If you had to choose 3 places to visit in Malta, what would they be? Also, is it worth taking a day trip to Gozo if you have only 3 days in which to see as much as possible?” These were the questions we texted to our parents when we arrived in Malta. Both lots put Gozo high on the list of places to visit, so who were we to argue?
We set off early-ish in order to drive across Malta from Manoel Island to the ferry port, giving ourselves plenty of time to see all the sites that I had carefully listed in the back of our newly acquired Lonely Planet guide. Gozo’s only a small place, so I reckoned we could pack a lot in, especially with Jamie’s recently perfected rally-style driving… We hadn’t taken into account, however, the crap road map, the non existence of road signs on Malta and Gozo and the over-crowded roads in the morning rush hour. With somewhat shredded nerves we finally arrived at the ferry, missing it by one minute and having to wait 45 minutes for the next one. Nice start.
By the time we arrived in Gozo my carefully planned itinerary had been somewhat pared down. As we drove out of the un-prepossessing port of Mgarr we decided to head “straight” for the Ggantija Temples (as the name implies, they are gigantic temples built in megalithic times). We eventually found them, having taken several wrong turnings, but having seen some very beautiful countryside. The whole of the southern part of Gozo is dominated by a relatively new church, known locally as the Rotunda, which was finished in 1971. Its dome is bigger than St Paul’s and supposedly that of Mosta on Malta, blah blah blah. I much prefer the Pantheon, on which both are supposed to be based. We didn’t pay it a visit.
The prehistoric temples were as stunning as anything on Malta, but having already seen a couple of sites and the National Museum of Archaeology in Valletta (which houses all the goodies, including some superb statues from 5500 years ago, including my favourite, the “Venus of Malta”) we were less stunned than we should have been. Don’t let that put you off, though, it’s an awe-inspiring site and built on a great spot overlooking the island. Included in the ticket was a pass to the local windmill in Xaghra. It was built in the 18th century and is in excellent condition. A climb right to the top offers excellent views and a real insight into what life must have been like for the miller and his family.
From there we headed cross-county on an un-marked road to the capital, Victoria (or Rabat, as it is also known). Don’t miss it! We loved this city. It was beautiful, full of friendly people and splendid architecture, and for the icing on the cake offered up a great lunch. We did the main sites of the citadel, including the cathedral but not the museums, for which we did not have time. We had a walk around the ludicrously photogenic medieval lanes of Il-Borgo, where we also took a peek in the splendid Basilica of St George. In Il-Kastell we found “Ta’Rikardu”, a great restaurant where we shared a platter of local produce and bought some of Gozo’s classic peppered cheese to take home.
After lunch we drove round the island, stopping at various places. Gharb was a gorgeous village with what is claimed in the Lonely Planet as “one of the most beautiful churches in the Maltese Islands”, the baroque Church of the Visitation. It certainly looked lovely from the outside, but we cannot attest to the interior as it didn’t open till 6pm, by which time we had to be back on the ferry. Still, we saw the old red English telephone box and blue police light, both of which grace the old square in the centre of the village.
A circuitous route to Dwerja took us through some scenic villages, with Gordan’s Lighthouse in the background. Dwerja was a little too geared-up for the tourist trade for our taste and although it was quite pretty, in a slightly desolate way, left us both unmoved, despite its Inland Sea, connecting tunnel, Azure Window and Blue Hole, all of which were not that spectacular compared to other places both of us have visited. The fishing village of Xlendi, although a tourist trap too, was very pleasing and looked like a great place for a quiet holiday.
We arrived back in Mgarr having thoroughly enjoyed our brief encounter with Gozo. It was cleaner, prettier, friendlier, less overdone and more laid back than Malta. We were very pleased indeed that we had made the effort to see it. Having checked out the sleepy marina next to the ferry port, both of us surreptitiously day-dreamed about a chilled out winter season in Gozo, making friends with the easy-going locals, while we waited for the ferry to arrive.
If you want peace and quiet, pretty surroundings, nice beaches with a little culture and plenty of history thrown in, go and spend some time there. You’ll love it.