Natural beauty, deep blue seas, warm weather - who can be surprised that Odysseus was lured by Calypso to stay in a cave in Gozo for seven years
Gozo is the perfect venue for an activity holiday. A visit to the tiny Mediterranean island is like journeying back in time to simple, rustic, natural beauty, it demands nothing yet gives everything. The dusty towns have vestiges of colonial Britain with Georgian post boxes and blue police lamps, but the countryside is reminiscent of the Greek islands 30 years ago where the men work with hand tools, bare foot in the fields.
There are so many magnificent geological sites, rugged coastlines and spectacular landscapes that exploring by 4x4 and on foot is a must. Diving, of course, is very popular, its clear warm waters and inviting subterranean caves are ranked amongst the best diving venues in the world.
I visited in September on a diving holiday expertly organised by Helen of Indepth (www.Indepth.net) based in Hertfordshire. Helen was a great host and ensured the land and marine experience was brilliant. She chose guides from Atlantis Diving (www.atlantisgozo.com) who took us to seven locations during our stay. The first was at the pretty cove of Mgarr Ix Xini where I saw a flying Gurney and my first Sea Horse. Although the cove is reached via a steep road the seabed itself gently slopes and is marked with buoys so it is suitable for leisurely swim. The next day we went to Dwejra which is as dramatic underwater as it is above. We dived in the Blue Hole and the Inland Lake. I was fascinated swimming through underwater chimneys and watching fish peering at us from cracks in the rocks. On the final day we dived off shore near Comino Island and were entertained by an octopus, harmless jelly fish and a massive shoal of Bream that took bread from our fingers!
We made our base in Marsalforn on the northern coast, originally a fishing village, the tourist industry does not seem to have dramatically affected the way of life and development is modest. Fishing boats are still moored on the foreshore, and a van parks in Marina Street on Sunday evenings selling fresh fish. There are plenty of restaurants on the seafront, we tried a different one every evening and enjoyed them all. Pebbles was particularly accommodating and Oliver’s, on the other side of the bay to the Calypso Hotel, has a very romantic setting with good food. The local language sounds like a mixture of Greek, Italian, Arabic and English and so do the menus. Pasta is very prevalent and well cooked, the local fish Lampuka is delicious and the local rosé wine very drinkable.
Although we did find a theatre in Victoria offering Rigaletto, entertainment in Marsalforn is limited. The locals stroll along the promenade on Saturday evening and play bingo on the beach on Sunday afternoon. We gravitated to Bo Jangles, a pub/wine bar that stays open very late and shows sport on two huge television screens. You'll find it opposite the church in Xagħra Road, the street that runs parallel to the harbour. The local teenagers went to a bar at the other end of the street, it was packed at the weekend and was very lively.
All roads radiate from Victoria (Rabat to the locals) in the centre of the island, where the citadel once protected its citizens from invaders. The citadel is now a tourist attraction, with incredible views across the island from its parapets. In the centre of the citadel is a wine bar/ restaurant, Ta Rikardu where you sit at long benches to eat and drink with the Gozitans. We had a local salad of sun dried tomatoes, cheese, capers, olives and beans with wine and bread in a great atmosphere for €6. Walking through Victoria, we found a street market and several churches whose drab exterior belied a splendidly decorated interior. We also came upon a house that had a nativity scene on display. The elderly gentleman inside told us that three times each year he goes to the cemetery to collect wax from spent candles and uses it to model exquisite little figurines. There is no charge to see his work, he does it for the satisfaction of creating something beautiful, typical of the simplistic charm of the place and the people.
It is quite easy and cheap to get to Victoria and to the other coastal villages, using the fleet of buses that start and end their routes at the bus terminal. All the buses we saw were from the 1950's, lovingly preserved with highly polished chrome
If you want to go sight seeing I recommend buying a guide book so that you can tour the island independently. We witnessed several tranquil havens besieged by flocks of tourists on organised tours. At Dwejra for example, they were herded from the coach to the queue for a little boat trip with little opportunity to experience the natural beauty and peace of the place by walking the cliffs or visiting the chapel and gift shop selling distinctive glass ware.
Where to stay
We stayed at Lantern Guest House Qbajjar Road, a small family run place that charges 20 to 25 Euros per night and provides free transport to and from the ferry for those who stay longer than two nights. If you prefer more comfort try the Calypso Hotel in Marina Street where the rooms have views over the bay and sea from 40 to 57.50 Euros per person per night.
Gozo is one of my favourite places, the diving is awesone and it'is people unpretentious. Despite having three public holidays to celebrate their emancipation from the British Empire they are extremely friendly and keen to make visitors feel welcome.