. We blithely discovered Catalan Bay, on the eastern side of the rock, a tiny beach guarded by a picturesque village and peppered with restaurants, from where one can enjoy views of life that travels between Spain and Morocco. Lying on the sand, in the company of a nice book or soulful music, is the best last day one can ask for in Gibraltar — though there are sailing activities for those who like adventure.

Following Brexit, there has been some turmoil about whether Gibraltar would become a part of Spain. For now, while status quo remains, it is the perfect, unlikely weekend getaway from the UK (without a Schengen for those with a residency permit), and from other parts of the world (requiring a Schengen) for those who like sun, sand and history on a road less travelled.

Travel log

Getting there

Gibraltar can be easily accessed by a one-two hour flight from UK or other countries in Europe. It can also be accessed by road from Spain.

Stay

Airbnb has affordable and comfortable options for a group of any size. It’s preferable to look for houses around Castle Ramp or around the Ocean Village.

Tip

Gibraltar has an exciting night life for those who like dancing into the wee hours. Casemates Square provides for good options over the weekends.

(Deepa Kumar is a freelance writer studying public policy at Oxford. The article first appeared in The Hindu BusinessLine's BLInk.)

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