Rock of Gibraltar is still a cultural melting pot.

Visitors to Gibraltar in pursuit of waving Union Jacks and the odd monkey will be satisfied. But those who linger after the tour busses leave will discover other attractions and cultures richly layered.

The Rock is often touted in the press – indeed it touts itself – as “home from home” and “the best of British in the sun”. It offers everything a Brit abroad could want: beer served in pints, real fish and chips and pub names like The Trafalgar and Nelson’s.

A climb to the top of the Rock will take you up a flight of steps painted garish with Union flags by the patriotic residents whose houses crowd round it. 

And if you step out on September’s National Day the place is awash with more red, white and blue than Britain has seen since the last world war. 

In this respect, Gibraltar is the perfect getaway for families seeking a spot of sunshine without the stress of wading through foreign menus with kids in tow. It is small enough not to lose the children, and its famous Barbary apes and old-English-style beaches are sufficient to keep them entertained.

But beyond all the more-British-than-the-British stuff is an exciting cultural melting point that many visitors pass by.

Colonial buildings bear the legacy of Maltese stonemasonry, Portuguese tiling and Neapolitan and Genoese jalousies – the hallmarks of a well-established population of immigrants who settled on the Rock on their way to the New World.

Shops in side streets sell necklaces of Moroccan dried figs piled up high next to coloured leather slippers and heavily embroidered kaftan shirts.

And behind Main Street, lunchtime fills the air with the delicious scent of boiling couscous and simmering tagines – whilst the streets fill with men in jalabas hurrying home to eat them. 

Then on Saturday morning, the main drag fills with the exuberant orthodox Jewish community celebrating the Sabbath in a curious melange of English, Yiddish and Spanish.

It is an invigorating mix with plenty to hold tourists’ attention after they have had their fill of the Rock’s famous monkeys.

Visitors with an interest in history can enjoy the maze of military tunnels: it seems the saying “as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar” is misplaced, for in reality the limestone boulder is riddled with more than 43 miles of man-made passageways. 

Some of these are still in use by the MOD and others are only accessible from below sea-level, but a fair few have been converted into a tourist attraction. 

The siege tunnels as they are known take visitors back through Gibraltar’s military history, with costumed scenes depicting life around the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

They also offer incredible lookout points from inside the Rock and across to Spain.

For even more spectacular views, visitors should head up to Jews’ Gate where a statue pays homage to Hercules – the Greek god who marked Gibraltar as one of the pillars denoting the end of the world and the beginning of ne plus ultra.

From here, it is easy to see across the bay to the docks of the Spanish port of Algeciras, as well as to mighty Atlas Mountains in Morocco. It is hard to believe that Africa can be so close by but on a clear day you can see the white-washed houses of Tangiers, just begging for an easy ferry hop across.

Or you may prefer to head into the Strait with a dolphin safari, where boat operators offer a repeat-trip guarantee of the sight of at least one friendly fishy mammal. They usually come to play in the pressure wave formed at the bow of the boat and can be great fun to watch from one of the glass-bottomed vessels.

Gibraltar is also one of the world’s top sites for wreck diving. Scuba enthusiasts can investigate any number of war-ravaged ships and barges playing home to sea-life at the bottom of the Med. And for beginners, there is an artificial reef where waters protected from fishing throng with octopuses, starfish and other marine life.

But come the evening, its time to relax at one of the Rock’s excellent restaurants with outdoor dining at Marina Bay or upmarket Queen’s Way Quay. The usual range of cuisine is available, but visitors looking to sample the real flavours of Gibraltar should head to La Boheme in Irish Town for delicious Moroccan fare, or El Patio in Casemates Square for traditional Hispanic dining. 

The square is also the spot for tax-free after-dinner drinks, when a lively crowd spills from rows of 19th century army barracks converted into bars. 

It is also the perfect spot to sit back and soak up the atmosphere in a place that is a great deal more than just little Britain abroad.

Cities of Spain have much to offer

As the summer season kicks into life, the beaches of Spain are sure to fill to bursting point. Yet for those looking to get something more out of their holidays than merely bronzing themselves on the beach, then the cities of Spain have plenty to offer.

Madrid, the capital, is certainly one of Europe’s finest cities. It possesses a wonderful combination of fascinating museums, impressive architecture and lively nightlife, to ensure that all tastes are catered for.

The three finest art galleries are the Museo del Prado, the Thyssen museum and the Reina Sofia. All three boast an incredible array of artefacts, ranging from Goya and El Greco, to Rembrandt and Botticelli. For a more historical look at the city, then visit the Museo Municipal and the Palacio Real, the latter also doubling up as a spectacular venue for open air theatre and music performances during the summer months.

