Step aboard Sunborn, Gibraltar’s luxury floating hotel

Gibraltar rocks! A floating hotel, family-friendly beaches, lively nightlife and even a decent cuppa await at this historic British outpost

  • Gibraltar has a lively night scene, beaches, wildlife and spectacular scenery 
  • It has sunshine – even deep into October – and you can walk everywhere  
  • The Daily Mail’s Mark Palmer enjoyed a stay aboard Sunborn, a floating hotel

You want sunshine — even deep into October — but aren’t keen to go too far to find it. In fact, you’ve ruled out anything much more than three hours away, especially with young children in tow.

You’re looking for friendly people, a lively night scene, beaches, wildlife, spectacular scenery, and if a language barrier can be avoided, then so much the better. Oh, and a decent cuppa would be wonderful.

Well, wave those Union Flags, raise those glasses of warm ale and get down to Gibraltar, where you’ll be doing your bit to support a self-governing British Overseas Territory, which Spain would love to get its hands on. What’s more, there have been no coronavirus-based deaths on the peninsula and we are now free to come and go without any need for quarantine.

Big deal: Gibraltar is only 2.6 sq miles so you can walk everywhere, though you need to be fit to manage some of the near-vertical trails on the western face

Still, it’s a funny old place. The chip shop in Casement Square is called Al Fresco’s and I’m not sure if irony is being served here along with the battered cod and mushy peas; Winston Churchill Avenue cuts across the airport runway; the resident 200 or so macaque monkeys pose politely for selfies as if they’ve been trained to do so and there was great excitement at the opening of the first Starbucks.

Throw in Main Street, with Debenhams and Dorothy Perkins taking pride of place, double decker buses and a bingo hall, and you’ve got an easy target for jokes at Gib’s expense. ‘It’s like Littlehampton but with the weather,’ says a man at the hotel where I’m staying.

It’s nothing of the kind, of course. No disrespect to Littlehampton but you can see Africa from Gibraltar, which explains why there are 311 sunny days a year; you’re never much more than ten minutes from the airport; Gorham’s Cave (site of the last Neanderthal Man) has been given UNESCO World Heritage status; dolphins play in the bay; the 11th century Moorish Castle stands proudly above various battlements and it’s here that Lord Nelson’s body (pickled in a barrel of rum) was brought ashore after the Battle of Trafalgar.

Gibraltar is only 2.6 sq miles so you can walk everywhere, though you need to be fit to manage some of the near-vertical trails on the western face.

There are 34,000 permanent residents with — in normal times — as many as 10,000 people coming over each day to work, many of them employed in the bars and restaurants on reclaimed land now known as Ocean Village.

This is where I’m staying on a cruise ship called Sunborn that doesn’t cruise anywhere. Instead, it sits in the marina, the sun bouncing off its shiny finish and with an excellent spa on one deck and a casino on another.

Floating hotel: Mark Palmer enjoyed a stay aboard Sunborn, a luxury floating hotel

Floating hotel: Mark Palmer enjoyed a stay aboard Sunborn, a luxury floating hotel

My cabin is supremely comfortable with a good-size balcony and huge TV, which of course features all the same channels as back home. Watching the 10 o’clock news at 11pm (with the time difference) in balmy heat is a treat.

Yes, there might be a Burger King and Pizza Hut here, a McDonald’s there, but I eat spectacularly well, first at Sunborn’s ‘North African fusion’ Sky restaurant on Deck 7, then at The Lounge, and finally at the Landings. These last two are at Queensway Quay, from where you can watch the sunset without any fear of interruption from fruit machines or Sky sports. It knocks the socks off Puerto Banus not too many miles away along the Costa del Sol.

The Queen was in Gibraltar in 1954 but has never returned. Presumably, any visit would be construed as sticking two fingers up at the Spanish, even though they don’t have a leg to stand on given that it was ceded to Great Britain ‘in perpetuity’ under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713.

There’s a black-and-white photo of HM on tour here. It’s at The Rock hotel, which occupies a superb position above the botanical gardens and not far from Trafalgar Cemetery, possibly the most peaceful and prettiest I’ve ever seen. Also on that hotel wall is a picture of John Lennon and Yoko Ono following their wedding here in 1969. They look happy. Gibraltar might not be an obvious choice to celebrate one’s nuptials — but you would have fun.