24 Hours In: Gozo
An abandoned citadel, a Baroque cathedral - oh, and the oldest structure on the planet... There's more than enough to fill a day here
Sunday 21 May 2006
Now that's what I call a dome
09.00: Victoria, the capital of Gozo, is also known by its ancient Arab name, Rabat. Walk up to the abandoned citadel, the last line of defence on Gozo, and visit the Baroque Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Inside, the dome turns out to be an impressive trompe l'oeil by Antonio Manuele. It was an 18th-century stop-gap until parishioners could afford to build a real one, but Manuele's work proved so popular they never bothered. Return to the Bellusa Snack Bar (00 356 21556243) on Pjazza Indipendenza for a a cup of coffee al fresco.
Watch out for the dragon
11.00: Amble across to St George's Square for a look at the rival Basilica of St George with its splendid statue of the dragon-slayer that is carried in the annual carnival. Now there's time for one more church before lunch. You'll have seen the campanile of Ta' Pinu from the citadel. It's only a 10-minute drive to the west. Inside this remarkable church you'll find niches filled with the crutches and surgical supports abandoned by people who claimed to be cured after visiting the shrine.
Pasta for lunch in Xlendi
13.00: About time we saw the sea. Drive back to Rabat and then south down the Xlendi Valley. The row of Renaissance terraced houses on your left as you leave Rabat is where the celibate Knights of St John used to keep their mistresses. At the fishing village of Xlendi are a few unfortunate hotels and clubs but some good restaurants overlooking the sea. Da Manuel (00 356 2156 1022) offers north Italian and traditional Gozitan cuisine. Aubergines alla Parmigiana and beef carpaccio are recommended, as are the 12 different pastas. Penne Da Manuel (vegetables and fresh baby prawns in garlic) is the chef's favourite.
There's old, and there's ancient
14.30: You can't miss the Ggantija Temples (open daily 9am-5pm) Admission: adults ML 1.50 (£2.70), children 50 cents (80p). This complex is reputedly the oldest structure on the planet, built before the Pyramids out of stones weighing up to 50 tons. The temples, excavated in 1827, get their name from the local word for giant. Enjoy great views across the island or a snack at Oleander Café in nearby Xaghra.
This way to the best beach
16.30: Now for a spot of swimming. Ramla is the Maltese word for sand and Ramla Bay contains the one beach on this rocky island that is worthy of that name. Not only is the swimming good, but if you climb up to the cliffs you can peer into Calypso's Cave.
Of all the gin joints in Gozo...
19.00: For a great sundowner, seek out the most interesting pub on Gozo. Gleneagles is in Mgarr, just above the harbour inside a curious Strawberry Hill Gothic building that overlooks the Comino Channel. The atmosphere is reminiscent of 1940s Casablanca. After a drink or two with the proprietors, Tony and Sammy, go down the hill to eat. Shore Street has several harbourside restaurants, but the best lie on Manoel de Vilhena Street. Take your pick from Da Luigi (00 356 21558681) Il-Kcina Tal-Barraka (00 356 21556543) and Manoel's (00 356 21560721). Relax, the evenings are long and you'll have the comings and goings of the Gozo ferry for entertainment.
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