Walking around the town, you will be able to take in such sights as the Puerta del Sol, the centre point of the city, the large number of cafes that surround the Plaza Mayor, and the 17th century town hall. You can also browse through the Rastro market, one of Europe’s largest flea markets, and soak up some true Spanish tradition at a flamenco show at Casa Patas.

The public gardens of the Parque del Buen Retiro are a pleasant retreat to relax and unwind, and it is possible to hire a boat to float out onto the lake. You will find there the Egyptian Fountain and Alfonso XII’s mausoleum. You will also be kept entertained by the variety of entertainers and buskers vying for your attention.

Other activities to enjoy in Madrid, providing the season is right, include a trip to the Santiago Bernabeu stadium, the famous home of the Real Madrid football team where David Beckham and Michael Owen now ply their trade, bullfighting, a hot air balloon ride over the city, or enjoy tapas in the numerous bars of the Chueca district.

Barcelona is another fabulous city to explore. La Rambla is a good place to start from, a collection of streets that stretch from the Placa de Catalunya to the waterfront. Along the way, make sure you stop off at La Boqueria, a great food market, and soak up the atmosphere of street entertainers. The fascinating architecture of Gaudi means that walking through the city is quite an experience.

You can check out Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece La Sagrada Familia. The Picasso Museum near the Parc de la Ciutadella is worth a visit, and for more culture, the Musuem of Modern Art in the Parc de la Ciutadella and the Museum of Contemporary Art are both excellent.

You can even visit the home of Spain’s other top football side at the Nou Camp, with the chance of stadium tours and a look at the club museum. Further afield, Montserrat is proving an increasingly popular destination, and you can visit the Benedictine Monastery, a place steeped in Catalan history.

Valencia is the third largest city in Spain, and boasts delightful beaches on the Mediterranean. The old town houses the striking cathedral, while the river is traversed by three proud bridges, the Puente del Real, the Puente de la Trinidad and the Puente de Serranos.

One of the best attraction is the baroque Palacio del Marqués de Dos Aguas, as well as the Museo de Bellas Artes. Whilst in Valencia, you must take the opportunity to sample a local delicacy too, the paella Valenciana, a variation on the traditional Spanish dish, which includes chicken and snails

Granada, on the south coast, is a city with a large student presence, due to its popular university. The capital of Moorish Andalucia, the 11th century Alhambra is the jewel in the city’s crown. It is set against the picturequse Sierra Nevada, which in wintertime offers superb skiing. This incredible palace is breathtaking, with the Alcazaba, the Palacio Nazaries and beautiful gardens, and provides wonderful views across the city.

In contrast, Seville is a city that moves at a slower pace, which brings with it an individual charm. It is at the heart of Andalusian culture, the centre of bullfighting and Flamenco music. The city was the home of EXPO ’92, and as a result combines a mixture of new and old, the latter perhaps most emphatically demonstrated by the Muslim Alcázar and the Christian cathedral.

Related articles about cities in Spain

Foie Gras Pate, Fillet Steak and Call Girls in Barcelona

Watermelon cocktails on the 65th floor in Barcelona

A Short Break in Barcelona

Discover the White Coast

It may be less feted then its counterparts the Costa del Sol and Costa Brava, but the Costa Blanca is itself a veritable treasure chest of stunning locations just waiting to be opened and explored.

Known as The White Coast, Alicante is perhaps the jewel in the region’s crown. Castillo de Santa Barbara is a dramatic fortification rising above the town and coastline of the surrounding area of Alicante.

The site was originally fortified in prehistoric Iberian times but since then Carthaginians, Romans, Moors have all built on the site.

Meanwhile the impressive Santa Pola castle was built on the orders of King Felipe 11 in the 16th century to protect against the raids of Barbary pirates. The prettiest towns are nearest to the castle.

The island of Tabarca is well worth a visit. It is the only inhabited island in the Valencia region and is only reached by boat from Santa Pola and Alicante. 

Because of its size it can only be explored by foot or, for the more adventurous, diving.

Orihuela is a historical inland town which is renowned for its five national monuments and its urban layout and Episcopalian seat. 

The town also holds two important feasts per year: the Holy Week processions and the Moors and Christians feast in mid-July.

The White Coast is more than just the high rise hotels of Benidorm – the popular tourist town known for its Brtitish pubs. Next time you are on the Costa Blanca check out the other fascinating towns and villages that the area has to offer!

Foie Gras Pate, Fillet Steak and Call Girls in Barcelona !

Our blogger and Travel TV Presenter, Becky Hayes, has just returned from a short break to Barcelona. In this article she talks about a “chilled out” break and her experience on the 26th floor of the W Hotel !

If you are looking for a cheap summer getaway then Barcelona cannot be beaten! Full of culture, history, fantastic architecture, beaches, shopping and fantastic nightlife it’s one of my favourite short haul destinations.

This is the 2nd time I’ve been this year and this time went with my husband so it was a little more chilled out compared to my weekend with the girls there back in February!

