When I was at school large chunks of my atlas were still coloured red. The days of empire were over (no I’m not that old but old enough) but the colonies still existed. In the centre of the book were black and white photos. The Taj Mahal was always one along with the Table Mountain and the Rock of Gibraltar.
Well I lived under Table Mountain for a short time in the 1980s and since the 1990s the Rock of Gibraltar has been on the horizon or a near neighbour. The Taj Mahal has yet to be visited...but I have dined at a restaurant of the same name – in Shepherds Bush I think.
The most famous hotel in Gibraltar is the Rock – as the name suggests it is perched on the side of the limestone monolith with outstanding views across the bay to Algeciras and the Strait to Morocco. It was built in 1932 by the Marquis of Bute and over the intervening years became one of the Med’s most distinguished hotels - a home from home for the Britons sailing the high seas to and from old Blighty. Needless to say many famous people have stayed there – their photographs adorn the Barbary Bar wall.
Today’s world is very different but the Rock Hotel retains much of its old world charm. It has every convenience that the modern traveller could want down to Wi-Fi in its bedrooms. Yet there is a quirkiness about the hotel which I suspect can be laid largely at the door of its general manager Stephen Davenport. When I tell you he is an Arsenal supporter – those who known their soccer will nod wisely. There are ducks in your bath, lollipops in your room and macaques (apes to you and me) on your room key – yet the real quirkiness emanates from the proud hotel’s very walls.
I went to the hotel to sample the fondue – quirky indeed as I haven’t had one for over 35 years. Yet it wasn’t that splendid meal or the sumptuous breakfast that caught my imagination. It was the awe inspiring beauty of the setting. The hotel has a famous wisteria terrace and this magnificent vine was in full bloom. The views of the sun setting behind the Algeciras hills were magic – you could almost reach out and touch Morocco on your left. Then in the dark the lights shine before you from San Roque round to Algeciras and from across the Strait in Tangier - whilst the hustle and bustle of passing ships in one of the world’s busiest waterways ensures an ever changing backdrop to sip a coffee and whisky from your terrace before bed.
I have no knowledge of what lies in the future for the Rock Hotel. Just experience tells me that at sometime in the years to come some bright spark will seek to improve what in its quirky way is already perfect. Therefore sooner rather than later take the opportunity to stay at this oasis of calm – a throwback to a past age – and you can always send photographs of your experiences from your laptop as you sit below the magnificent wisteria sipping a sun downer. How quirky can you get!