â€œ Address: 2 GovernorÂ’s Parade Gibraltar / One of Gibraltar's oldest and largest hotels â€ž
~Why Gib? Why the O'Callaghan Eliott? ~
When the old Air Miles scheme announced that it was about to reinvent itself as 'Avios', we decided to use all the old Air Miles we'd built up buying fuel at Tescos and have a weekend away before BA and their buddies made it unattractive to use them again. We looked at the map of where we could get to and picked a place that neither my husband nor I had ever been to. We chose to go to Gibraltar for the weekend before Christmas. I've struggled the last few years to get into the holiday mood and I hoped that going away might help us to start feeling 'Christmas-y'. And if it didn't, at least we'd have a weekend somewhere warm for a change.
The flights took most of our miles but we had a thousand left over and decided to put them towards a hotel. Air Miles were only offering two places in Gib - the O'Callaghan Eliott and the Rock Hotel. We checked a map and picked the O'Callaghan as it seemed to be a bit more central and it was the more expensive of the two and we were in the mood to spoil ourselves. Room rates are around Â£100-Â£140 per night and with our spare Air Miles to off-set some of the cost, we paid about Â£160 for the two nights.
~Arriving in Gib and Finding the Hotel~
Gibraltar is almost certainly the only airport I've ever landed at where they have to stop the traffic because there's a public highway right through the middle of the runway. It's also the only airport I've ever been to that had absolutely no taxis outside the terminal. We asked the lady on the 'Information' desk who told us that we might as well walk, gave us a map and pointed us in the right direction - basically, look for the big rock and head that way. Her suggestion that it was only a fifteen minute walk was a bit on the optimistic side - it actually took more than double that but we may have been doing a tourist dawdle rather than a focused march. As we entered the city through the tunnel and then walked across Casemate's Square and then right along the main shopping street, we had seen quite a lot of the city by the time we reached the hotel.
We got a bit lost and went too far. A chap on a corner speaking on his mobile phone called across to ask us what we were looking for, nodded wisely and told us to go "past the Scottish church and you can't miss it - it serves a good pint of Guinness". Sure enough, we passed the church of St Andrew and it was on the other side of Governors Parade, a leafy little square. It was weird to be in a little corner of UK territory, surrounded by people who look Spanish and being told where to get a pint of Ireland's finest (or most famous).
~Not so much a little bit of the UK - more like a little bit of Ireland~
The O'Callaghan Elliot is part of an Irish hotel chain that I'd never heard of and its Irishness is about as 'fish out of water' as Gibraltar's local Morrison's supermarket. The hotel is a strange sort of place, caught in an odd 'time and place' warp that characterises so much of this anachronistic little place. From the outside it's nothing grand but most hotels look pretty similar these days. The lobby was brightly lit if a little old fashioned and the Christmas Santa propped up in the corner looked like he'd seen better days. The decorations were a little subdued though that seemed to be the case throughout Gibraltar. We'd hoped to get in the festive mood but the general sense was one of nobody bothering very much. Gibraltar in its entirety is a bit of an out of season holiday town in December.
Our check-in was dampened by the thoroughly miserable receptionist. I'll change his name to protect the not so innocent (though I suspect his colleagues would recognise him). Let's call him Keith. Keith had a major downer on life in general and the chap who'd turned up ahead of us without a booking in particular. By the time he eventually got to us, you'd have been forgiven for thinking that everyone he ever loved had gone down with bubonic plague. He checked the paperwork, confirmed we had breakfast included in the rate and gave us our room key. I headed back to reception a few minutes later to say the key didn't work "Nothing ever does round here" he replied with a sigh that put me in mind of Marvin the Paranoid Android from The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy. I suggested that maybe he shouldn't say such things, being the public face of the hotel as he was. Another sigh "I just tell it like it is" he said. Harrumph.
We went back to the lift and up to the fourth floor where this time the key worked. In the 50:50 lottery of room allocations we'd done well and got a room which gave us - if you peeped between the other buildings - a bit of a view of the sea. If you are assigned to the other side of the corridor, I guess you get a view of the Rock. It's not bad either way.
~Room with a View~
Our room was on the larger side of average with a bit more space than normal - you can tell a place is bigger when there's just a bit more space between things. I spend half my time in hotels so I notice the differences. I know where to expect to have to squeeze and there were no squeeze spots in here. The bed was a very comfy king size which was a relief after the trampoline we'd slept on the night before. The bedding was clean but the duvet cover was a bit 'bobbled' through wear and age which I found oddly disturbing. A soft fluffy throw was arranged on the bottom of the bed.Two arm chairs and a large round table had been given almost as much space as the bed. A standard lamp stood in the far corner of the room and the windows opened onto a small balcony that was large enough for standing and looking at the view but not big enough to sit out on. A long desk in attractive solid wood took up much of one wall with a slightly too small flat screen television and a coffee and tea tray taking up some of the space but still leaving plenty for our things. A hair dryer in the top drawer was well placed for the mirror over the desk or the full length mirror to one side. The bag stand was big enough for both our bags so we didn't need to scrabble around on the floor.
There was a small wardrobe by the door where we kept our coats and the bathroom was bright and clean with white tiles and black basalt counter and shelves. The shower cubicle was large and had excellent water pressure and plenty of soft fluffy towels were provided. I prefer a room with a bath but a sign explained that Gibraltar is short of water and I understood why they had showers instead. The only absurdity about the bathroom was that the light switch was nowhere near the bathroom and was hidden away next to the front door making it almost impossible to find in the dark. Oddly for somewhere with such a warm climate, the floors were carpeted rather than tiled suggesting the room design was a lot more Irish and a lot less Spanish.
~Top of the Morning~
Breakfast was served on the 8th floor in a room much too small for the job. There might have been enough tables if the rather elderly male staff had been a bit quicker about clearing the tables. I comment on the staff being male because I don't think I saw a single female member of staff except for a cleaner with a large trolley doing room service. I'm really not sure where the Gibraltarian women are as they weren't in the bars and restaurants either. It was quite a mystery. And most of the men in the O'Callaghan were older gentlemen.
The tables in the breakfast room were jammed in very close together making it an obstacle course to go back and forth to the buffet. The food selection was pretty good and the hot breakfast included very 'anglo' things like baked beans and fried bread which you don't see often outside the UK or Ireland. Getting a tea or coffee was not so easy though.
Next door to the rooftop restaurant is a small swimming pool and above the restaurant is a sun deck neither of which seemed terribly appropriate in the middle of December. The pool looked gorgeous and is protected from the elements by a rather weird set of what look like double glazed walls but no roof. I suppose it cuts down on any cross winds. The views from the sun deck were lovely and we could see across most of the city towards the sea or up towards The Rock..
Both nights that we stayed there were Christmas parties in the hotel - I can confirm that dresses not seen since Dallas and Dynasty in the 1980s are still the height of fashion in Gib. I did think we'd have a noisy time of it but aside from a slight base-note we heard very little. Our room was beautifully quiet with no noise from outside other than the occasional church bell and only the ping of the lift doors on the inside
~A Really Weird Place~
There are some great things about staying in Gib - perhaps things that others might think it odd that I value. UK 3-pin plugs mean you don't need to take your converters and they have proper British television channels - so we didn't miss the final of Strictly Come Dancing (sad or what?). On the other hand, internet access was stupidly expensive and requires you to have given your credit card details at check in since the system of buying a card with a code wasn't working - and according to Smiley Keith, it hadn't worked for a long time. Prices ranged from Â£5 for 2 hours going to Â£12 for 12 hours and something like Â£18 for 24. Fortunately most of the bars in Gib have internet access free of charge so we only paid for a couple of hours in order to do our online check in and a few other administrative things.
We would be very unlikely to go back to Gibraltar. We had a very pleasant weekend but there really isn't much to do there unless you like buying extraordinarily cheap booze and cigarettes and shopping in places that look like a 1980s time-warp version of the UK. Whilst it's amusing for a few moments to be somewhere sunny and warm in December and to be surrounded by familiar shops ("Ooh look, BHS and M&S!") the novelty wears off very quickly when you realise you'd not bother going in those shops at home so why would they suddenly become interesting just because you're somewhere foreign.