We stayed at the 3* B-Hotel right in the centre. I cannot rate this hotel highly enough. The location is fantastic; its right next to the Metro has a direct bus to the airport across the road and is next to a modern shopping centre. It also has some fab tapas restaurants alongside it. It’s great in the summer especially as it has a very chic rooftop pool that is reminiscent of Ibiza. We spent most afternoons there with a chilled bottle of cava, watching the hustle and bustle below.

I took my husband for cocktails at Eclipse, which is a bar on the 26th floor of The W Hotel.  It’s exactly the kind of swish atmosphere he likes with a very cool crowd and a DJ playing. However I have to say I was disappointed by it this time. Even though the views are fantastic, you don’t get much chance to see them as they pack the bar too full. We could barely move in there at one point and it became very uncomfortable. Also we noticed (and I’d heard rumours beforehand) that there were a lot of call girls in there. It became obvious because as we were trying to take pictures of the views, they would all cover their faces! There were no tables free to sit at because the call girls were sat at them drinking champagne. We didn’t stay very long.

A new bar that we discovered is Club Pipa. This is like no other bar I’ve ever been to before! It is also called the secret bar as it’s hard to find and with no signage outside. It’s in a square just off La Ramblas and you find the door with a buzzer on it. You then have to ring the buzzer to be let in. You then walk up 2 flights of stairs in darkness (we thought it was all a hoax and we might get mugged at this point) and arrive at a small, funky bar. It’s dedicated to Sherlock Holmes and has old pipes and memorabilia everywhere. It is definitely worth finding!

Generally most restaurants you find in Barcelona do great food, all reasonably priced too. As my husband and I are big foodies, we decided to treat ourselves on our last evening and go out for a nice dinner in the Gothic Quarter. Firstly, the Gothic Quarter or el Gotic or Barri Gottic as its known, is a beautiful place to spend your evening. It’s like a film set from an old movie and there are so many gorgeous little bars and restaurants to be found amongst the winding alleyways. We went to PLA, which had great reviews on trip advisor. It’s intimate and romantic inside with great service. We had Pork Carpaccio and Foie Gras Pate to start followed by Fillet Steak.

During the summer months you can go to Barcelona for under £300 each; that includes flights and a hotel in the centre. I would definitely recommend a short break there!

Running of the Bulls – Spain

The single most characteristic event of the Fiesta of San Fermin. This is the event which has given the Fiesta world-wide fame and which appears on news broadcasts around the world during that special week in July. It is held at eight o’clock each morning from the 7th to the 14th of July inclusive. It consists largely of young men (although it admits all types) who run in front of the bulls to lead them from their pen up and into the bull-ring. It usually lasts from two to three minutes – although if there are complications due to loose bulls it can last much longer.

The length of the run is some 800 metres (about half a mile) and you don’t have to sign up anywhere to take part; you just enter into the run and choose the street where you will run and try to do as best as you can. 

On the 15th there is a parody of the run made by some die-hards who refuse to face the fact that the Fiesta is all over and who run in front of the early-morning bus which comes up Santo Domingo street.

The run…… Continue reading “Running of the Bulls – Spain”

Watermelon cocktails on the 65th floor in Barcelona !

Our roving Travel TV Presenter, Becky Hayes, has just returned from another girls only short break to Barcelona. You might remember that Becky was recently impressing the locals in Prague. This time Becky and her girl friends hit Barcelona and here is her report of some of the best places to visit whilst in Barcelona.

If you are looking for a cheap break or a weekend away, then Barcelona is the perfect option.  Just 2 hours away by plane and with extremely cheap deals to be had, you’d be mad not to book up.
It’s a mix of culture, history, arts, fantastic shopping, amazing nightlife and of course the beach.
I’ve just got back from a long weekend there with the girls but we honestly wanted to stay on longer.  We felt there was still so much we hadn’t seen or done.

We stayed in the TRYP Apolo Barcelonaright in the centre of the city and 15 minutes in a taxi from the airport. It’s a 5 minute walk to Las Ramblas and a 5 minute taxi ride to the Barri Gotic Quater so it’s very easy to get to everything. The hotel in itself was fantastic; we even got upgraded from a triple room to a top floor suite with 2 bedrooms! Although with 3 girls, 2 bathrooms may have come in handier! The staff were friendly and so helpful. Look out for Miguel (very white teeth and a dark set tan!) who can recommend restaurants, bars and tourist attractions.
A must is Las Ramblas. It’s a long main street heading down to the marina with so much to see. It has restaurants galore, animals, street entertainers and stalls selling niknaks. Do keep your bags close though; it’s notorious for pick pockets. Also the restaurants here can be fairly expensive so it’s worth venturing off down one of the many side streets and looking for a restaurant there.

