Steeped in myth, Gozo is thought to be the legendary isle of Ogygia, home of the goddess Calypso in Homer’s Odyssey. As Homer tells it, Calypso is in love with Odysseus, a mortal who is already married. With her supernatural powers, she holds him captive for several years, enchanting him with song and the rhythm of her hobby, weaving on a golden loom.
To Odysseus, this all seems great at first. But when the imbalance in their relationship becomes obvious, Odysseus gets in touch with his friend Athena who reaches out to her dad, Zeus, who sends over his messenger Hermes to tell Calypso to release Odysseus. She begrudgingly agrees, muttering something about how Zeus should get over his god/mortal relationship issues, and sends Odysseus on his way.
Today’s Gozo is quiet compared to that tumult! The second largest island of the Maltese archipelago, it’s relatively small, just 14 km in length and 7 km wide, making it easy to explore in just a few days. Its rugged landscape is home to small villages, Baroque churches, old stone farmhouses, historical sites, and breathtaking coastlines with some of the most beautiful turquoise waters the Mediterranean has to offer.
Until recently the “beauty shot” of Gozo was its Azure-Window landmark — a remarkable natural limestone arch so old that Calypso would have been familiar with it. But, sadly, it collapsed in 2017. Fortunately, they have a spare one not far away.
Gozo has been inhabited since farmers from nearby Sicily crossed the sea to occupy the island around 5000 BC. As sea-going trade developed in the Mediterranean the Maltese Islands’ central location made them pivotal in controlling the flow of goods. That made them a desirable target for a takeover, and from the Ottoman to the British Empire, whoever controlled Malta controlled Mediterranean trade. So Gozo, along with Malta, saw a succession of wars and occupations.
After a few days exploring Malta, we decided to take the short ferry ride over to Gozo to spend a few days at Thirty-Seven Gozo. This small ten-room hotel is in the village of Munxar, a short 15-minute drive from the ferry terminal.
Twenty years ago, owners Patti and Giuseppe Piazzi bought an abandoned 400-year-old farmhouse and fixed it up as a place to relax and host family and friends far away from their busy careers in Milan’s fashion industry. After a while, the growing number of friends who visited encouraged the Piazzis to make it official and open a hotel. They finally relented, left their fashionable life in Milan and rolled up their sleeves to open this small jewel of a Mediterranean retreat.
Arriving in the late afternoon we were just in time to cool down in the pool before a welcome drink and dinner. That night we were treated to a wonderful pasta dinner from scratch and the lovely company of other guests, an Italian family, and their young daughter. A wonderful way to start our stay. (Note that if you make arrangements in advance, Patti can have dinner waiting for you upon your arrival.)
Breakfast at Thirty-Seven is also amazing. Patti works with local farmers to put on the morning spread, so fresh produce is in abundance. After indulging, we headed out to explore the island. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time, so Patti suggested we take quad bikes, to cover a lot of ground quickly.
With Giuseppe leading the way on his zippy motorini, we spent the day winding our way through little villages and along narrow country roads to his favorite spots on the island. We saw quiet, hidden beaches with the most stunning clear blue water, secret caves high up on Gozo’s impenetrable cliffs, and scenic spots where the turquoise water crashes onto the rocky coast. He even took us to the sibling of the collapsed Azure Window! A bit squarer in shape, but still a magnificent structure.
Much of Gozo’s shoreline is rocky and while you can easily jump into the water, getting back out would be tricky. You can see the telltale sign of the British occupation by the remnants of their “lido” architecture — wherever a good swimming spot was blocked by a natural obstacle, a little pier, some steps, or a ladder were built into the rocks providing access for a swim.
For lunch we met Patti at one of her favorite beach-side restaurants, Rew Rew. Having a look around I mentioned to Patti that the place looked familiar. She smiled, saying “you saw it in a movie.” Turns out “Brangelina” spent several months in Gozo shooting their movie, “By the Sea”. They rented the whole inlet, built a fake hotel and went to work. Thirty-Seven hosted family and crew for the duration of the production.
Rew Rew has a simple setup of a grill and some tables adjacent to the water, from which most of the menu is drawn. Family run, the food was simple and fresh, with dad manning the barbecue, and mom and daughter serving food and drinks. When I asked the mom if I could take a portrait of mother and daughter, she exclaimed yes, but no more publicity! She told us that for a month after the movie opened, people would flock to the beach looking for the hotel. It was quite a challenge to convince visitors that there was no hotel — there never was a hotel. With a narrow one-lane road, tight corners and an extraordinarily steep ramp as the sole access to the beach, you can picture the scene with crowds of confused tourists causing havoc for the tiny beach community.
Rushing off after lunch to continue our island tour, we realized that we should have stayed a few more days. We saw a lot, but missed out on swimming at the many great spots around the island. With the sun about to set we made it to the famous salt flats just in the nick of time. Now that we know all that Gozo has to offer we will be back soon, and we’ll be looking forward to swimming and taking a cruise on Giuseppe’s boat.
Thirty-Seven Gozo is a great place to recharge your batteries. And with the island the perfect size to circumnavigate in a day, it’s easy to explore without stress. Patti and Giuseppe are the consummate hosts and will help make your visit a success, with guidance on where to eat and what to see. It makes you wonder why Odysseus was in such a rush to leave!
Thirty-Seven is closed from December to February. Book early, especially for dates in high season. Keep in mind that you will need transport to get around the island. For reservation and directions, go to; thirtysevengozo.com
Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger
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