“Here comes the sun, here comes the sun” George Harrison
“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” —Simone Weil
Nadur, a Village that was more than Quaint
It is 6.30 am and the roosters have raised the neighborhood competing for best morning crow. Everybody up! The clouds in the pre-dawn look like smoke-blue mountains rising up out of the Mediterranean Sea. This is the village of Nadur, the poster town for “charming sleepy village” on Gozo, a small island in an archipelago that is Malta. Greek historians muse that Gozo is the island Homer described as Ogygia, home of the nymph, Calypso. Ulysses heard her siren song, crashed on the shore and was held captive (probably willing) for 7 years. Yes, enchantment is the modus operandi here
Arriving on a January day in Malta, we stepped off the plane and were greeted by a supremely bright golden sun glowing over the landscape. I happily peeled away my scarf and unbuttoned my coat. This trip was to be an escape from the grey of winter in northern Europe and it already felt good. Malta is about 58 miles from Sicily and about 180 miles from the northern coast of Africa. A tropical climate was not expected but a 65-degree day was a welcome surprise.
We climbed into our taxi to begin a meandering ride through narrow stone streets to the open reaches of the island and the ferry terminal. Farm fields were spread before us in the hilly landscape. Many were newly ploughed and some were green with potatoes and Jerusalem artichoke. Flowers were still clinging on the oleander and bougainvillea bushes. Mature lemon and orange fruit sparkled from the trees. There were beds of marigolds and calendula. The bright sun and blue sky with clouds danced with a hint of the sea on the horizon. It was already spring in Malta.
The rocky hillsides and fields slept with the dreams of long gone invaders, mystical dogmas and agrarian heritages. The houses in the landscape were largely of warm yellowed limestone. There was a fragrance of dusty roads, agriculture and the salty sea blowing through the windows; a zesty bouquet that made me think of my visits to Greece and Israel. This country that we chose to visit on a whim was instantly captivating. A book, a spy-mystery thriller set in Malta, had stoked my curiousity about this country and its people. We drew Malta like a lucky prize out of a grab bag.
The ferry crossing from Malta to the small island of Gozo is 20 minutes. Arriving in Mġarr on Gozo, we trailed through the town in our taxi. Breaking through the cover of the narrow village alleys, an expanse of high ground, sea, tilled fields and rock spread over the edge of a road that clung to a hillside. Gozo is an island of only 26 sq. miles; 8.7 miles long with a population of 37,000. The small island is graced with 46 churches. On the wickedly winding roads, church domes and steeples crowned and claimed the highest ground and added their verve to the scenery.
Our hotel was another choice from that grab bag of a plan we had made back in Kraków. Named the “The Quaint Hotel”, it is set back in a cozy nook of the town square in a laid-back little village called Nadur. The renovation of a ruined 100 year old building, it opened in May 2015. The Quaint hotel is charming, modern, clean, affordable, and friendly. And it is small with only 12 rooms. The three rooms on the top floor have the best views and terraces. Winter rates make a penthouse room easy on the pocketbook even with the Euro exchange rate.
The town square, which is just around the corner from the hotel, is dominated by a massive parish church, a basilica dedicated to St Peter and St Paul, the patron saint of the town. We soon learned that every town in Malta has it’s own particular patron saint with an accompanying legend. This church is one of the loveliest on Gozo.
Our room had two wide doors that opened up onto a terrace over the tops of the town, the fields, sky and over to the sea. The dome of the St. Peter and Paul church hovered high just above the left side. The light of sunset cast shadows on it’s golden baroque beauty and turned the yellow limestone to shades of ochre, orange and brown. Magical is a word I will overuse to describe Gozo. It was pretty dreamy. The light on the buildings was magic, the clouds were magic, the sea was magic, the people were magical. Greg had been snapping pictures since we stepped off the plane; there was no stopping him.
There are not many restaurants within walking distance of the hotel even though the entire town of Nadur is walking distance. But never mind because “The Fat Rabbit” is in the building and it’s the best restaurant in Nadur. It features an assortment of Maltese dishes like rabbit stew, seafood, pasta, lamb, sausages, soups, and ftira which is the freshly baked flat bread of Malta. Veggies are ubiquitous and “home-style”. Olives and anchovies grace a lot of the sauces and appetizers. Pizza selections are well represented. A special Maltese pizza* is on ftira with potatoes, olives, tomatoes and anchovies. I became addicted to it.
A grocery store across the street from the hotel and a few other little restaurants sprinkled around the area are convenient. If you need room service, there is none. Room service is available in the bigger resort hotels but this is Nadur – poster town for ‘sleepy’. Take-out is viable, the Fat Rabbit is open late and there’s always a crowd or a party going at dinnertime.
