Married in Gibraltar Near Spain

I can’t resist popping into the British colony of Gibraltar when in Southern Spain. Gibraltar is hardly signposted in Spain, as if Spain wishes the British colony didn’t exist. (You follow signs to La Linea, the last Spanish town.)

Quirky Gibraltar is happily English. Just 30,000 people live along a three-mile lip of land under that famous Prudential Rock, but the people of Gib have an impressive national pride. In a 2002 referendum they voted 99 percent to stay with Britain. If you ask locals what they think of their current governor, now in his third term, they say, “He deals effectively with Spain.”

The colony is part British, part not-Spanish, part Gibraltarian. They have the big three-pronged English plugs, their own currency (the pound sterling — but a Gibraltar version, like Scotland) and their own web domain (gi). Their Anglican church is proudly “headquarters of the Anglican Church in Europe” (not very centrally located for the business of administering that vast parish).

The people have that annoying British correctness — I got chewed out by the woman at the tourist board for not giving them advance notice of my visit. They’ve decided to change the name of what for a thousand years has been known as “the Moorish Castle” to the “Medieval Castle.” (I told them, “Not in my guidebook.”)

An American submarine was in port during my visit, so the colony’s pubs were busy with Yankees on a quest for cold beer. Gibraltar’s economy, once dominated by the military, is now based mostly on tourism. (And that includes quickie weddings — only 48 hours notice is required and it’s legally British. Sean Connery got married here. And, of course Beatle fans remember from “The Ballad of John and Yoko” that they too got “married in Gibraltar near Spain.”)

While the British military presence is now dwarfed by the presence of British sun-seekers, the colony is encrusted with military souvenirs — thick, thick ramparts, war memorials, 30 miles of tunnels drilled into its rock and big rusted iron rings every 20 yards along the military roads that switchback to the top of the rock, designed to enable limeys to hoist up the giant cannons that once helped the Brits seal off the Mediterranean when they wanted.

As we drove high above the port, my taxi driver pointed down to a tiny breakwater and said, “That’s where they pickled Admiral Nelson after the Battle of Trafalgar.” (While he won, he died too. His body was preserved in a barrel of spirits for the trip back to London.)

Gibraltar’s dominant tour company is called Blands. I remember 10 years ago all the buses said “Bland Tours.” Mr. Bland — who speaks perfect English, so there’s no excuse — finally realized that his name just wasn’t ideal from a marketing point of view. But sometimes ego trumps greed. He added an “s.” Now his buses read: Blands Tours.

The Gibraltar business sense is quirky. The hotels are twice as expensive as those across the border in Spain (and not as comfortable). For a decade, I’ve said, “English food is no longer as bad as its reputation.” Now I’ll add: “…except in Gibraltar.”

And the businesses pad their bottom line by gouging anyone who comes in and spends euros. I imagine well over 200,000,000 people spend euros. Only 30,000 spend Gibraltar pounds. And Gib business people say, “Sure, we take euros.” They don’t tell you that it comes with about a 20 percent loss in the exchange rate.

Nevertheless, tourism is booming. Midday, the pedestrian-friendly main street (which locals call “Main Street”) is a virtual human traffic jam. And twice as many planes are landing in the colony every day. While it’s still only four planes, it is more important than ever now that when you walk across the military airstrip that marks the border between Spain and what’s left of the British Empire, you look left, right and up.


14 Replies to “Married in Gibraltar Near Spain”

  1. Maybe it’s no longer there, but it was your guidebook that led me to “The Little Chef” in Gibraltar. The “one English-speaking guy” was NOT there! As you pointed out, there is no menu. So Arlene and I did as we did in Italy: we went back to the kitchen, looked, and pointed. We had a delicious meal. I would be sad to hear that the restaurant is no longer there.

  2. Great blog today. I so glad you can’t resist stepping across borders to small places because you are nearby. I’m off on a GAS tour next week and I really want to step across the borders into Luxembourg and/or France.

  3. Spent a day in Gibratlter this past winter on a tour. I found it fun but would not want to stay there. You are correct about the exchange rate. The beef wellington was very good it cost 9lbs(no sign) and we paid over $30.00. Oh well you only live once. We did enjoy the tour up the rock and the apes.

  4. My 19-year old son, Sergio, and my best friend’s daughter, Alexandra, spent three months studying in Florence this year. On one of their get-away weekends Sergio and Alexandra spotted Rick and a friend. I got a frantic phone call from Florence because they were so excited they had seen Rick Steves and had taken a picture with him. They had his book back at their room and had been using it to take their weekend trips.
    Thanks, Steve, for your great guidance and wonderful books.

  5. As an American currently living in Southern Spain it’s fun to read the daily blogs on areas I am familiar with and some that I am not but, hope to be soon. Gibraltar is a fun day trip!

  6. Hello Rick,

    I don’t want to “bog” you down with unimportant and/or repetitive messages in all your entries but did want to let you know how much I enjoy following you on your travels thru your blog.

    You are an inspiration and I apprecitate your sharing and open minded style. Best Wishes, Gary G. Schempp in Nj=USA and at

  7. – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
    In 1979, while looking for tickets to tour from Algeciras, Spain to Morocco, I had pointed out a broken water pipe I had seen through a window in a closed Spanish government office, to a man in uniform. He thanked me and ran for help. As a complete surprise to him, and the two of us, he was the Customs official in charge of the customs station at Algeciras, Spain, when we returned from Morocco. As we entered the building, he remembered us from a few days earlier, smiled, saluted, shook our hands, thanked us, and personally escorted us past the long, complicated customs inspection stations, through the gate without even a glance at our passports or packages. Cast your “bread” upon the broken water pipe, and it will come back to bless you.
    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

  8. I’m leaving in six weeks for a trip through Spain, and nothing’s gotten me as excited as your blogs! I can’t wait to see it all for myself.

  9. Rick:
    I heard that you stopped into La Bastide de la Baraque in Antibes today, long enough to have an orange juice. I hope you found Isabelle and Franc as charming and real as we did and that you can recommend their B & B in your next guidebook.
    Too bad you didn’t have time to sample some of their cooking; French, inspired by Spain and Corsica!

  10. Hi, Rick! Thanks for putting more photos up. They’re lovely. Looks like you’re having a great time. Happy travels!

  11. Love the pictures. Cannot wait to sign up with Bland Travels. Always looking for an exciting tour group disguised as a boring bus ride. At least they’re trying to cover up the obvious:

    “Just add an ‘s’ and bing, blam, we’re no longer bland.”
    (aside) “Woo, do you think anybody noticed?”

    Your blog is so entertaining. Gets me excited for my next trip to Europe. Thanks for taking the time to write and share your travel experiences, of course with pictures! :D

  12. We really enjoyed our day trip to Gib. It was toward the end of a two week stint in Portugal and Spain and it was refreshing to have someone we could “talk” with again in conversational English. I know that doesn’t sound very generous, but it was a nice change for just that day.

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