FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Seven highlights from Gozo

Posted in Gozo, Malta by folkestonejack on March 18, 2018

The small island of Gozo, twenty five minutes by ferry from the northern coast of the Maltese mainland, offers many stunning sights and utterly charmed us during our three night stay.

Mġarr Harbour

To reach Gozo we picked up a hire car at the airport, stopping overnight at Mdina before taking an indirect route across Malta (via Ħaġar Qim) to Cirkewwa Ferry Terminal for the short crossing to Gozo (with its wonderful views of Comino). We stayed at an apartment in Nadur and used a Heritage Malta Multisite Pass purchased earlier in our stay to cover admission to the fee based sights on the island.

1. Dwejra and the Inland Sea

Dwejra was a major tourist draw on Gozo for the spectacular sight of the Azure window, a 28m tall natural rock arch over a thousand years old that featured in many films and as a backdrop in Game of Thrones. The arch collapsed in March 2017 during a storm.

Some tourists who visited in the aftermath of the storm have fumed about being taken to the site on sightseeing buses, giving one-star TripAdvisor reviews but seemingly missing the multitude of natural and historic wonders that still abound.

The most obvious of the sights that survive is Il-Qawra, the Inland Sea, a circular pool of sea water surrounded by towering cliffs on one side and boat huts on the other. The open sea can be reached through a 60m long tunnel, known as the blue grotto on account of the colour of the water at its entrance. It is a popular spot for sightseeing boats and diving groups.

Fungus Rock

A walk to Dwejra Point offers a further selection of sights, including a watch tower dating to 1652 and terrific views out to sea. The Qawra watch tower was one of a number constructed to help defend the vulnerable coastline of Gozo but also had a role in guarding Fungus Rock, home to a miracle plant that grew nowhere else and was said to cure all illnesses. The Grand Masters had the rock walls made harder to scale in the the 1740s to deter anyone not already put off by the harsh penalties for harvesting it.

2. Salt pans

On the north coast of Gozo, alongside Triq Ix-Xwejni, you can wander along a stretch of coast where hundreds upon hundreds of salt pans have been cut into the soft limestone rock. It’s a fascinating sight and one that has lasted for many hundreds of years. It also presents a tangible link back to the Romans, who brought order to the randomly arranged pans that they found on their arrival on Gozo and created an irrigation system that has been continued to this day. The earliest pans are said to date from the Roman period.

The Salt Pans of Gozo

As we were visiting early in the year there was no evidence of the salt that will be harvested after the seawater evaporates in the heat of summer (usually between May and September). However, come in the summer and you will find the place alive with activity and piles of salt everywhere.

3. The Citadel

The Citadel sits at the heart of the island and is visible for miles, standing proud at the top of the Gozitan capital of Victoria. The current fortifications date back to the 17th century, although the site has been fortified for thousands of years. An excellent new museum does a good job of explaining the history, ending with an entertaining audio-visual that highlights the many threats to Gozo over the years from pirates to foreign invaders.

The Citadel

It’s a great time to visit the Citadel as the whole site has just been superbly restored with funding of 14.5 million euro from the European Union. This has seen the facades of all the public buildings rebuilt, the restoration of the Cathedral square, the addition of a visitors’ centre in an unused water reservoir and the creation of new routes through the complex.

The highlight for me was a visit to the Old Prison inside the Citadel, which contains some wonderfully preserved grafitti of ships on the walls of its cells and corridors.

4. Ġgantija

The two temples at Ġgantija, constructed between 3600 and 3200 BC, are among the very oldest buildings in the world. Older, in fact, than the Pyramids and Stonehenge. The name comes from the rather charming theory that the ruins were all that was left of a tower built by a race of giants.

The legacy of 19th century vandals!

The temples are today supported by metal scaffolding designed to prevent the face from collapsing any further than it already has. You can explore the interior of the temples on a walkway, following in the footsteps of tourists that have been coming her since the site was rediscovered and cleared in the early 1800s. The megaliths on both sides of the doorway are covered in grafitti that dates back to those early sightseers.

5. Il-Kunvent at Għarb

One of my unexpected highlights was the terrific Gozo Cheese Pie (filled with broad beans, cheese and sultanas) that I got to try at a cafe on the street at Għarb called Il-Kunvent.

To be perfectly honest, we were struggling to find anywhere open and were relieved to come across this place. It didn’t look entirely promising with its narrow terrace on the street and the long wait for food didn’t exactly fill us with cheer, but when the food came it was sublime. Our waitress explained that the reason for the delay was that there were no pies prepared, so the pastry had to be made fresh… it certainly showed in the quality of the food in front of us!

The other delight of the cafe was a local cat who decided to creep up on us, enticed by the fish that one of our group was eating. This in itself wouldn’t be terribly surprising. However, this cat spent the entire meal moving along the balustrade an inch at a time, freezing if we looked up at him, hoping we wouldn’t notice his steady advancement!

6. Ta’ Pinu and the Gordan Lighthouse

A couple of striking sights are located in close proximity to each other and are visible from afar, standing in relative isolation. The first is the neo gothic basilica of Ta’ Pinu (1931) which was built around a 16th century chapel where a local spinster heard the calling of Our Lady of The Assumption in 1883. It has been associated with miracles of healing.

Ta’ Pinu

The second sight is the Ta’ Ġurdan (or Ġordan) Lighthouse which can be reached by a steep drive up a rutted road. The lighthouse began operation in 1853 and offers splendid views across the island, all the way back to the citadel in Victoria. It saw use as an early warning radar station in World War 2, playing an important part in the protection of the Maltese population.

7. Nadur

On our trip we stayed at a charming converted farmhouse (Ta Rena Holiday Home) that impressed from the moment we stepped through the stone archway. The view from its rooftop pool was stunning, including distant views of the Ta’ Kola Windmill and Ġgantija Temples. A short walk to the other side of the ridge delivered an even more impressive vista of Mgarr harbour, the island of Comino and the Gozo Channel.