If I had to pick my favorite day of our trip, I probably couldn’t. But I will say that our trip to Gibraltar was by far the biggest surprise to me. I knew I wanted to go and visit, because everyone said we should and because Steve really wanted to. But it ended up on my list of favorite parts about the trip.
A quick history lesson for my blog readers who may not know a whole lot about Gibraltar, because I learned a whole lot of this during our visit! Gibraltar is located at the south of Spain, and is only 2.6 square miles big. It was captured in 1704, and has remained a British territory since. It is a valuable piece of land because of the location, and the height of the rock essentially gave the British control of the only water access to the Mediterranean Sea.
We could actually see Gibraltar from the beach at our hotel, since they’re both situated along the coast. It was about a 45 minute drive from our resort, and it blows my mind how casual it is to travel internationally in Europe. I’ve never been drawn to European travel, mostly because I’m a perpetual homebody. But now that I’ve had a taste of European landscape and history, I have a whole new list of places I want to visit!
My biggest disappointments of the trip both came that day – we didn’t get our lazy butts out of bed until 10:00, so we didn’t get there until about 11:00. (We didn’t realize how much fun we’d have!) But, then again, it was probably a good thing we had a good night’s rest for all the hiking we didn’t realize we’d be doing. And my second disappointment, they didn’t stamp my passport when we crossed the border – it could have been my second stamp! But really, no complaints and we had such a fun day! The entrance to Gibraltar crossed the airport runway. It felt a little funny driving through the landing strip, and even funnier seeing the pedestrians walk across it. We found a parking garage for our little hatchback. Not really my car style – I think I’m destined to be an SUV mom for the foreseeable future, because strollers and carseats. But I’ll admit I felt very European driving a hatchback! We seemed to park in garages wherever we went in Spain, because the streets are totally packed. We eventually decided none of those cars leave the public street parking once they find a spot. We loaded down the backpack with my camera, sunglasses, water, and extra layers for the day. Oh, and our Gibraltar-stampless passports. And off we went to town.
From my distant horizon view at the hotel, I knew Gibraltar was a big rock type of geography feature. My freshman geology teacher and geology major friend Janan are probably cringing right now, but that’s the best I know how to describe it. But looking from 60 kilometers (I really embraced the metric system), away, that giant rock looked a little bit smaller. So brilliant Kourtney got it in her head that we were hiking to the top. All 1,398 feet of it. 171 floors and 17,852 steps according to my trusty FitBit. It made the experience a hundred times better hiking it, but I don’t think either of us were quite mentally prepared for the extent of the hike. But Steve had the backpack, and I had the camera of course, so we were ready!
The streets of Gibraltar were adorable and reminded me a lot of the city settings in Harry Potter books, which I guess makes sense since J.K. Rowling is British. I was also excited to window shop in a real Top Shop! I could have done some serious shopping there. It was as cute as Pinterest makes it look, but I stuck to my tried and true – stay out of the fitting room and you won’t buy anything strategy – and displayed some serious self control.
We made our way down Main Street, and I eventually spotted a sign for the hike up the mountain. We followed the alley streets up to a slight incline to some darling staircases winding through some picturesque homes settled along the mountainside. And up the streets and staircases we climbed, as the slight incline became a little less slight.
It wasn’t long before we made it to our first landmark – the Moorish Castle.
Here we paid for the full Gibraltar tour and I received my warning not to pet the monkeys because they’re wild. I wasn’t even insulted that the park ranger stereotyped me as a wild monkey petter because I was so excited at the possibility of seeing a monkey! And boy, would we see some monkeys.
There is something so romantic about a castle. Forget the historical part where they were built to defend the royalty and citizens against brutal hand-to-hand combat from their enemies. Focus on the Cinderella, happily ever after, Love Story music video aspect.
After the castle, we continued our climb up the winding mountainside streets, ears popping along the way. Several cars passed, but no other pedestrians, and throughout our whole 3 1/2 hour hike, we didn’t see another hiker the whole way. Not that it was a particularly difficult hike, but we must have been one of the only ones ambitious enough to tackle it on that day.
Our next stop was at the World War II caves. The British created these tunnels throughout the rock as a part of the fortification of Gibraltar. Amazingly, they’re still stable enough for tours thousands of years later.
Funny story, the entrance to these tunnels is where Steve accidentally tried to kick me off the tour by dropping my ticket down the mountainside, but thankfully he recovered it by jumping a fence and climbing down to get it. At which time I became the newly elected ticket holder.
After we saw the tunnels, we made our push up the rock. This part involved a lot of stairs. Narrow, steep stairs blocked by many monkeys. The view up the hike was beautiful when I wasn’t avoiding monkeys, worrying that one was going to jump on me and push me down the entire staircase.
I wanted to go all the way to the top of the mountain, but the staircase to the tip-top was closed for maintenance. But we made it 95% of the way, and those views were pretty spectacular.
Then we started our hike across the mountain, because that is where the Saint Michael’s Cave was located. I was amazed that this one giant rock had so many pieces of history and amazing features.
We definitely weren’t going to miss seeing the caves, but it was our last stop because we were both starving at this point. We started our trek down the mountain, which took well over an hour. We decided we preferred the uphill because we felt the consequences of college athletics and Marine Corps Infantry on our bodies, and our knees were much happier going up than they were going down.
We had our eye on a little pub restaurant we saw earlier that day in the little town center. It caught our attention because one of the entrances was in a pedestrian tunnel we walked through (cool, right?), and the atmosphere seemed pretty great. The food and company was as good as we hoped when we found it again, and it was the perfect ending to such an awesome day.
I totally recommend spending a day in Gibraltar if you ever have the chance! I really think hiking up the mountain completed the experience, and I could definitely check the hiking in Spain box off of my bucket list.
Just posted and coming up in the Spain Series:
1. Getting There (HERE)
2. Day in Seville (HERE)
3. Marbella Dune Buggy Tour (HERE)
5. Mediterranean Sea (Coming tomorrow!)
6. Hiking El Caminito Del Rey