The beautiful island of Gozo awaited our arrival and we sailed amidst the scenic blue Mediterranean with the cool sea breeze sweeping across my cheeks.
The third day of our Malta itinerary (here’s my first Malta post on the fortified cities Valletta and Mdina) comprised of a day trip to Gozo, the second largest island after the main island of Malta. Unlike its sister island Comino, which has officially three residents only, Gozo is relatively large with a population of around thirty-seven thousand people.
We boarded a minivan from Sliema to reach Cirkewwa Ferry Terminal on the northern tip of Malta Island via a scenic drive along the Coast Road. The coastal road is one of the most beautiful roads in Malta and in the one and a half an hour drive, we passed quite a few beaches, bays, small seaside towns and picturesque villages. Many of them were popular destinations for locals and tourists. The quaintness of the surroundings and the gorgeous panorama charmed us all… be it St George’s Bay around the busy St Julian’s area at the start of our journey near Sliema, or Mellieħa Bay situated at a few minutes’ drive away from the ferry terminal at Gozo, our destination. The Mellieha Bay, also known as Ghadira, is the largest and one of the most beautiful sandy beaches in Malta, just off the town of Mellieha. From Cirkewwa, we hopped onto the Gozo ferry, the passenger line which plied across to the Mgarr harbour in southeast coast of Gozo every 45 minutes all year round. Once we claimed our seats on the upper deck, the next twenty minutes were spent gorging on the scenic coastlines of Maltese islands, including that of Comino.
A scenic boat trip at Dwerja Bay, admire Gozo’s beauty in its naturalness, explore Malta’s heritage and history in the Ġgantija megalithic temple ruins
The first emotional encounter that every tourist in Gozo will come across is the loss of the iconic Azure Window. Also known as Dwerja Window, the 28-metre-tall natural limestone arch in Dwejra Bay was one of the island’s major tourist destinations. On 8th March 2017, a stormy weather led to it’s sudden collapse – a major loss to Malta’s natural heritage. Although not as popular as the Azure Window, a visit to Wied il-Mielaħ Window, another limestone natural arch located at the end of the picturesque Wied il-Mielaħ valley, is a must. So is paying a homage to the Azure Window by taking a boat trip in the Dwerja Bay to see the ruins of the window. A boat trip (costing 4 euros per person) took us to a seawater lagoon through a narrow tunnel and deep caves carved out of the coralline rock formations from Dwerja. The water below us was crystal clear, throwing a glimpse of pink corals. As we reached the open sea, the floor gradually dropped away and the colour of the water deepened. The coastline was formed by steep and rugged cliffs that rose impressively from the sea.
Shrubs, dense bushes and pretty tiny flowers bloomed everywhere in the island. We came across densely branched Mediterranean thyme with purple flowers; common fennel with feathery leaves and yellow flowers; bushy capers that grew in holes in the walls and cracks on stones. Our wonderful guide Yvette, told us how capers were pickled in sea salt and vinegar and used as seasoning in many traditional Mediterranean dishes. The most common sight however, were the prickly pear cactus plants, also known as ‘bajtar tax-xewk’. The warm Mediterranean climate with long, dry summers and cool, mild winters in Malta were perfect for these cacti and its fruits were used to make everything from jams, jellies and ‘Bajtra’, the famous liqueur. Inside the Ġgantija megalithic temple complex too, we came across a lot of indigenous plants. These Neolithic temples were the earliest of the Megalithic Temples of Malta and were older than even the pyramids of Egypt. They were also the world’s second oldest existing manmade religious structures. ‘Ġgantija’ meant giant in Maltese, and the rock structures justified the name.
Gozo took pride in its well-preserved Neolithic Ġgantija temples which date back to 3600 BC. Along with the other Megalithic Temples of Malta, these ruins are among the world’s oldest free-standing structures and have been awarded the status of UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Explore Cittadella in Victoria, visit the 350 year old Marsalforn salt pans, dive into Greek mythology at the Calypso cave over the breathtaking Ramla Bay
We drove past the spectacular basilica, Our Lady of Ta’ Pinu Basilica, located on the edge of a seaside cliff a few times. Our first stop in the island was Citadella, or Castello. This fortified city in Victoria (also known as Rabat in Maltese) is the capital city of Gozo it’s first fortifications dated back to 1500 BC. The citadel is currently on Malta’s tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage sites. Like most ancient buildings in Malta, the buildings in Citadella too were built with the softer Globigerina limestone giving out its characteristic golden hue. Norman-styled windows, striking bas-reliefs and coat of arms marked the façade of the buildings. One such bas-relief depicting St Anne, mother of the blessed Virgin Mary, protector of city gates, held centre stage under the archway near the entrance. This entrance led us into the citadel through narrow winding streets. Inside, there were historic buildings and notable churches, including the magnificent baroque Cathedral of the Assumption which was built on the site of an earlier church. Keys were left inside the locks in most of the main doors – reiterating the pride of the Maltese people… everyone on the island was trustworthy. Before we proceeded towards other touristic destinations after the citadel tour, we walked to the ruined battlements to enjoy a panoramic view of Victoria and other cities in the island.
