We’ve all seen the deals. We all know the adage – if something looks too good to be true it is too good to be true.
Staying in a converted concrete factory albeit with a great view of Vesuvius should have taught me a lesson – but I still moved into what looked (and felt) like a converted pizza oven in a former glass blowing factory on Murano.
So would a ‘super yacht’ turn out to be that super, after all?
Judging by the reviews of the Sunborn Gibralter it seemed to be five stars all the way. It’s just the surrounds that let it down. Gibralter. Not a fan. I can understand why the Spanish have done an about-turn and told the Brits we can keep it post-Brexit. The possibility of losing Gibralter is about the only thing about Brexit that I do like. Blame a succession of hurried tours of The Rock turning tail (as they don’t have one) on Barbary macaques out to nick your specs and any food stashed about your person – I reckon they flog the lot over the border at the weekly market.
Undeterred, I booked via Fleetway and couldn’t believe my luck when the flight touched down – you can even see your ‘hotel’ from the aircraft. It was raining so heavily (what passes for a balmy summer’s day in Blackpool) that we didn’t get to see The Rock (other than the wrestler on telly) for two days. That’s no great loss. We wanted to find out whether this two and a quarter square miles of rocky peninsula rocked in other ways over and above its territorial disputes, sieges, wars and piracy prone history.
The Sunborn certainly does, there are regular concerts, and a casino, and it overlooks a lively marina, euphemistically referred to as ‘the village’ when it’s the bit that has bars rather than boats. Again, it’s great for cheap margaritas at happy hour, or a half of Guinness at an allegedly Irish bar, and chain name pizza and sushi places nearby but … you could be at Anywhere-on-Water. But for that Rock – and the narrow strait that draws the eye to Africa and looks exotic until you take the requisite dolphin trip (a MUST) and realise all those earthy colours in the distance are container ships.
Our stateroom overlooked the runway on the narrow strip that connects the Rock to the mainland so we had our own air show daily – mostly passenger jets rather than Spanish military Orions and it’s not so busy as to be intrusive.
The airport’s a 15 gentle stroll away. Five minutes by taxi. The taxi queues are orderly, supervised, and it will cost less than a tenner to get there and the cabby will cart your luggage up the ramp to pass to the Sunborn porters and be back in no time.
As one in straitened circumstances the cheapest deal I’d found online for a transfer was £65 – one way. Another was so pricy I asked if they thought if I was flying into Africa. Gibralter is 7.7 nautical miles away Morocco at the narrowest point of the Strait. It was once hugely important in terms of a strategic base for the Brits.
Don’t get too blasé and delay getting back to the airport either– as the runway straddles the main road (Spain one side, Gibralter the other) which closes until flights are clear. Factor that into your return – reception will help – or you could be the wrong side of the tracks watching your flight take off.
The trip marked the first time I’d asked for assistance for a passenger with mobility issues – and both Manchester and GIbralter airport staff were incredibly helpful.
On board Sunborn we sipped a glass of welcoming fizz before being led to an elegant stateroom with lots of high tech toys to control temperatures and curtains and lights and all sorts. In common with most first timers we had the rite of passage play with the touch button curtains for 10 minutes until worried it could be taken for a coded message in Morocco.
There are some furnished balconies but they tend to overlook the nearby bars so can get noisy. We had a full length balcony that you could lean but not stand on or stick seats on. It still made for great views of sunsets – after the sun finally smiled on us on day three.
The service is superb, and prices aren’t as steep as the undeniably five star rating might suggest, including in the excellent restaurants and bars. Sunborn is spotless – even in the frenzy for free fizz at breakfast or while drifting onto deck with coffees to while a morning away or sip a warming brandy in the evening. More importantly, the crew were lovely to my mum, a feisty octogenarian.
Sadly, we couldn’t say the same of the locals. While the macaques are cheeky monkeys the man who drove me ape was the café keeper who turfed poor old Ma off a seat outside his – closed – café in Casemates Square while a festival was on and there was no spare seating.
It’s easy to get around on foot but catch a blue bus for a circular tour of Gib to get your bearings. I took the cable car to the top of the Rock, looked at the Fortifications, the Great Siege Tunnels, Europa Point – looking out to Northern Africa and Southern Spain – but our favourite spot was The Alameda gardens, six hectares of subtropical paradise created in 1816 and blooming anew after the neglect of the 1970s when I first saw them.
Main Street, with its beautiful architecture – and branch of M&S – is a must for VAT free shopping but it’s a long way to come back if your new camera doesn’t work.
Then again, it would mean a welcome return to Sunborn, a destination in its own right.
And, for both of us, the definitive photo opportunity of the trip – the Blue Boat Dolphin Safari. Lots of dolphins, different types, and a great gung-go experience.
I may be warming to Gibralter. That will never do.