Gozo is a drop of gold and green which, with its cut-out cliff edges, could be a piece of paradise dropped into the azure sea long ago by Ancient Gods rollicking in the sunshine of the blue skies overhead. After all, legends tell that the island of Gozo was home to the nymph Calypso in Homer’s Odyssey.
The charmingly-named ‘Gozo’ sounds perky and playful, the land of a children’s story from a generation when the quaint and whimsical was everyday and E Nesbit’s Five Children and It could discover a sand-fairy on a lazy summer’s afternoon. While this is as fanciful as Greek legends, setting foot on the island does bring with it a sense of stepping back in time.
Just standing by the handrail of the ferry, passing the startlingly turquoise waters tucked alongside the uninhibited island of Comino to starboard, as you cross 6km of Mediterranean, the cares of the world slide from your shoulders and by the time the ferry slides into the small port of Mgarr life seems infinitely simpler.
Above the square stone buildings that line the harbourside built against the rising hill, paying homage to a North African architecture, the spires and dome of Ghajnsielem village stand tall. To the left, there’s the clifftop Fort Chambray, an impressive eighteenth century castle complex built by the Order of St John’s which offers the island’s most impressive view across the channel back to Malta and where you can holiday in luxury. It’s a wonderful welcome.
From the harbour, you can take a hop-on hop-off bus to explore this gem-stone of a place and follow the tourist trail across this ‘boutique’ island, which measures up at only 14km x 7km! Day-trippers discover dramatic coastlines; swim in a secret inland sea reached by a narrow opening in the rock; and ‘selfie’ against the ‘azure window’, a monumental limestone archway created as the back drop for a Game of a Thrones wedding by thousands of years of sea erosion. Inland, Victoria boasts bustling cafés and a medieval citadel refreshed for the 21st century, there’s a church with a dome to give London’s St Paul’s a run for its money, and the Ggantuja Temples, a Neolithic temple that pre-dates the Eqyptian pyramids.
For any tourist, the bus is an efficient way to tick off the tourist hotspots, and this is where a straightforward travel piece might end. Last summer, however, The Significant Other and I, took a very different approach to exploring the island, and can recommend intensive house-hunting as a thorough way of seeing and understanding a place, and all without any admission charges!
We toured Gozo with the tenacity of a hungry tiger, sometimes with Rowan Carbone from ReMax whose recommendation for Maldonado’s restaurant was an absolute winner, but most often in the company of husband and wife team David Pace and Fiona Keeling from the award-winning move2Gozo Estate Agency with whom we found and fell in love with the village of Gharb.
David Pace is imbued with friendly Gozitan charm and his enthusiasm bursts from bright eyes. Half English, he laughs that he has an English head and a Gozitan heart, and his knowledge of people and places and his stories of childhood on the island could keep you entertained through a second siege of Malta. Fiona grew up in South East England and has been visiting Gozo, where she met David, since 1976 to switch off from the fast pace of a London life. They lived in England together before moving back to Gozo with bohemian flair via rural France. In her previous career, as a collector of and trader in vintage handbags and fashion, Fiona provided the inspiration for Madonna’s iconic conical bra, paraded throughout the 1990 Blonde Ambition Tour, a story I promise for another day.
Esther and The Significant Other stayed in Ta Maria’s in Ghasri, a traditional farmhouse that has been transformed into a stylish and tranquil bed and breakfast that it would be hard to better. Behind tall plain walls, Sonia was an impeccable host, and we enjoyed a private terrace, a peaceful pool in a hidden courtyard rimmed with flowering plants, and homemade cake in a multitude of delicious varieties. We also loved the keys for the doors – each five inches of cast iron that could have been cut to keep safe any medieval citadel! Be aware, however, that while you’re welcome to use a very well-presented kitchen, there’s no restaurant within an easy stroll so you will need to either take taxis or flat shoes for a half-hour walk home!
Maldonado Bistro was tucked away on Mons Vella Street, just off the beaten track yet only a hundred metres or so from the very centre of Victoria. Although understated in typical Gozitan style, its tall arched doorway exuded a warm light and energy. Stepping down into the restaurant to dine beneath a stone arched ceiling, the atmosphere was both lively and intimate, the playlist pitched mellow yet with a light-hearted energy. The waiting staff were friendly and efficient, and the dishes, including sea snails, were delicious Mediterranean flavours with an enticing experimental twist, presented with stylish flair. We’re already salivating in anticipation of our next visit!
Gozo is best reached by flying to Malta International Airport via wwww.airmalta.com – although other airlines fly in and out, with Air Malta your suitcase flies for free, you are fed en route and their customer services, on the occasion I needed them, stepped right up to the mark.