The residents of Gozo, called Gozitans, are very responsible for our growing love affair with this island. They are generously full of humor and without pretense. Also wise, gracious and kind. The island is a welcoming place at every turn with greetings from strangers freely given morning through evening.
The Fat Rabbit was the only place open for breakfast that we could find. Taddea was the lady who ran the breakfast buffet there every morning. The buffet is simple because it is the winter season and the hotel is not full. Still, we had not expected a cold buffet and on the first morning, we asked about having “eggs”. She said that the cook was not present but she would call someone to come at once to make us eggs. We declined. But there was a someone at the ready, somewhere nearby, to come and cook if necessary. Now that is quaint. The buffet was yogurt, fruit, breads, cereal, sweets, coffee and tea as well as a latte for the asking.
During the four mornings we had breakfast buffet with Taddea, she shared stories of living in New York. She reminisced fondly about her husband’s workplace, her son, the upper East Side, Astoria and Macy’s. Every morning she fussed to make sure we had everything we needed. On our last morning, a Tuesday, we came down to breakfast and found no other hotel guests there. Only Maria, Taddea’s daughter, was present and the table that was usually spread with food was empty. We asked if there was breakfast today. Maria walked over to a corner of the room and pulled off a table cloth that was covering a small assortment of food in a nook. This had been assembled and left waiting for our expected arrival. Taddea could not be there that morning and had told Maria to wait for us and have something ready as she was sure we would be down for a bite. There were no other guests at the hotel that day and so no formal buffet had been planned. But her sense of hospitality did not allow Taddea to conveniently walk off and leave us without cereal, croissants and yogurt. And Maria made us lattes, too.
This hotel does not have a 24-hour front desk service but someone is always available on-call. On the first night of our stay, Shaun, the manager, was kind enough to return to the hotel after hours when we called the operator to report that the heat was not working. What appeared to be a major repair was simply a misunderstanding of how the system worked but he politely and obligingly gave us a brief tutorial. We did not have to wait in the cold until the next morning. And the housekeeping staff, a cheery team of three who cross-functioned as information experts, helped us with everything from how to ride the bus to finding a store to purchase Sim cards.
I can’t wrap up these stories without telling about the older man, a real character, who engaged us out of the blue one morning on the street near the hotel, holding an envelope that was just returned to him by the mail service. He relayed a humorous story of trying to mail a payment to the traffic bureau, three times without success. He threw his hands in the air and laughed at the system that would not take his money. We had to listen and smile too.
For those of my friends who have expressed that they shy away from visiting foreign places where the language might be daunting, you don’t have to be shy here. Maltese and English are equally spoken. You can be confident that there will be traffic signs, menus and greetings in English. And this European Union country, with Euro as currency, is very affordable when compared, for example, to Italy or France.
So what is there to do on Gozo in January? If you are a beach person, wait for May. If you like to take long walks and enjoy a beautiful unusual location, then this is the perfect time. There are many historical sites on Gozo and the quiet winter months are a great time to explore them. There will be a ‘Part 2’ to this Gozo story about our wanderings at the Citadella in Victoria and the Neolithic temples of Ġgantija in Xagħra. It is a small island with many stories to tell.
Be warned that summer brings a sweltering climate. But there are beautiful bays and beaches for swimming. From May through August, there is a crush of tourists from the UK and other parts of Europe. The siesta is practiced in Malta as the afternoon heat can be ridiculous. The rainy season starts in September and it is said that when the rains start, all the flowers burst into bloom after being parched by the dry summer.
The terrace and the sky and sea in the morning was a joyful experience at the Quaint Hotel. We plan on engaging that terrace again on another visit to savor the peace, the golden light, the fresh air and the crazy roosters and dogs of Nadur. There is also a hot tub on the terrace which we haven’t tried yet. We plan a much longer visit the next time. _________________________________________Grace Nagiecka
*Recipe for Maltese Pizza: http://thyme-out.blogspot.com/2011/06/maltese-ftira-pizza.html
For more beautiful photographs from our ex-pat life, see Greg’s photos in Assignment 2015 http://bit.ly/1mtVVTW and Assignment 2016 http://bit.ly/1RsaN1M
Notes: Gozo is easily reached by taxi from the main airport in Malta to the ferry terminal. The ferry runs every 1/2 hour. A taxi or pre-arranged transfer on the opposite shore will economically get you to any hotel you desire in Gozo. A special taxi pick up can be booked which will take you all the way through to Gozo. The car goes on the ferry with you and so the trip from the airport to an island hotel is seamless.