While a stroll through some villages in Malta may entail a constant watch for oncoming traffic squeezing through impossibly narrow streets, there is little or none of it on Gozo - and more so in the cooler months when the slow pace of life gets even more lethargic with fewer tourists around. At times you will walk through a place and get the feel it is completely deserted except for the fact that most houses appear well kept and a dog will bark or a cock crow somewhere to shatter the illusion.
If you are staying in Gozo for any length of time (lucky you) a village crawl is a pleasant way to familiarize oneself with the place and an ideal spot to set off is the hilltop village of Zebbug.
Zebbug actually sits across two adjoining hillocks bridged by a narrow ridge. There is not much in the way of built environment to lure you here actually, but the views from practically every street corner are nothing short of stunning – collectively providing a 360 degree vista of the island. The simple parish church dominates the airy central square. The church’s main point of interest is the extensive use of a limestone form of onyx quarried from a nearby hill. This decorative stone was utilized extensively in local church decorations but here in Zebbug they really went overboard…altar, columns, confessional boxes and baptismal font are all carved from this rather pretty pinkish stone.
Take the winding Triq il-Fanal to the right of the Ghasri parish church – an open road with good views of the Ghammar hill on the left and the Gordan lighthouse perched on the next hill. You will walk past the tiny hamlet of Ghammar – the smallest settlement in Gozo consisting of just one street and a few alleys; even its tiny chapel is well hidden in a side lane.
Past tiny Ghammar the lovely Ta Pinu National Shrine comes into view, sited majestically in the open countryside. Built in the 1920’s in the Romanesque style, this is probably the loveliest church erected in the twentieth century in the Maltese Islands – not least because of the richness of design in the sculpted decorations inside, with innumerable variations of abstract carving and no single motif repeated anywhere. This is also a place of great devotion and a magnet for pilgrims all year round - take time to look at the huge (if somewhat bizarre) collection of votive offerings inside the church; witness to an Island’s deep rooted faith. The greatest day in the history of the church was probably 26th May 1990 – when the late Pope John Paul II – the first Pontiff to visit Malta, let alone Gozo - celebrated Holy Mass in the piazza and all of Gozo flocked here to greet him.
If you are feeling energetic you might want to trudge up the Way of the Cross which starts across the road in front of the church…it’s a steep climb to the top of Ghammar hill with statues depicting scenes from the Passion of Christ dotted along the way. Needless to say there’s a breathtaking panorama from the top.
Leaving Ta Pinu, retrace your steps by a couple of hundred feet and take the road which will lead you to the next village – Gharb. It’s another country road which passes over the valley below via a newly restored stone bridge and affords splendid views of Ta Pinu church’s eastern end and belfry.
Gharb is the remotest village in Gozo and one of the oldest as well. Look out for a number of ancient stone balconies on buildings – rare almost everywhere else but quite common here. There is a lovely parish church with a curious concave façade dating from 1699 gracing the village’s main square. A privately owned folklore museum housed in an eighteenth century house also graces the square. Its twenty eight rooms give a comprehensive view of trades and crafts formerly practiced in the Islands, with an extensive collection of related tools and implements.
This article was first published in the October 2013 edition of Il-Bizzilla - the Air Malta inflight magazine