Algeciras – Villa Vieja – around Plaza Puerto

Plaza Puerto is actually just a roundabout in a bleak industrial part of town, rather than a pedestrian square. One of the old dock cranes is on display in the middle of the rotunda with Gibraltar, as ever, dominating the horizon in the background.

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The area used to be a beautiful beach called El Chorruelo back in Victorian times until Franco later had it developed into the port in order to compete with Gibraltar. El Chorruelo was immortalised in music by Paco de Lucia the famous Flamenco guitarist whose brother was a bell boy at the hotel below.

The Autoridad Portuaria Bahía de Algeciras, the port authority for the bay, have their rather ominous looking building here which monitors naval traffic in the Straits of Gibraltar.

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In a town virtually bereft of anything old, I was quite interested to visit this historical building…

Hotel Reina Cristina (Advanced A), Calle Paseo de la Conferencia, www.hotelesglobales.com

The construction of the original Victorian hotel was financed in the 1890s by Alexander Henderson who also built the famous railway between Ronda and Algeciras.

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People of means would arrive on the steamer from Gibraltar to relax on the beautiful beach in front of the hotel, or rest up before taking the train onwards to Ronda for a spot of sightseeing. At the time it was the most expensive hotel in Spain.

The original colonial building burned down in a fire and the current eclectic Andalusian-style construction replaced it in 1930.

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I love these mosaics behind the outdoor bar near the Salon Principe which must date from that period.

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During WW2 the terrace was used by spies to watch the ships passing through the Straits of Gibraltar. It has hosted important conferences and such notables as Arthur Conan Doyle, Charles de Gaulle, Winston Churchill and Orson Welles have all stayed here.

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In the landscaped grounds there are the remains of an 8th century mosque and an old Arab well that still functions.

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I came to have a G&T on the terrace (there are at least a dozen international gins on the menu) and imagine what it was like staying here during the Belle Époque.

The salon still seems to be a Saturday night meeting place for the older Spanish generation who have a bit of money. Not exactly my kind of people but it was interesting to experience a side of local society that I didn’t know existed.

The restaurant is supposed to be quite good and the buffet did look quite impressive when I went in for a nosey. I might come back for a meal some evening…

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