It's busy, not least because of the flourishing cruise business that delivers thousands of day-trippers every week. But with more time to sit and gaze, you can contemplate the handsome setting that has witnessed much intrigue. As gatekeeper to the Mediterranean, Gibraltar has long been an object of desire. The Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans were well aware of its power — as were the Moors, who used the Rock as a stepping stone in their conquest of Spain in the eighth century (and left behind elegantly and robustly built baths and a castle — just refurbished). The Spanish reclaimed it, only for the British to stake a long-lasting claim, cemented by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713: it will be interesting to see how the tri-centenary of the agreement that changed so much of the world is celebrated in 2013.
A good way to begin a visit is to delve beneath the Rock. Gibraltar may be barely three miles from Spanish frontier to Europa Point, yet there is 30 miles of tunnelling beneath it. The key to maximising military might, the British soon concluded, was to make the defending garrison as well-protected and nimble as possible. Men and munitions endured the Great Siege of 1779-1783 in the tunnels, and during WWII, Spitfires were assembled here.
The Britishness of the Rock was underlined in 1954, when the young Queen made it one of the first places she visited after her Coronation — and this year, Gibraltarians will celebrate her Diamond Jubilee. But the signatures of many other cultures are in evidence. In the protected heritage sites of the town centre, you can find Genoese balconies alongside forbidding Georgian fortifications. Sacarello's 19th-century coffee house transports you to Vienna, and hosts recitals and art exhibitions.
With space always at a premium in a territory whose modest footprint is further disrupted by a massive Rock, all kinds of locations become performance venues. St Michael's Cave delves deep into the limestone and ends in a lake. The perfect auditorium? You decide, perhaps with a visit to the National Week concert in September when leading international performers come to terms with its remarkable acoustics.
In these more peaceful times, the handsome King's Bastion has been reinvented as a leisure centre with two cinemas and a couple of features that are uncommon in southern Europe: a bowling alley and an ice rink. It might seem trivial, but for me the greatest change in Gibraltar is summed up by outdoor cafés. They signify the joy of Mediterranean life — unlike 30 years ago, when all I could find was a dark, smoky pub.
Way to go
British Airways flies to Gibraltar from London Heathrow once a day. Flight time: about three hours.
Join the Executive Club and earn up to 5,426 Avios points when you fly Club Europe to Gibraltar*. Or redeem your points: 15,000 will get you to Gibraltar. *World Traveller return, excluding taxes, fees and surcharges.
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