On Day 3 in Andalusia we took the mountain road from Ronda down to Gibraltar and continued across the lowlands on the Spanish Atlantic coast to Jerez de la Frontera, home of Sherry.
This blog post starts with a map of this part of the car trip, continues with the plan we made before leaving and finishes with what we actually did. Read the introduction to this trip.
The Plan (= my best tips to Gibraltar in particular)
0900 – 1100, Ronda – Gibraltar
It takes 1:45 to drive the 110 km down from Ronda to Gibraltar. If we take the mountain road it covers 100 km in 2:00. We can park at the border and venture into the English colony in a taxi before we proceed to Jerez later that day.
1100 – 1500, Gibraltar
Gibraltar is not a vacation destination in itself, I read here and there. However, it is common to park your car in the Spanish town of La Linea and take a taxi or walk across the border. Indeed the border is an airstrip where you’ll have to give way to incoming aircraft. In the “Plaza de la Constitucion” in La Linea there is underground parking open 24 hours a day.
Gibraltar has narrow streets, but the point seems to be visiting a mountain with an old Moorish castle (less interesting) and especially The Rock. This is a giant rock that almost looms over the city. Here you take a cable car up and enjoy the view. There is little point in enjoying our food up here, for it is pinched by all the little monkeys. That can also happen with sunglasses and other loose objects when they jump onto your shoulder. They are the only resident monkeys in Europe. It may seem like a visit to Gibraltar is over in half a day, and that is what we have.
1500 – 1730, Gibraltar – Jerez de la Frontera
It takes 1:30 to run the straight-line 110 km long road to Jerez. We are staying two nights in Hipotels Sherry Park (Avenida Alvaro Domecq, 11 Bis, 11405 Jerez de la Frontera, +34 956 31 76 14). Free Wi-Fi throughout the hotel. Check in time at this hotel is at 1400, so it is great to take the morning in Gibraltar. Our hotel has a lovely garden and pool, is centrally located and seems to be a typical business hotel with high standards. Breakfast is included in our room rate.
Jerez is a historic town with an old Arab fortress. The town gives its name to Sherry, due to the British problem with their Spanish pronunciation. We will not do much more than to sleep, bathe and go on our daytrip to Africa tomorrow.
Going from Ronda to Gibraltar left us a few alternatives. We could have taken the A-397 back towards Marbella on the coast, the same way we arrived in Ronda, and continue along the coast on the E-15. Instead we preferred to see more of the mountains which meant taking the A-369 to Gaucin turning onto the A-405 down to La Roque and further on to the seaside town of La Linea de la Concepción.
This choice gave us the opportunity to see a string of Andalusian white villages perching on mountaintops or on steep hillsides. The road was quite good winding its way over this hilly landscape with very good views in all directions. We did not stop in any of the villages but merely took in the atmosphere as we went by.
The Andalusian white village of Algatocín
The town of La Linea borders on the British Overseas Territory (colony) of Gibraltar. The advice I had received from reading about Gibraltar and talking to people at home was that taking the car into Gibraltar is not worth doing. First of all the streets in the small city are narrow and not easy to navigate in and secondly there is always a long queue waiting to pass through the customs check on the border.
Driving along the sea boulevard in La Linea we immediately noticed the long line of cars waiting to cross the border. We passed them and found a large underground parking lot a few hundred metres from the border crossing point. We went out into the heat of the day and crossed into Great Britain by just flashing our passports.
The next choice of alternatives faced us when we were about to leave the immigration building. Our initial plan had been to walk the 3 km or so into the centre and take the cable car from Market Square to the top of the mountain. When we arrived I had forgotten that it was also possible to take a bus into the centre.
In any case we were hailed by a person at a counter offering us a guided round-trip of Gibraltar in a minibus. The price was 20 euros per person, we would get the fifth and youngest person for free and we would get the minibus reserved for our group only. The minibus was going to stop at four places in Gibraltar and return us to the border a few hours later.
Gibraltar airport with La Linea in Spain behind it.
Considering the hot weather, the age of the youngest in our party, the content of the tour, the reasonable price and the time we wanted to spend in Gibraltar, we settled for this solution. It is something I would highly recommend to others. Here’s what we experienced in about two hours:
The first you notice of Gibraltar is The Rock, the massive limestone ridge towering 426 metres above sea level with vertical cliffs on its northern and eastern sides. It is visible from far away, looming over the densely populated town at its foot.
The second impression you get entering into this largely autonomous British territory is its airport, or rather the runway that you actually cross on foot or wheels right after the border. There was no aircraft landing when we crossed it.
Our third immediate impression was that of our guide’s accent. He claimed he was a British person born and raised in Gibraltar. That is probably correct considering the Gibraltarian-British nationalism he was full of, it’s just that he did not sound British. At all. This is perhaps not so strange after all, as Gibraltar is a cosmopolitan hot-pot combining all sorts of ethnic and religious groups in its population of about 30,000.
We went straight into town and started the climb up the eastern side of the mountain. This is where most buildings are found. As we climbed higher it was easy to notice how big efforts the territory has put up in reclaiming land. Large new housing projects had been constructed in the sea towards the Bay of Algeciras. This is probably another thorn in the eye for the Spanish.
Monkey ready to jump on tourists high above reclaimed land in Gibraltar
The Pillars of Hercules Monument was our first stop.
