By Ann Evans
There’s just so much to see and do on the tiny island of Gozo, Malta’s sister island, even though Gozo measures just eight miles long by four miles wide. But this idyllic little gem nestled in the Mediterranean is the perfect place to be whether you’re looking for adventure, water sports, sightseeing, wildlife, relaxation or inspiration.
The island’s most popular summer resort is Marsalform where you’ll find restaurants, bars and hotels. There’s a pebbly beach and a bay perfect for swimming, water sports and diving. And while it is the most popular spot, it’s still peaceful and relaxing.
If you enjoy looking around churches, Gozo has 46 beautiful churches dotted around the island, at least one in every town and village. Some of which look utterly spectacular as the sun is setting over this little island.
The capital of Gozo is Victoria, still known as Rabat by the locals. It was given the name in 1887 in honour of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee celebrations. At the same time the town’s status was elevated to being a City. Victoria, or Rabat is a place packed full of historical and cultural interest with narrow streets, interesting shops and open air cafés. There are museums, Gozo cathedral and the Citadel with it’s magnificent views of the surrounding countryside.
A visit to the Ta’ Dbiegi Craft Village in Gharb is a must, especially if you want to buy locally made souvenirs such as pottery, glass, leather and lace. And nearby Our Lady of Ta’Pinu Basilica is rich in stories of healings and miracles from people who have prayed there.
Not to be missed are the Ggantija Temples (3600-3000 BC) in Xaghra which are said to be one of the oldest free standing man-made structures in the world. The name Ggantija is Maltese for ‘belonging to the giants’ and legend says the temples were built by mythical beings.
Gozo is steeped in myths and legends. It’s thought to be the Calypso Isle in Homer’s Odyssey, and where the Gozitian sea nymph, Calypso enslaved Odysseus for seven years before he escaped and returned home to his wife.
One of the most unusual sights on the island are the salt pans. The origins of the Maltese salt pans go back to Roman times and you’ll find more on nearby Comino Island and Malta itself.
I’d taken a coastal walk from Marsalforn Bay west along the promenade to Qbajjar Bay. It was a hot summer’s afternoon and the Mediterranean blue waters sparkled. Having heard that the salt pans were worth a visit, I really had no idea what to expect, so the view of these salt pans when they came into sight was startling.
The landscape looked totally surreal – a rocky plateau that stretched down to the sea which was made up of a chequerboard of hundreds maybe thousands of salt pans – a kaleidoscope of oblong and square hollows, hewn out from the rock to form a grid of pans in which to catch the sea water.
Overlooking the salt pans were honey coloured rocks and beige-white cliffs and within them was a deep cave chiselled from the rock where I met Gozitans, Alfred and Mary Attard whose ancestors had worked these salt pans for generations. They eagerly showed me the huge pile of salt crystals in their cave which resembled a snow drift!
Alfred explained in broken English that the incoming tide washed into the pans nearest the sea and then the water is channelled through to the connecting grids stretching further inland. Here the water is left to stand beneath the sun and hot summer breeze until the salt from the water turns into pure crystals and it can be harvested. It’s then bagged up and sent out to be sold or commercially packaged.
Inviting me to taste it Alfred added, “My wife, her father and his father worked here. The pans and the cave were all cut from the rock by hand, no machinery, just hard work. Nowhere in the world will you find salt like this. This is made from the sea and this land.”
If you are visiting Gozo this summer, take time to see the salt pans – and you may never look at the humble grain of salt in the same way again!