On a trip to the island of Gozo, we encountered rural Malta, ate a cooked lunch in a shed and marvelled at the Azure Window. We hope you enjoy reading this instalment of our Malta Diaries.

If Malta’s ancient Mdina is your cool cousin who listens to Gregory Porter, the island of Gozo is your other cousin with the slightly torn jeans who likes jamming to The Rolling Stones. The contrast is apparent when you compare the smooth limestone buildings and cobblestone streets of Mdina with the more rural, rugged, natural and serenely beautiful experience offered by Gozo.

A must-see stop on any Malta holiday, the island of Gozo is easily accessible in about 30 minutes by sea from the ferry terminal at Mgarr on the main island. Although tour bus services operate on the island, we chose to do the ‘Karl experience’ of which you will hear more about shortly.

HDYTI Tip: Ferry tickets are priced per person and per vehicle but are relatively cheap.

Gozo, MaltaGozo, Malta (Landscape)

Malta’s small size belies its centuries of rich history. The Maltese islands were occupied and ruled by different civilisations and empires over the last 3,000 years. Everyone from the Phoenicians, Arabs, Turks, Sicilians, Romans, Knights of St. John, French and British have laid claim to it at one point in time or the other and have all left their stamp.

This rotating door of occupiers resulted in a rich cultural diversity and a treasure trove of historic artifacts and attractions to explore. The country is rumored to have around 365 churches; one for every day of the year. There are temples, catacombs, castles and villas in abundance on these islands….and then there is Gozo.

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Our Malta trip was in the middle of winter, and as such we chose to avoid the beaches in favour of exploring other attractions. As our trip was only three days, we decided we needed the services of a tour guide.

That is how we came to meet Karl, a highly trained chef who spent almost 20 years travelling the world and catering in some iconic cities before recently moving back to Malta to offer customisable private tours. His world experience and adventurous spirit were like spices added to the already tasty dish that is Malta.

His knowledge of Malta encompasses local geography, history, nature, culture, food, language, people and some very interesting places which we may never have experienced on a standard tour. In addition, his knowledge of the road network was extensive and his ability to navigate some of the lesser known routes was impressive.

HDYTI Tip: Hiring the services of tour guides like Karl offers the use of a car for the full day (or a few hours) which saves you having to hire a car and driving through unfamiliar routes. Malta in the winter is rainy and windy. It makes sense to have a car if you want to explore the outdoors.

Karlito's Way Tours

Karl picked us up from Mdina and on the way to board the ferry at Mgarr, we took a scenic route which included a stop over at Dingli Cliffs, a beautiful stretch of natural coastline which looked like it would be great for walking in the summer.

Unfortunately, the winds and rain were much too strong to afford us that pleasure on this occasion. The weather also conspired to churn up the seas and made the ferry ride across to Gozo slightly rough. However we arrived in good time just as the sun made one of its rare appearances for the day.

Driving along quiet and scenic country back roads, it was common for Karl to suddenly spot something interesting and share historic facts with us. His excitement was infectious when he spotted some rare local flowers called Narcisse; delicate and aromatic plants which have almost became extinct in Malta and are protected by the government.

Narcisse, found in Gozo

 

Traditional pies and salt farms

There is no land bridge between Gozo and the main island of Malta. This natural separation from the rest of Malta seems to protect the local culture from aggressive urbanisation. Karl stopped at a small hole-in-the-wall bakery called Mekren’s which serves the local population with bread, pizza and other traditional Maltese pastries.

Baking techniques are traditional and recipes have been handed down over three generations in this family-run business. There was no place to sit and so we picked up a delightful Mekren’s pie with raisins, green peas and goat’s cheese for the road.

Mekren's Bakery PieMekren's Bakery

 Another industry that still uses traditional techniques is the manufacturing of sea-salt.

With our pies in hand, we drove to Zebbug which is home to the Gozo Salt Pans. This line of sea-salt farms forms beautiful symmetrical shapes along the coast line; the surrounding white rock contrasting sharply with the deep blue sea.

View of Salt Pans, Gozo Salt Pans, Gozo

 

Private chef services…in a shed

Although off-peak winter travel to Malta has its benefits (e.g., no tourist crowds), one downside is the unpredictability of the weather. Our Gozo private tour package included an outdoor meal. Karl had planned to cook lunch at the scenic Ramla Bay. However, with the rain lashing down every few minutes and the sun playing hide and seek, we had practically given up on this part of our tour.

Leaving the salt farms behind, our next stop was Calypso’s Cave. Satisfied with the scenic views, we made our way back to the car. Along the way, Karl struck up a chat with a nice old lady who sold hand-knitted wool cardigans in a little shop called Calypso’s Boutique.

The old lady (her name was Chesina) had an unused shed next to her shop. Karl, being the quick thinker that he is, politely asked if we could use the shed to cook and surprisingly she agreed.

Soon, the wonderful aromas of seasoned cuttlefish, pan-fried giant king prawns, red quinoa, fresh salad and flavoured basmati rice filled the air. This was a highlight of the day for us…as well as meeting the lovely Chesina who has lived and worked in Gozo for over 40 years. 

HDYTI Tip: We love supporting local businesses on our travels. Chesina’s Calypso’s Boutique sells local honey and olive oils produced by local farmers. Be sure to try some. The honey has a lovely distinct flavour!

Calypso's Cave, GozoKarl's chef skills
Karl's menu

 

The Azure Window

The next stop on our tour was a trip to Djwera Bay to see the iconic Azure Window, the Fungus Rock and the Inland Sea; all of which are impressive geological rock formations.

Strong winds made it impossible to consider hiring a boat to explore the area more intimately. The white spray of the angry sea against the rocks created a stunning expression of beauty. Game of Thrones fans will recognise the scenery from one of the show’s early episodes.

Azure Window, GozoAzure Window views, Gozo

After leaving Djwera Bay, there was a quick stop at Citadella, a fortified, historic city/castle located in the center of Gozo. However, apart from the great views it afforded us, there wasn’t much else we could see as there was a lot of construction work going on as well as the funeral of some important person.

HDYTI Tip: In the summer, we were told that the Citadella town square is one of the best places to experience everyday Gozo life.

 

The Mysterious Three Chairs

Our Gozo adventure ends with the story of ‘The Three Chairs’.

In a small, hidden fishing cove called Mġarr ix-Xini on the island of Gozo, partly hidden by overgrown weeds, sits an abandoned shack where we found three forlorn looking and brightly coloured chairs. The story goes that once upon a time, this nondescript edifice hosted a famous restaurant with a reputation for serving some of the best locally sourced fish for miles.

One day, the proprietors, a middle aged couple, were approached by a film crew requesting exclusive access to the area to shoot scenes for the 2015 ‘art house’ movie (By The Sea). To secure the area and pay for the inconvenience, the film crew offered to pay them a substantial sum of money.

After initially accepting the offer, the couple got greedy, rejected it and demanded a massive increase. Despite multiple negotiation attempts, the couple refused to budge. At that point, the government stepped in. Investigations of the couple revealed some tax discrepancies which resulted in the restaurant having to shut down.

The chairs created a feeling of mystery as they faced the bay, perhaps in hope of the place being revived. With the setting sun, we made our way back to the ferry for our return trip to Mdina.

We promised Gozo that we would be back!
Gozo Three Chairs