… and what to expect from them: quaint country lanes, magnificent churches and majestic views over the Mediterranean Sea.
Hikers can experience the island of Gozo on seven hiking trails that have been laid out and marked (fairly efficiently) by the Malta Tourism Authority. All walks come with a dedicated leaflet (featuring a map, photos and notes) that is available from any local Tourism Office. (The main such office is located on Independent Square in the centre of the island’s capital of Victoria.)
The trails – each around 10 km long – cover all areas of Gozo and together give you a full introduction into the island’s charms, taking you around the coastline, over the hills and past the rocks or craggy cliffs that have been made famous by the TV series “Game of Thrones”.
There is even a special (eighth) issue for the prehistoric Ix-Xaghra complex in the centre of the island that features the 5000-year-old Gigantiya temples – which is not so much a walk, however, but more an informal introduction into the archaeological site …
… and to some other attractions that are located near-by and that you may want to visit once you are in the area, other prehistoric finds but also beautiful baroque churches and the “pomskizillious” toy museum.
On our first full day in Gozo, we decided to do two short walks rather than a single long one. Here is why: normally, September is a very pleasant month on the Maltese islands, once the first heavy rainfalls of the autumn have cooled down the air to temperatures around the 25° C mark (mid-70s F).
This year, however, has been different, and there has been no let-up yet from the summer heat. On the day we were scheduled to go out for our first walk, the forecasts were predicting mid-day temperatures of 38° C (around 100° F). With heat like that, you don’t want to be out on the trail at lunchtime, with only the proverbial mad dogs and Englishmen as company.
Which is why we left our base on the outskirts of San Lawrentz at 7:30, an early start for us (we are Easy Hikers, not Early Hikers), on the way to San Dimitri Chapel north of the neighbouring town of Gharb.
This is a short walk, approx. 5 km round-trip that takes only about 90 minutes. It is easy and not taxing at all, but nevertheless a very good introduction into the Gozitan countryside because it covers nearly all of the island’s bases, featuring quaint agricultural roads, farmhouses…
… narrow village lanes, churches and splendid views across all of that.
For reasons of accessibility, it is probably easier to begin the walk not directly at, but near San Lawrentz in the town of Gharb. Start right in front of the baroque Church of the Visitation of Our Lady…
… and follow the road called Triq Madonna tal-Virtù (on the left hand side of the church: look for the marker on the wall that looks a little like a Dutch flag).
Walk all the way downhill and keep straight at the fork, continuing into Triq Birbuba. Turn right at the T-junction from where you can already see the Ta Gurdan lighthouse in the distance.
From here, you are free to continue all the way to the lighthouse and beyond – if you follow the markers, the trail (the Ta Gurdan walk, one of the “Gozo 7”) will eventually lead you back to Gharb town centre – but you can also, which is what we did, turn right into the footpath after approx. 400 metres that will lead you to the San Dmitri Chapel and then walk the same way back.
St Dmitri to the rescue!
The legend behind the chapel is this: sometime in the 16th century, a young man was captured and kidnapped by pirates, no doubt about to be sold into slavery, when his mother in Gozo prayed so hard in front of her favourite saint’s picture (the one that now hangs in the chapel) that the horsebacked San Dmitri galloped out of the painting, flew across the Mediterranean Sea and brought the boy back home.
Following which the grateful island community promptly built the saint a new chapel. (As often with these stories, you cannot help but wonder what really happened there. Maybe the young man just spent a couple of nights away with his friends on a drunken bender – and later preferred to have everybody believe his mother’s “tall story” than having the heart to tell her the truth?)
For all your walks on Gozo, you can use the island’s reliable, cheap (€ 1.50 for a day pass) and efficient public transport system. The network reaches all corners of the island, and all buses circulate hourly, always starting or ending their journey at the system’s central hub, the bus station in Victoria.
Experienced travellers will immediately spot the system’s only weakness: you may have to wait for up to an hour before you can hop on a connecting bus in Victoria, which can turn (theoretically) short journeys into rather long ordeals.
For this problem, however, we have the perfect solution: when in Gozo, live like a Gozitan – and take it easy. The trail will still be there in an hour’s time, so what’s the rush? Unexpected stopovers are travel invitations from God (says Kurt Vonnegut, or at least very nearly so), so see any delay in your journey as a welcome opportunity to explore the town – which is lively and attractive …
… and has a busy market on Independence Square. Pull yourself a table in one of Victoria’s many restaurants and relax over a coffee or a glass of wine. Don’t put yourself under stress – this is not work but supposed to be fun, remember? Life is sweet. Enjoy the moment.
Among Gozo’s magnificent seven hiking trails, the San Dmitri walk covers all of Gozo’s bases except for one. Which is why we will dedicate our next post to some suggestions of how best to experience the island’s famously “gromphiberous” coastline.
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