And there was me thinking Jill was going to get all the Mediterranean sun this year. While all you lot were basking in 80 degrees in the UK (my timing is rubbish) I snook a mini-break to Gozo. You’ve got to fly to Malta, but take my advice and get on the ferry – it’s only a 25 minute ride, and the delights of Gozo far outweigh those of the bigger (and a thousand times busier) island.
Gozo translates as ‘joy’ in Castilian, and it is. Joyful. If any of you ever went to the Greek islands in the late 70’s, you’ll love the sat-back vibe here. The trappings of the 21st century seem a lifetime away. Black shawled women sit in shady doorways. Young lads herd goats along unmade roads. Old men sit in the village square drinking something vile and playing chess. I saw more than one immaculate Ford Escort circa 1977 being driven at 0.5 mph. And something I haven’t seen since growing up in the sticks in Derbyshire – no-one locks their doors. In fact in the capital, Rabat, shop keepers make a point of leaving keys in the door. Amazing. You get the idea of the pace of life here. And it’s tiny, around 9 miles by 5, so you see all you need to in a handful of days.
We met up with Cornil, a gentle Frenchman who was posted by his (multi-national) company to Malta four years ago. With his English wife Rachel (a very talented jewellery maker, check out her website here, he ‘discovered’ the delights of Gozo, abandoned the big job (salary/car/status) and now runs eco-tours from the sleepy town of Gharb, mostly on mountain bikes.
We rode along (bumpy) country lanes alongside fields full of melons and tomatoes to the staggering Roman salt pans on the coast, and saw only a handful of people.
The Citadel in Rabat (or Victoria as it was when we Brits were in charge) is a walled city, all narrow cobbled streets, mellow stone and inviting trattoria. Elsewhere, an opera house, cinema, art galleries and surprisingly few concessions to tourism (people tend to descend from Malta for a day trip then traz back).
Ta’ Mena is an organic agro-tourism estate run by Joe Spiteri and his family. They farm acres of vines, olives, pomegranates, lemons and oranges and of course the fabulous Gozan tomato. Perhaps I’d spent too long in the sun, but the taste surpassed all others. We sat on the terrace under huge parasols drinking a fabulous, chilled Girgentina, the indiginous white grape of Gozo, whilst dish after dish of fabulous food landed on the table; tapenade, stuffed vine leaves, caponata, gusty Gozitan sausage spiked with chilli and grilled lampuka (plentiful local fish) with lemons from the tree. Talk about pig in the proverbial.
It’s un-cool to gush, but Gozo’s got the lot – history, culture, beaches and really great food. Best time to go is spring, when it’s green and the flowers are out. But if you get the chance, go anytime. And say hi from me.