On our way to lunch, we stopped by the north coast of Gozo at Marsalforn salt pans that stretched for more than 3 kms. The coast was characterised by a unique landscape – a chequerboard of rock-cut salt pans that were more than three hundred and fifty year old. The centuries-old Gozitan tradition of sea-salt production was still carried on by a few families who had specialised in this for a few generations. We then headed off to the Calypso Cave, which was apparently the love prison of Ulysses. Located in a cliff off the village of Xaghra, the cave overlooked the beautiful beach of Ramla l-
Eating in Gozo
Considered as one of the best local restaurants in Gozo, Qbajjar offered a spectacular view of the Qbajjar bay along with delicious lunch choices of Mediterranean and local cuisine. The restaurant offered both a la carte menu together with everyday specialities prepared fresh with locally sourced ingredients. While the daily fish catch determined the fish menu, seasonal availability of fresh produce influenced the specials. Homemade Bruschetta, thinly sliced toasted bread with garlic, tomatoes, basil, onions, olives, capers and olive oil, arrived at the table with our drinks. I tried a white wine produced in Malta – a limited edition of Caravaggio from the famous Marsovin winery. For mains, I ordered one of the restaurant’s specialities. Coniglio alla Gozitana was a signature dish – rabbit fried in garlic, peas, herbs and white wine. A traditional rabbit stew, stuffat tal-fenek was considered the national dish of Malta and it wasn’t offered in the menu that day. An delicious assortment of home made desserts like panna cotta, tiramisu and others along with a variety of home-made ice creams signed off our brilliant lunch.
Triq ix-Xwejni, Marsalforn
+356 2155 1124; Open 10:30 until 15:30 and again from 17:30 until 22:30 (last order);
Closed on Tuesdays
Buying local produce in the island
A visit to Gozo island is incomplete without visiting Ta’ Mena Estate, a family owned business which produced artisanal Gozitan food products like pickles, preserves, jams, jellies, compotes, local cheese, liqueurs and more. The estate cultivated its own vines, olives, lemons, oranges, various fruit trees, strawberries, tomatoes, melons, water melons and other vegetables. Some of the most popular buys were pure Gozo Honey, Kunserva Helwa/sweet tomato paste, Kunserva Mielha/salty tomato paste, sun dried tomatoes, wild capers in vinegar, cold pressed extra virgin olive oil, local cheese and Bajtra – the prickly pear liqueur, amongst other fruit liqueurs. We had a tasting session of local wines along with Ġbejniet, the local cheese, made from goat’s milk. The locals ate this cheese in its many forms – from salt cured and sun dried to crushed black pepper. In Ta’Mena Estate, guests could not only taste traditional Maltese food but also learn about crops, trees and traditional way of processing food in the island. I didn’t quite fancy the taste of the famous Bajtra, so I bought red wine instead, chilli infused olive oil, Qubbajt – the famous Maltese Nougat and Gozitan beeswax bath products made,
Ta’ Mena Estate, Rabat Road Xaghra, Gozo
+356 2156 3097; closes 5pm
What is your kind of retail therapy while on travel? What do you like to buy and how do you plan your eatings?.Do you stick to familiar dishes (and popular international restaurant chains) or are you the kind who’s attracted to local food and visiting the local markets? Travelling for my family and me is another excuse to learn and explore a little bit more of the world that we live in. Although I am not very bold or wildly adventurous, I am definitely curious and open to new tastes, sights and sounds. We make a match, hopefully!
Unblogging it all… Ishita
Disclaimer: It was my honour to be a guest of the Embassy of the Republic of Malta in the United Arab Emirates. For more info on Malta, visit www.visitmalta.com. We were hosted at Qbajjar restaurant and we paid for all our personal purchases from Ta’mena. There aren’t any affiliated links in this post and the subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own. While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts.