Sunborn Gibraltar – Experiencing Gibraltar, From The Decks of This 5-star Yacht Hotel & Casino Resort

Recently I visited Gibraltar, gaining a fascinating insight into this historic slice of Britain in the sun. My home-from-home was the luxury Yacht Hotel, Sunborn Gibraltar, writes Andrew Forbes.

Gibraltar is considered one of the ‘Pillars of Hercules’, marking the gateway to the Mediterranean. Connected to the Iberia Peninsula, on the Bay of Algeciras, it’s a thriving community which has been a British Overseas Territory for some three centuries.

Sunborn Gibraltar

Combining the intimacy of a Super Yacht; the glamour of a cruise liner; and the refinement of a luxury hotel, I found Sunborn Gibraltar to be a unique place to enjoy upscale accommodation in Gibraltar. The Liner offers sundecks with bar and plunge pool; a spa & gym; Barbary, the signature fine-dining restaurant; a La Sala Restaurant; and spacious guestrooms and impressive suites with private terraces.

Our 5-Star Yacht Hotel experience

From the moment we arrived we felt embraced by the unique upscale yacht hotel experience. As we completed our guest registration, sipping a glass of complimentary bubbles, we were introduced to the services and facilities onboard. In addition to the bars and dining options, there is also a destination casino. Sunborn offers guests a complimentary drink in the casino’s bar, a chip to join a game of roulette; and also, a credit for the slot machines – it’s a way to break the ice for those new to casinos and provide a little after dinner entertainment.

The Suite

I have to admit to having a few preconceptions about the accommodation onboard. I have been on cruise liners and yachts before and I know the greatest luxury onboard is always space.

So I was so surprised to see just how spacious our suite was. It was probably bigger than many traditional hotel suites. Sunborn was built as an ocean-going luxury vessel, but in fact never set sail as it was acquired to become the world’s first luxury 5-Star Yacht Hotel (there is now a Sunborn in London, and one planned for Manhattan). So Sunborn has been truly designed for luxury as a floating hotel, permanently moored. In case you were wondering, the boat is in a marina so doesn’t move.

Our suite not only had a spacious entrance area with work desk, but also a living area that opened onto the private terrace, and then led through to the bedroom.

The suite included a very well stocked bar, with a choice of full-size wines and champagnes and lots of tempting treats. The welcome amenity was a thoughtful gesture – fruit, savoury snacks, and treats; a lovely welcome.

The bedroom, with king size bed, and another wide screen TV was a light-filled space that also opened out onto the private terrace.

The bathroom was beautifully presented and included a tub; bespoke amenities and all the creature comforts you could wish for.

Lighting, temperature, privacy sheers, curtains etc were all controlled by an intuitive, touch screen on the multimedia phones.

Dining at Barbary Restaurant

The Barbary Restaurant is where North Africa Meet the Mediterranean. Appropriate really, since from Gibraltar one feels as if it’s possible to reach out and touch Africa. The Strait, here where the Atlantic meets the Mediterranean, narrows to about 14 kilometres. It is a remarkable sight; where two continents almost touch.

Barbary Restaurant is Sunborn Gibraltar’s signature dining experience, popular with locals and visitors. The menu brings together the exotic flavours and colours of the Barbary coast with the produce of the Mediterranean. This is Gibraltar, so there are some classic British dishes too. It’s like a microcosm of the fascinating mix of culture in Gibraltar – a comforting, almost nostalgic familiarity juxtaposed with the uniquely Mediterranean setting.

It was a real luxury to be able to just head up to deck 7 to enjoy dinner. One can enjoy happy hour drinks at the pool bar and take in the views of Ocean Village marina, and the bay of Algeciras, and then  head up to the restaurant bar to try the special cocktails. I chose the Barbary Tonic, made with Bacur Gin with exotic flavours of ginger, pepper, star anis, cloves and cardamom – it really set the tone for  the meal.

Italian born Executive Chef Mirko Scarabello brings together the flavours of the Mediterranean with dishes that are also prepared on the kitchen’s charcoal Josper grill.

I can highly recommend starting a meal with a sharing selection of Mezze. Even the Arabic bread is homemade; the falafel with black garlic were full of flavour; the hummus was superb; and the smoked aubergine had a colourful and tasty topping of walnuts, pomegranates with labneh and dukkah.

Ordering a main course, one can  continue with North Africana and Mediterranean style dishes like lamb skewer, cous course, tagines;  jospered seabass or yoghurt marinated chicken. But I couldn’t resist the British classics and chose the lamb shank with hand cut chips.

The friendly sommelier is on hand to help guests navigate the wine list. I liked how the restaurant always had a few premium, less well-known wines available by the glass. The choice changes daily, so its worth asking. I tried a superb organic verdejo; and then a delicious Ribera del Duero with my lamb.

It was a splendid meal; in a comfortable setting with a view out across the bay. Services was friendly and attentive.

An Evening with Lady Luck

Well we couldn’t resist the opportunity to visit the Casino on deck 2. After all, guests are invited to a drink at the bar and offered a complimentary bet to place. We didn’t have much success at roulette, but it was fun to enjoy the atmosphere. My travelling companion did better at the slots, winning enough to buy a generous lunch in the heart of Gibraltar the next day!

Stylish Ocean Village Location

The vessel is a self-contained resort. One can enjoy cocktails at the Sapphire Bar; live music at La Sala Restaurant; gourmet dining at Barbary Restaurant; top up your tan on deck and work out in the gym. There’s a spa too.

What’s more there’s Ocean Village to explore. Ocean Village is a prestigious deep-water marina and leisure area within walking distance to  Gibraltar’s International Airport and the frontier with Spain. This is where Sunborn is permanently moored, providing a floating hotel and casino resort amongst the restaurants, bars and shops of the beautifully designed marina complex.

On the other side of the frontier it is easy to pick up a rental car and explore Andalucia. The championship golf courses, and prestigious polo of Sotogrande, and the glorious beaches of Andalusia’s unspoilt Atlantic coast  are all within 30-45 minutes’ drive.

Business and Pleasure

Internationally, Gibraltar is regarded as an important business centre, with an economy that certainly punches above its weight, thanks to online gaming, offshore finance, and maritime services. Yet visitors are not only business travellers. Gibraltar is also a popular destination for tourism, where travellers can start or end a Mediterranean vacation. In addition, its popular with visitors from Spain looking for a unique short-break get-away that combines tax-free shopping; a generous choice of restaurant and bars; history and culture; as well as outdoor activities.

Exploring the Rock

Gibraltar is of course renowned for the Rock, the impressive limestone ridge that defines the identity of Gibraltar. I was already familiar with the shops of the British style main street, so to discover something new, I was really looking forward to taking the vintage cable car to the Upper Rock Nature Reserve.

Here we hiked, meeting some of the mischievous macaque monkeys, known locally as Barbary Apes; took in the views from the new glass ‘SkyWalk’; and a stroll across the Windsor Suspension Bridge. There are UNESCO caves, as well as tunnels dating back to the Second World War. It all makes for a very interesting day out.

Sign up for our newsletter for inspiration, exclusive previews & luxury tips