This part of the Maltese duo series sees me walking the silent city of Mdina, in awe of the island temples and a spectacular sunset in Anchor Bay. But first journey with me to Malta’s biggest sister island and home of the late Azure window, Gozo.
We rose early for our Gozo day and snoozed through the bus trip to the ferry port in Cirkewwa town. Getting to Gozo from Malta is a pleasant 20 minute ferry ride and after a quick caffeine injection, courtesy of the cafe on board, we stepped onto Gozo soil at Mgarr harbour.
With the harbour being at the lowest part of the island and most towns further in land, you may want to skip the walk up. The hop-on hop-off bus is the easiest way to explore the island and is included with a ferry ticket from many of the travel companies found on Malta. Total cost for our bus and ferry was 26 euro. If you haven’t bought one in advance, don’t fear, you can also purchase your ticket from bus drivers on the day.
Life on the island takes on a relaxed pace and the bus tours here have a piece of that, with additional quick photos stops for passengers. The tour also breaks at a local food & crafts centre offering some delicious treats such as Prickly pear liquer and Gozitan Cheeselets (Gjebna) as well as hand made ceramics, pottery and clothes. We found the extra breaks to be a great advantage and actually more efficient time-wise, with the saved time allowing us to do both the island bus tours in one day.
Victoria or Rabat, the capital of Gozo was the first main stop on our whirlwind tour. Renamed after Britain’s Queen Victoria in 1887, this medieval city is a fusion of old and new crowned by the magnificent Ciutadella at its heart. Visitors are free to wander the sunny winding streets with their many archways and boutique shops. We sampled unusual takeaway dishes with the most delicious being the gut-busting spare rib in pastry. Take the short uphill walk to explore the maze-like Ciutadella and admire some picturesque Gozo panoramas. Those looking for evening entertainment in Victoria will find that the theatres in Gozo host a wonderful selection of classical and Opera performances as well as the odd musical show. However we found the City very pleasant just to walk around and would recommend that anyone visiting Gozo spend a little time here doing just that.
Next on the journey was Dwejra, the home of the late Azure Window. Although this landmark is no more, there is still a hub of activity in this tiny village. The water is still stunningly blue around the newly sheer-cut cliff face and can be admired close up with a kayak trip around the shoreline. The nearby rock pools around Fungus Rock are an unique attraction with their bubbled surfaces reminiscent of volcanic lava rock. Take a boat trip into the natural caves nearby or explore the pretty church and village shop before a welcome ice-cream.
Other cave sites on the island include the nearby Blue Lagoon, Bottleneck caves, one of the island’s best diving spots and the Calypso caves with their red sand beach and UNESCO Ggantiya Temples.
As with Malta, Gozo hosts a great many churches for its citizens with most open to the respectful public. These can be found on the small streets the buses whizz through on their trail, along with balconied buildings that are so close to the open top that you can nearly touch them as you pass. Gozo has so much to offer, it is a holiday destination in itself and does have a different feel about it to its big sister. To me, Gozo is a place you could truly relax and kick back.
Returning from Gozo, to Cirkewwa we spotted a sign to nearby Anchor bay. Known for its movie setting, we took a late detour to check out the famed family attraction of Popeye’s village. While the village is an absolute charm and fun for younger guests, couples and adult travellers might prefer instead to wander around the perimeter of the village. The best view of the area is on the cliff side opposite where the surrounding coastline scenery can also be enjoyed. Look closely and you’ll find a path down to the waterside as we did. Finding ourselves taking in a beautiful sunset view of the village with the waves lapping around, we were overwhelmed in one of those rare and quiet moments where you can do nothing but continue to look at all that is around you. It was an unforgettable end to a really fantastic day.
Tip: The last buses drive out of the stop at Popeye’s village at around 6pm each day. Should you miss it, the walk along the main road will take you 15 mins for more central stops.
The last day of our Maltese tour was reserved for two of Malta’s brightest jewels. With another early morning under our belts, we headed to the first, the ancient temples at Hagar Qim and Mnajdra. Believed to have been founded between 3700BC-3200BC, these incredible temples are believed to be among the most ancient religious dwelling remaining on Earth. Visitors to the great sites can learn more of Hagar Qim at the nearby visitor centre before walking among the stones of the megalithic structures for a truly humbling experience. The site is perched on the Southern coast of the island, where the nearby isle of Filfia can clearly be seen against the vast ocean blue beyond.
Leaving the temples we travelled in land to our final location of Mdina, the Silent City. The city is free to explore with guide tours also available. Originally constructed in approx 60 AD, the city still resides within its fortified walls complete with strong-gates and moat. Though the city has evolved over time, it has never lost its Antiquitan heritage, making it a fascinating place to explore. The tall close built buildings with wooden shuttered windows and oversized doors are a tell-tale symbol of bygone times, along with the elegant courtyards and cobbled squares. The tradition of oil street lamps is still observed and very few cars are allowed inside the walls, partly giving rise to Mdina’s nickname of the Silent city. Visitors can try the Mdina Experience or brave the city dungeons with a good choice of restaurants and tea rooms to refresh guests after their busy day.
Outside the city walls, nearby attractions include Rabat, St Paul’s Catacombs and Casa Inguanez.
Malta and Gozo were full of surprises. Remembered by me for their golden church buildings and pastry oddities, there is no doubt in my mind that the islands in the Maltese archipelago are proud to celebrate their past. While they are not the most moden isles, the old style charm was one thing that did not get old for me. There is so much to see on these isles, with the many UNESCO and ancient sites making this location one that should be on the list for any history-lover. The jagged coastlines provide perfect bays for diving and kayaking with points of interest dotted around each area. Beautiful ocean scenery is visible at every turn with many of the island coasts, now universally known from the appearance on Games of Thrones. If you would like a trip full of unexpected twists and experiences with each day new, this is the place for you and as the locals would happily say, “and why not?”
If you liked this article, check out Malta – Part 1 at www.thefarawaybug.co.uk/blog/malta-part-1/