There is a small corner of Europe that will be forever England. We’re not talking about the Western Front – we’re talking about Gibraltar, a rock jutting off from Spain into the Mediterranean that entered English hands three centuries ago and shows no signs of ever becoming anything other than a sunny outcrop of the Empire.
It also has the world’s scariest airport.
All things going to plan, flying to Gibraltar from London would be an incident free flight. But here, there are so many things that can go wrong. You see, Gibraltar is so small that the only way to fit in an airport runway…
… is to have it cut across the main road!
If you’ve ever been tempted to accelerate when you see a rail crossing closing ahead of you, spare a thought for the motorists who – several times, every day – have to give way to an airport runway.
Beyond its historic value, and unless you love overpriced Marmite and brown sauce, there’s little reason to spend time on the Rock of Gibraltar itself. So we’re fairly quickly crossing the border into Spain, on our way to the Kitesurfing capital of the world: Tarifa.
We’re staying at La Casa Amarilla, avoiding the many hostels on the road into town and basing ourselves in the middle of the ‘old town’.
How old? Ruins of Roman settlement in the area exist nearby, while the town takes its name from Tarif ibn Malik the eighth century general of the Umayyad Caliphate that conquered north Africa and much of the Iberian peninsula.
Control of the town changed hands between several Muslim-ruled principalities prior to the thirteenth century, when the Catholic Sancho IV of Castile reclaimed the region. Any walk through the old town will take in the ‘Puerta de Jerez’ (the last remaining medieval gate) and end at the dominant waterfront feature – the combination of a thousand-year-old Guzman castle and the el Bueno Tower added shortly after the Catholics retook control.
The most Southern point in Europe
From here, let’s walk along the beachfront, and then out along the rocky outcrop. Pause for a moment – you are standing in a key space of world geography. If the world did have four corners, this point right here would likely be one of them.
Look to the left – that’s the Mediterranean Sea, which borders so many empires of history from Egypt to Greece to Rome and Carthage.
Look to the right – that’s the Atlantic Ocean, stretching out to the New World.
Look down – you are now standing on Europe’s most southerly point, the very bottom of a continent that expands up into the Arctic circle.
Now look up – those hills you can see, across the water, little more than a literal stone’s throw away? That’s Africa.
We shot a really short video to take it all in:
Giddy Up, Up and Away
Turning north now, putting our back to Africa (sort of – Tarifa is actually further south than Tunis and Algiers!), we can see the full length of Los Lances. Off in the distance, you can see the rotating arms of wind turbines scattered across the hills – the country of Don Quixote has invested heavily in chasing 21st Century windmills.
It’s the same wind that delivers Tarifa its biggest drawcard – and from here, we can’t help but observe the dozens of kitesurfers learning on the sand and taking to the waves. They’re all in search of the exhilaration that standard surfing (with its short wave length) fails to match.
We went kitesurfing two weeks ago in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic … with mixed results. So rather than risking it again, we’re going to give over control not to the wind but to some equestrian adventures.
Aventura Ecuestre offers a two-hour beach horse ride along Los Lances, and up into the hills of the neighbouring nature reserve. The route is designed to provide beginner (or lapsed) horse-riders with confidence on their steed … and more experienced riders an opportunity to gallop with a guide at a much higher speed! Is anybody in our group daring enough to let their horse take greater control? We’re not game, but we hear there’s nothing quite like breathing in the salty sea air at a full gallop.
I like the Nightlife
With the surf culture and a position between the famous Spanish strips of the Costa de la Luz and Costa del Sol, Tarifa has an electric nightlife best described as backpacker-red-wine-chic.
There’s plenty of tapas to choose from for dinner. We know from past experience that your plates of tapas MUST outnumber your bottles of Spanish red wine.
Thanks to that previous lesson, I’m going to avoid the tempranillo! But pass me another glass of monastrell if you don’t mind; and do try the sherry, because it originates in nearby Jerez and in these parts is anything but your grandmother’s drink!
Just remember – we’re staying in the big yellow building.
Want to go? Need to know!
- You can catch public transport (buses) from Gibraltar to Tarifa – look for “La Linea de la Concepción” routes. La Linea is the Spanish side of the Gibraltar border – there are several, hour-long bus trips from La Linea to Tarifa each day; if those times don’t suit, you may be able to change buses at Algeciras.
- If you do want to experience kitesurfing in Tarifa, the world’s kitesurfing capital, you’ll have plenty of choice! Our best suggestion is talking to other travellers you meet in the town about their experiences, but if you’re looking for a website that isn’t Google or TripAdvisor, you can start here.
- Like to master the local wines? The most famous Spanish grapes are tempranillo, often sold under a “Qualified designation of origin” like Rioja. If cerveza (Spanish beer) is more to your taste, try Estrella… or just order una cerveza por favor and drink what gets served.
- Just don’t call it una servicios – that’s a polite way of saying toilet.
Which did you prefer – Gibraltar or Tarifa? Do you have a favourite Spanish wine? Share it for all our readers in our comments below, or over on our Facebook page.