Being with the girls, we wanted to get dressed up in the evening, enjoy a nice dinner then head out and experience the Barcelona nightlife. It did not disappoint! The food, especially tapas is fantastic and there are so many bars and clubs to choose from. My favourites are below:
Little Italy– This is in the Barri Gotic Quater and is set in the most gorgeous building. It’s a mixture of exposed beams and modern architecture. The food is delicious and very reasonably priced. Make sure you try a mango mojito. They also have a live jazz band on midweek and there are plenty of bars nearby to enjoy a cocktail in after.

Shoko Beach Club – We went here out of season but it was still amazing! The staff were great and really looked after us putting us in VIP with a complimentary glass of champagne. Thanks to Juan for that! The DJ played a good mix of music and they had drinks deals on which all in all made it very reasonable. In the summer, it opens out onto the beach.
The Sutton Club– If you are looking for an exclusive, Ibiza- esq club then this is the place. Inside, the club is dominated by Moet and Grey Goose seating areas that curve around the dancefloor. When we went the theme was snow so there were beautiful girls in skimpy ski wear on stage, silver sprayed dancers and entertainers walking around, fake snow all over the floor and falling from the ceiling and pine trees! The club is open till 6am and is full of the in-crowd. Thanks to Kevin for sorting us out on the Guestlist

The W Hotel Cocktail Bar – If you’re looking for a cocktail with a view then head to the 65th floor of this plush hotel. The barmen are good looking and friendly and at 12 euros a cocktail, you’d hope so! From here you can see most of Barcelona and the coastline. The watermelon martinis are to die for!
For 3 nights in Barcelona Thursday-Sunday we paid £166 each. That included flights and a central hotel, great value! We went out of season and it was cold but there is still so much to see and do.

A Short Break in Barcelona

For centuries overlooked by its cultural and political rival Madrid, Barcelona truly came into its own with the advent of modernism. Indeed, the names best associated with the Catalan capital are like a ‘who’s who’ of modernist art and architecture: Gaudi, Picasso, Dali and Miro, all of who have contributed to the city’s unique identity and character.

It was the 1992 Olympic Games, however, that truly transformed Barcelona from a relatively run-down industrial port to the popular holiday destination of today.Following years of neglect under the bullying dictatorship of General Franco, who punished the city for its culture of Catalan separatism, the redevelopment work for the Olympics saw the industrial landscape town down and focused on the rejuvenation of the sea-front into an area for leisure.

Since then, locals and tourists alike have benefited from several excellent beaches fronting onto the Mediterranean Sea, including the Mar Bella, Nova Mar Bella and the Bogatell, allowing Barcelona to become a destination that combines the attractions of a beach holiday with the cultural richness of a city break.In addition to the rejuvenation of the port, over the past couple of decades, the compact centre of Barcelona has now been smartened up, with wandering the winding streets and alleys of the city among the most rewarding things a visitor can do.

Almost cutting the centre in two, Barcelona’s most famous thoroughfare, Las Ramblas, serves not only as a useful orientation point for tourists but has, for many years, served as the preferred location of locals to see and be seen during the ritualistic early-evening stroll.Today, Las Ramblas is the site of bustling markets of all descriptions-though animal-lovers may find the livestock and pet stalls a rather uncomfortable sight- while entertainment is provided by buskers of varying skills and abilities.

After getting some sense of the city’s layout, visitors can then wander through the largely pedestrian-friendly city centre, with the majority of Barcelona’s finest sites and attractions within comfortable walking distance.The works of two of the most famous artists associated with the city are displayed within specialist museums, namely the Fundacio Juan Miro and the Picasso Museum, both of which also host guest exhibitions from around the world, while an exploration of the city’s history is available to visitors at the National Museum of Catalonia.

Slightly out of the centre, though both easily accessible with the efficient Metro System, are the two finest monuments to Barcelona’s most famous architect, Antoni Gaudi.Famously working on the principle that there are no straight lines in nature, both the unfinished cathedral the Sagrada Familia- which George Orwell famously despised- and his garden complex at Park Guell are suitably flamboyant works, representing a complete break with traditional styles.

Just as famous as the city’s culture is its vibrant nightlife. As befits its Mediterranean location, the seafood on offer in Barcelona’s restaurants is on a par with anywhere else in the world and diners with varying budgets are able to take advantage of this.Given that dinner is eaten no earlier than nine or ten o’clock in the evening, the city’s bars and clubs, where the emphasis is on contemporary cool these days, don’t open until late and certainly don’t get busy until the early hours of the morning.Fortunately, Barcelona also boasts a number of chic hotels, carrying on the tradition of modernist design, while the affordable, more traditional rooms on offer in and around the Gothic Quarter also make an excellent base from which to explore the city whilst getting a feel for the day-to-day life.

Call Global Holidays FREE on 0800 433 2300 for a hotel in Barcelona at low prices