A few miles north of Malta is another smaller island called Gozo. It’s around the same size as Manhattan but has a fraction of the number of people living there and is a thousand times more picturesque. No trip to the island of Malta should ever be undertaken without a day out exploring Gozo.
Hopping Up and Hopping Off
We really can’t help ourselves as we always like to get up and get out as early as possible on these big days out. No lying in bed relaxing for us, we hopped up and were down at breakfast superfast before hopping out to the local bus stop waiting for the 8am 221 bus from Qawra up to Cirkewwa. For once the bus was a bit late arriving which wasn’t great as the ferry we were after left at 9am sharp. By the time we approached Cirkewwa terminal there were two minutes remaining and a bus crammed with anxious passengers.
As the doors opened everyone flooded out but whereas most people looked around and checked their tickets, we leapt into action and jinked our way through the crowd at high speed. Along the pavement, into the arrivals hall, through the turnstiles, up the ramps, across the bridge onto the ferry. It was only as we stepped aboard and slowed down that we turned to see the ramp being lifted at our heels and the doors closing. No-one else on the bus had made it. We weren’t exactly smug but were mightily relieved.
The ferry only takes 25 minutes but it’s the only way for people to travel over to Gozo. All sorts of options such as tunnels and bridges have been looked at over the years but thankfully the islands are still separate and retain their own character and personality.
Our plan was to get on the Hop On Hop Off bus at Mgarr where the ferry headed. We passed the much smaller isle of Comino on the right which we had considered visiting but it looked fairly bleak in the early morning mist. On arrival there were a whole bunch of different minibuses and coaches which was great as only 10 or 12 people got on our bus. Open top so two seats right at the front. That’s the rule isn’t it?
The Hop On Hop Off buses visited all of Gozo’s main sites including the main town of Victoria and we’d already decided which ones we would get off at and which we’d just pass through. We hate rushing around so figured 3 stops and some exploring time would be perfect.
First stop would be Dwejra with it’s cliffs and beaches. All buses passed through the capital Victoria and queued up the busiest road on the whole island so we saw the town on the way through, also the fishing village of Xlendi before careering down the twisty turny rough track into Dwejra. This used to be the location of the Azure Window, a famous rock arch, before it collapsed a couple of years ago but was no less beautiful now. Jo did clamber around a rock face to catch a view though …….
With an hour to look around we climbed out through the rock canyons, explored the inland sea, and checked out the North African looking chapel. With the sun out now and blue skies all around it was stunning.
The whole area around the village and the cliffs was so remote and the coastline extremely rocky and precarious. It was wonderful clambering around and exploring especially with only one or two other people there. May be a little different in the summer I suppose.
A short ride back into Victoria and we were off again climbing up the hill into the citadel. It’s Malta’s second largest city and known by locals as Rabat. The renaming in 1887 in honour of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee being ignored by some of the older residents. The Cittadella dominates the town and is in unbelievably wonderful condition. We were amazed at how clean and well preserved every part of it was, and also how it cost nothing to get in. Always a bonus.
I could probably go on all day about the history of the Citadel but won’t, just saying that it’s been there since medieval times and contains numerous churches and chapels including the imposing Church of the Assumption. It really is like a complete city within the walls and every passageway turns into a beautifully picturesque square with quaint shops and restaurants dotted around.
We did have a minor issue in the Citadel though, well I did. In front of the Church of the Assumption a group of tourists, maybe South American, asked me very politely to take their photo in front of the church. I seem to get asked a lot so said ‘Yes‘ and nodded helpfully. They did their hair and grouped together on the steps as I crouched down to get the best possible shot. Click.
All done and camera handed back with smiles and thank-you’s. As I turned away however they all looked at the photo and the head-shaking began to start. Then cries of ‘No‘, ‘No‘ and loud tuts rung out. I was right there! It didn’t stop the derision and condescending looks though. Before I could say anything they had turned and asked some other tourist to take exactly the same photo again. What an insult!
Obviously I bumped into the Brazilian photo-experts at every turn after that and the dirty looks and pointing continued. I imagined they were saying ‘that’s him, the idiot’. Good job Jo found it so amusing.
We could have spent all day exploring the Citadel but walked back down to Victoria’s main thoroughfare to pick up the next Hop On bus. Our next stop after the beach at Marsalforn would be Xaghra where we thought we would like to see the Ggantija Megolithic Temples.
Ggantija and Xaghra
The huge temples of Ggantija are over 5500 years old making them older than the pyramids and the oldest man-made structures on earth so we thought they would be well worth a look. Unfortunately, as we left the bus we saw a low level NASA-type of black building over the road. That couldn’t be them surely? After a quick enquiry and a shock at the entry price we decided against it and headed into the town. Shame but just didn’t look worth it.
Instead we found a perfect little bar with seats outside, one in the sun and one in the shade, and enjoyed a couple of beers enjoying the Maltese sunshine and watching the local world go by. Absolutely lovely.
Waiting for the next Hop On we got chatting to a very nice Maltese girl who had paid to see the Temples and she confirmed that we had made the right choice. She was tearing all over the island though attempting to see everything so was shattered with still lots more to do. We much prefer our way of doing things.
Mgarr Port and the ferry back to Cirkewwa
We hopped on the next bus back to Mgarr and luckily a ferry was going pretty soon so everything seemed as though it had fallen into place perfectly. Most passengers crowded inside for the return trip but that’s crazy, we spent every second out in the fresh air enjoying the sunny views of Mgarr as we left, the island of Comino and our return into Cirkewwa.
We are never quite sure about taking tourist buses and doing guided tours as we love to do our own thing but this had been an incredible success and the only way to see the whole island. Everything worked like clockwork and the weather was the icing on our Maltese cake. What a day! Another one never to forget.