Gozo – Malta’s Memorable Little Sister
In the last post we finished up our Adventures Abroad tour of the island of Malta by visiting Mosta and Marsaxlokk, but we are not finished with the country just yet. In this post and ones to follow we’ll visit Malta’s sister isle of Gozo which I found to be every bit as interesting and mysterious as Malta itself. Please join veteran guide Victor Romagnoli and our small group as we check out the island where Ulysses spent seven years on his quest to get back to Ithaca.
Getting to Gozo
My eyes first gazed upon Gozo from the air as we descended toward the airport in Malta, flying right over the Citadel that we will be visiting in a later post. That seemed like ages ago, we have seen so much just in exploring Malta, it is hard to believe that it was less than a week before. That is one of the continuing wonders of travel to new lands; it seems while experiencing it to almost stretch time and yet looking back at this trip from my Canadian home, it feels like it simply flew by, more a vision than a reality. In putting these memories down in the form of a narrative I get a chance to relive my experiences and my friendship with Victor Romagnoli, the intrepid Adventures Abroad guide with whom Alison and I have travelled to many lands.
Here is a map of Malta. As you can see Gozo is about one quarter the size of Malta, but with around 32,000 inhabitants it has only about 7% of the nation’s population. In between the two is the island identified on this map as Kemmuna, but usually referred to as Comino. It has a population of two. We will pass by it on our way to Gozo.
Leaving our hotel in San Julian it is only 23 kms. (14 miles) to the ferry terminal at Cirkewwa, but we do pass some interesting sights along the way including St. Paul’s Island where the great Christian apostle was shipwrecked on his way to Rome. For more on St. Paul’s stay in Malta please read this post.
We also pass Selmun Palace which once served as a lookout post and deterrent to the corsairs and Barbary pirates who preyed upon the Christian villages of Malta and Gozo for centuries.
Lastly we pull up to a very high vantage point and look down on what seems like a very weird looking village and indeed it is. This is Popeye Village which was a movie set built in the 1980’s for the movie Popeye starring the late, tormented Robin Williams. Now it is an amusement park and if you paid attention to all the hype surrounding this place from the moment you land in Malta, you would think it was the #1 tourist attraction in the country. I’m glad we got to see it, but frankly this is as close as I would want to get.
The ferry ride from Malta to Gozo is less than half an hour, but it too has a number of interesting sights to see from the boat.
This is a glimpse of the Blue Lagoon on the island of Comino that you pass on the way to Gozo. You can just make out one of the small tour boats that take people here from Gozo and Malta.
This aerial photo gives a better idea of why it has that name and why thousands of people flock here to swim in its shallow azure waters, but today the seas are rough and the prows of the tour boats are almost going under in the huge swell.
Not long after passing by the cliffs of the islet of Comminotto which you can see above, the town of Mgarr comes into sight. Judging by the number of cranes it looks like there is a mini building boom going on in Gozo. Our local guide Chantelle Shaw confirms that Gozo is becoming a popular tourist destination, especially for the Maltese who like the slower pace of life here.
After boarding our local transportation our group heads toward our first stop in Gozo passing by the impressive spire of the Ghanjsielem Parish Church along the way.
If nothing is very far away on the island of Malta that doubles for the island of Gozo as it seems mere minutes from one stop to another. The first thing you notice is that the balconies here are quite different here than in Malta, being made of stone rather than wood and quite a bit more elaborate. Here’s one we saw in the town of San Lawrenz.
Chantelle tells us that the Gozitans, as the natives call themselves, are much more into decoration and appearance than their Maltese neighbours and that is quite apparent in places like San Lawrenz and the main town of Victoria which we will visit later.
Our first stop in Gozo is a place world renowned for its natural formations, Dwejra Bay the most famous of which unfortunately collapsed a few years ago. More on that later, first let’s look at what is still standing starting with Fungus Rock.
This rather ordinary piece of protruding limestone was believed, by the Knights of St. John, to be the home of a type of plant cynomorium, not a fungus, that supposedly had almost magical healing properties for a huge range of afflictions and maladies. There we go again with connotations of mystery and miracle associated with this tiny country. Long story short, cynomorium is actually quite wide spread around the world and the reason it is found here is that it is actually a parasitic plant that can only survive by attaching itself to salt tolerant plants such as would be found on Fungus Rock.
One of its most preferred uses was to treat erectile disfunction. Gee, I wonder why?
The shore line around Dwejra Bay is very erose and you’ve really got to watch your step walking over the jagged limestone. However, there are rewards for looking downward as the place is loaded with interesting things to see particularly fossilized sand dollars.
Also, there are a number of species of succulents that seem to thrive in this environment despite there being no visible soil.
One of the major attractions at Dwejra is taking a boat trip from a protected lagoon, which is locally called the inland sea, through this natural tunnel out into the open sea and that’s exactly what we had planned to do.
I should have suspected given the rough passage from Malta to Gozo that this might not be on. This is what it looked like closer up. No way was a boat getting through there today.
Obviously this was a bit of a disappointment, but as fate would have it, it provided the time to visit another place I wanted to see that was not on the original itinerary. More on that in the next post.
Given the time of year and the lack of tourists due to Covid there was nobody but us and a few others at this beautiful spot.
This solitary accordionist was actually very good and I had no problem spending some time listening to him while others in our group, including Alison poked around in the one craft store that was open at Dwejra.
Gozo is actually quite well known for its local glass making family who run Gozo Glass Limited and Alison picked up these two pieces of their Midnight Collection which have joined the many others pieces she has acquired from around the world.
One of the reasons we like to travel with Adventures Abroad is that they do not promote ‘shopping’ expeditions that really are thinly disguised kick back schemes. However, if there are genuine local products that are worth seeking out they will tell you where to find them if you ask.
As we headed back to our mini bus Victor showed us the spot where the most famous Dwejra landmark stood until 2017.
This is the Azure Window and surroundings that once formed the backdrop for one of the most famous scenes in Season One of Game of Thrones, the marriage of Daenarys and Drogo. It was also featured in the excellent 1997 mini series The Odyssey with Armand Assante as Ulysses and a great supporting cast.
Sadly this is all that remains today, a product of the same immutable forces of erosion that have felled The Old Man of the Mountain in New Hampshire and Elephant Rock at Hopewell Rocks, New Brunswick since I first saw them.
Well, that’s a good start to exploring Gozo. In the next post we’ll visit another megalithic site, Cgantija Temple and make an unplanned visit to a famous cave. I hope you’ll join us.