The monument resembles a round coin with “The Ancient World” stamped on one side with a map of the Mediterranean and “The Modern World” on the reverse side with a world map where Gibraltar is placed in the centre. I did not quite get the point, but actually The Rock of Gibraltar itself was in the Antiquity named one of the Pillars of Hercules. The other was on the African side of the strait. They marked the end of civilisation.
In any case this place was probably put up as a natural stopping point for visitors and it offered a good view of Spain on the one side and Morocco across the Strait.
Stop number two was at St Michael’s Cave.
The mountain is full of natural and man-made caves and grottos. This is a natural grotto that once was inhabited by Neolithic people. The stalactites and stalagmites were colourful and the cave even had an auditorium for staging concerts and plays.
St Michael’s Cave in Gibraltar
The third stop was near the top of the Rock, where the cable car ends.
Although there were some monkeys to be seen outside St Michael’s Cave, this is where a large colony of them awaits all the tourists. There are around 230 Barbary Macaques as the species is called. The ones we met represent the only wild monkeys in Europe. They were all over the cliffs, the car roofs, and on the heads and shoulders of us. Our guide warned us that they might become aggressive so we made no sudden arm movements, even with some of them climbing all over us. It was great fun.
My only resentment (even irritation) that I pointed out to the driver as we later returned to the border was that we spent much more time up there watching the monkeys than the Rock. The guide gave us the impression that we would continue to another viewpoint, or even to the top itself. Which we didn’t. I therefore hardly took pictures of the scenery, or looked over the edge of the cliff for a view of it. The guide even told us not to walk away from the car. He was apparently afraid of losing precious time on this two hour guided tour.
The Great Siege Tunnels was our fourth and last stop.
There are more than 70 km of tunnels in the Rock but only a small part is open to the public. The museum we entered was a tunnel system that was hewn out by hand in one of the many sieges in the late 18th century. The British pulled up large canons and put them inside this fortification. From outside this museum we had a great view of the airport and La Linea across the border.
The way back to the airport went through the city centre. It looked alright but not very exciting. We might have spent a full day here visiting Moorish fortress remains, churches and museums, or one of the duty-free shops – but we didn’t really care.
Apart from my disappointment with the visit to the top this tour was a great idea for people in a group with limited time. Private cars were not allowed to the sights we visited, at least we only saw guide-driven minibuses. The only real alternative is to take the cable car to the top and back; or even choose between a walk to either the Cave or the Tunnels before you walk back down into town again. (Zoom in on my map on top of this page for a detailed view of the places we went.)
Gibraltar was a fascinating place, and it felt very alright having seen it. The Rock is marvellous, the views are great, and the history of this place is unique.
Gibraltar is a British overseas territory on the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula. It is dominated in every way by the Rock, the huge cliff towering over the city and beaches below. This video is from a round-trip to the Pillars of Hercules, St Michael’s Cave, The Rock and the Great Siege tunnels.
The black silhouette of The Osborne Bull is seen from roads all over Andalusia
Our third day in Andalusia was not over. We were only in the afternoon and we had a couple of hours before us on the motorways of Spain. Maybe it’s because I’m Norwegian, but I must admit that the flat and slightly rolling landscape we met on our way to Jerez, was not as fascinating as the mountains we passed this morning. There was however no lack of Osborne Bulls and there were windmills scattered all around. Don Quixote could have spent more than a lifetime here fighting these mills.
Anyway, we found our way to our Jerez hotel with only minor difficulties. The hotel was modern, had a high standard and an absolutely lovely pool in the gardens. We all had a good time there before indulging ourselves with Argentinian parrillada in the nearby restaurant of “Parrilla la Pampa“. Naturally we had to order sherry as an appetizer. At the restaurant we placed separate orders and even one that the cook would have to improvise on. All orders turned out to be a success. The meal was a feast. We all loved it.
Relaxing pool area in Jerez
Oddity no. 1: The word sherry is of course derived from Jerez and is a result of the English lack of ability to speak proper Spanish.
Oddity no. 2: Jerez has the added name of “de la Frontera” meaning “at the frontier”. There are many place names in this part of Spain ending like this. At some time in history they were all at the frontier, meaning on the border between the Spanish and the Moors.
It had been a very long day and tomorrow was going to be even longer.
All chapters in this series
Introduction: We had a fantastic 15 days’ vacation in the southern Spanish province of Andalusia making the classic golden roundtrip to the famous cities of Seville, Cordoba and Granada. And a lot more.
Malaga, Marbella and Ronda: The first two days of our Tour of Andalucia started in Malaga, continued with a short stop in Marbella and is mostly about lovely days in Ronda.
Ronda, Gibraltar and Jerez: On Day 3 in Andalusia we took the mountain road from Ronda down to Gibraltar and continued across the lowlands on the Spanish Atlantic coast to Jerez de la Frontera, home of Sherry.
Tangier: Day 4 in Andalusia is a daytrip from Jerez to Tarifa and across the Strait of Gibraltar to Tangier, Morocco. The distance is not far, but it proved to be a world apart.
Seville: Days 5 and 6 of our Andalusia tour were spent in Seville, previously and today one of the world’s most important cities.
Córdoba: We visited Córdoba on Day 7 of our stay in Andalusia. This day we were on the move from Seville to Granada and stopped for a few hours in extreme heat in this former Moorish capital.
Granada: Days 8 to 15 in Andalusia were mostly spent in Granada. I also made a day-trip to the Renaissance towns of Baeza and Úbeda inland and a drive along the coast.