Malta & Gozo

James Articles, Features

Malta & Gozo

Closer to home

A couple of stepping-stones across the Mediterranean, these two small islands have one of the oldest human histories anywhere on earth.

It was to Gozo that the nymph Calypso, who lived among its red-sand beaches and bold rock formations, lured Homer’s Odysseus. So pleasant did he find it, he remained on the island for seven years.

A group of Sicilians were the first to colonise the islands, having crossed the waters in around 5,000 BC. By the middle of the fourth millennium, they were building stone temples at Ggantija on Gozo – which are now considered the earliest free-standing stone monuments in the world, remarkable for their originality and for the technical skill required.

Today these structures are one of the highlights of a visit to the islands – as indeed are the catacombs left by early Christians in Roman times, which are dotted around the beautiful former Maltese capital, Mdina, whose quiet winding streets are a joy to explore – unchanged, it would seem, since the Knights of St John first settled there in the sixteenth century.

The historic streets of the modern capital, Valletta, also founded by the Knights, are slowly being over-run with commercial signage, but bustle as they always have. A peek inside St John’s Co-Cathedral, home to Caravaggio’s masterpiece The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist, is well worth it, as is taking in the view of the harbour from the Upper Barracca Gardens.

Local low-down: Activities

A walk from Gozo’s harbour along the coastline reveals some fantastic scenery – especially in spring when the flowers bloom – and remarkable views over to Comino, a smaller isle, home to the Blue Lagoon, one of the world’s best diving spots.

Fantastic diving is available on all the islands, with many wrecks and reefs to explore, and the Blue Hole in Gozo, beneath the Azure Window – a rock arch – is also good.

Another way to investigate the coast is coasteering – a combination of swimming, climbing and abseiling along the cliffs. Or for those wanting to go inland, horse riding, cycling or a jeep safari will take you into the heart of this rugged terrain.

Don’t miss…

Ramla Bay Gozo’s largest sandy beach lies just below Calypso Cave, where the nymph is meant to have dallied with Odysseus.

The Citadel The old capital of Gozo offers 360-degree views over the island.

The Azure Window An impressive rock arch in Gozo, standing 20 metres high, next to the Blue Hole. The Inland Sea nearby is perfect for secluded bathing, and a small tunnel connects it to the open sea.

Mdina Wander around the peaceful, narrow, flag-stoned streets of ‘The Silent City’.

Valletta Harbour Walk around the old city walls and waterfront promenade that fringe this vast natural harbour, offering excellent views over the city.

First published: Traveller magazine, Autumn 2008
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JamesMalta & Gozo