The Malta archipelago, located in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea just south of Sicily, consists of the three major islands of Malta, Gozo, and Comino.
Gozo means “joy” in Castilian, and this second-largest island in the archipelago is filled with charming medieval villages, beautiful countryside, breathtaking landscapes, and dramatic cliffs, all surrounded by turquoise-to-deep-sapphire blue seas.
This was my second trip to these magical islands. The first time I visited my focus was on the main island of Malta, which boasts man-made structures as old as 7,000 years. On this trip, natural as well as ancient man-made marvels captured my interest.
Malta has it all. Well, it did have it all until the collapse of the Azure Window, the spectacular limestone arch in the Dwejra area of Gozo.
The islands of Malta were raised from the sea as evidenced by bits of marine life and shells hardened into rock-solid promontories that rise heavenward. Due to erosion, openings are cleaved into the rock face, and periodically portions of the towering cliffs collapse back into the sea. Such an occurrence shocked nature lovers when, after a storm in March, the Azure Window unexpectedly fell into the sea, a fact reported by the world press.
But all is not lost because when one window closes another opens, and our knowledgeable guides from Exclusively Malta knew just were to take us to see what is hoped will be the replacement. The new site is currently underdeveloped, however, and a bit hard to find, so I recommend contacting Exclusively Malta to arrange a visit.
Although the Azure Window is no more, the Dwejra area has much to offer. There is swimming at secluded bays or, for the more adventurous, diving at some of the best dive sites in the Mediterranean, such as the Blue Hole, where one can explore underwater caverns, grottos, shipwrecks, and coral reefs. Or take an exhilarating boat ride through the Blue Grotto.
The day was picture-perfect as it often is in Malta, bright sunlit cliffs reflected in the amazingly blue sea and fluffy pink-tinged white clouds high overhead. I boarded a fisherman’s luzzu (flat-bottomed boat) along with seven others of our group. We buckled on our life jackets and zoomed into the darkness of the cliffs.
Near the ebb and flow at the water’s edge one could see little orange buds of the living coral clinging to the rocks. As my eyes adjusted to the gloom, I leaned back to see the staggering height of the cavern we were passing through. We glided out into the open sea with the cliff wall behind us, moving from cavern to cavern. The ride lasted just under half an hour of zipping, swirling, bumping, and (me) shrieking with joy.
Opposite where the Azure Window stood is Fungus Rock. Back in the day, the Knights of the Order of St John (1530-1798) was a hospitaller order before becoming a military order. They ruled over Malta ostensibly to protect the west from incursions by the “infidels” but in their role tending to the sick, discovered a tubular plant believed to have curative properties. The rock was off-bounds to all except those collecting the special mushroom. A watchtower was erected to “watch” over the rock and it’s still there, checking out all comers to the area.
On the other side of the island not far from the Ggantija Megalithic Temples is Calypso Cave, reputed to be where Homer’s Ulysses and the nymph Calypso lived for seven years. The cave is no longer accessible but the view that held Ulysses a love captive is. There, at Ramla Bay, you will find Ir-Ramla Il-Hamra, one of Gozo’s most popular beaches known for its red sand.
Speaking of the Ggantija Temples, this imposing UNESCO World Heritage Neolithic Site is considered to be one of the oldest free-standing structures in the world. The site dates back to 3,600 B.C., before the wheel was introduced on Gozo.
Of course, there is a myth about its construction. It tells of the giantess Sansuna, who, while holding a baby in one arm, carried the massive stones from the south coast of Gozo on her head and built the two temples in one night. This legend lends support to the theory that the temples were the site of a fertility cult, which is further strengthened by the many female statues found both here and at the temple sites on Malta.
It is believed that a great portion of the Ggantija site is still to be unearthed, hopefully leading to more discoveries relating to its builders—no offense implied to the legend of Sansuna!
This is a just small taste of the things to do and see on Gozo. It seems everyone who goes there is captivated by its charms and, like Ulysses, is tempted to stay long after the ferry has sailed into the sunset.
IF YOU GO:
Getting to Gozo is an easy 25-minute ferry ride from the north side of the island of Malta. It transports both passengers and vehicles, or if you choose not to drive or take
an organized tour, you can catch a sightseeing double-decker tour bus from the harbor of Mgarr where you land. If you like to wing it, there are public buses that ply the
island from top to bottom.
Plan your trip with Malta Tourism Authority: www.visitmalta.com
Contact Damon Camilleri Allan or his brother Jason at Exclusively Malta for touring in Malta or Gozo or to arrange a visit to the new Azure Window: www.exclusivelymalta.com
Thanks to Turkish Airlines which provided an exemplary travel experience to Malta: www.turkishairlines.com. Seats were spacious, staff was friendly, and the food was very good.
Thanks also to the five-star Corinthia Palace Hotel & Spa on Malta for their generous support of this trip: www.corinthia.com
There are frequent flights from Malta to many European capitals including direct flights to Tel Aviv: www.airmalta.com
Barbara Angelakis is a seasoned international traveller and award-winning writer based in the New York City area. To read more of her articles and adventures visit LuxuryWeb Magazine at www.luxuryweb.com