I am often asked by friends visiting Gozo for top tips for special places to go, secret spots that leap less often from the pages of a tourist guide. This morning, I strode to one of my favourites and I’m happy to share it.
There’s a ring of amazing mosaics that glimmer with gold and colour on the broad open parvis of Ta Pinu Basilica, just a ten-minute walk from home across a rather impressive bridge over a deep cut valley. The bridge itself makes me smile with its pure Gozitan contrariness – its strong engineering and smooth tarmac is impressive for a little used road, a contrast to the winding and bumpy routes to more-visited places on the island. Sweeping over a typically-terraced valley, the sea sparkles to its north where Ta Giordan light house stands proud on a hilltop warning ships to take care of the rocks below, and flowers tumble over dry stone walls adding pinks and yellows to the warm straw hues of the summer landscape. This morning a bare-footed farmer plucked a luscious rose to tuck behind my ear, a perfect match for flip-flops trimmed in soft coral.
At the front of Ta Pinu sanctuary, I love to linger awhile and look at the striking scenes which show the twenty mysteries of the Rosary, and the shapes, hues and textures of the tesserae with which they have been made. They’re simply stunning – tying together the strong celebratory shades of the decorative figurative paintings in medieval chapels with the stones of the landscape. (Dauntingly, The Significant Other would like me to do something similar on our small terrace with an aquatic theme. He envisages Atlantis whilst I wonder whether a seahorse and a frond or two would convincingly do the trick.)
And then, whilst the main flow of visitors here will hurry inside, I cross the road to climb the zigzag path to the top of Ta Għammar hill. At this time of year it’s best to head to the heights first thing in the morning before the sun has unfurled its strength for the day. Gozo wakes early – our farming neighbours think the lark has lazy lying-in habits – yet while there’s life on the roadside at 5 and 6am, in those first few hours of the day the winding way to the top Ta’ Għammar hill is still and peaceful. It’s just me and the lizards that lick across my path to keep me company.
The path is a pilgrimage for visitors following the story of the fourteen marble statues that line the way and tell the tale of the stations of the cross from the Last Supper of Jesus to the crucifixion and his burial. It’s equally compelling for those searching for sanctuary internally and those who come merely to enjoy the 360 views of the island with a big lens. Whatever the reason, it’s a joy to reach the top, not least because it’s fairly steep in patches, to be surprised by the empty amphitheatre on the hill’s flat top and to see Gozo’s folds spread out to the sea on all sides. The early sun sparkles on the water beyond Zebbug, the domes of the village churches rise from the disappearing morning mist, and Malta is tantalising in the distance. And while below there’s bustle as the buses begin to deliver the day-trippers to the church beneath, here I find a delicious quiet and an infusion of inner peace. That’s quality of life before breakfast; it’s pure Gozo magic.