Thursday, August 11, 2011

Gozo and Malta - Magical Maltese Islands and some Stuffed Summer Squash

Malta 2011 (0138) by Meeta K. Wolff 

Malta 12PM. As we step out of the chilled aircraft onto the stairs we are engulfed by the warmth. Thirty-three degrees, sunny skies and not a cloud in the sight: a great start to our two week vacation. Dressed for central European weather, my jeans begin to feel uncomfortable. .

Love at first sight it is not. I think it will rarely be for people visiting the Maltese islands for the first time. For that, Malta is too idiosyncratic, too stark and too distinctive – simply put, too special.

As the driver of the old minivan makes his way towards the north of Malta, where we are to get our ferry crossing over to Gozo, I cannot help but feel a slight familiarity with the atmosphere. It’s a mix of the Middle East meets Southern Italy.

Malta and Gozo are the islands of stones. The typical Malta stone, a soft limestone, which tinges a radiant yellow in the bright sun during the day, a pastel white at dusk and a dirty brown in the rain, determines the first impression. Malta in July is hot and barren with the prevailing color of the landscape being shades of brown, beige and brick. Bursts of green dot the scenery where farmland and some vegetation are grown and then there is the breathtaking shimmer of the azure blue Mediterranean Sea.

Malta 2011 (0197) by Meeta K. Wolff

Dig a little deeper, however and one will find the several beautiful facets Malta and Gozo have hidden deep within. For one, these tiny islands boast of an incredible rich history and cultural heritage. Malta and Gozo have had a multitude of rulers ruling over it over the past several centuries. The ancient Phoenician, Roman, Byzantine cultures were followed by the Arabs who reigned the islands. During the Middle Ages, Malta went through political changes under the Sicilians, Germans and the French and finally found longer stability under the Spanish rule. The British Empire, who ruled from 1800s until 1964 when Malta become an independent country, have influenced the country most significantly.

It seems that Malta has preserved a bit of everything and integrated it into its own culture so colorfully. The first thing that was most evident to me was the language. I instantly picked up several familiar Arabic words and many borrowed words from the English, Italian and French language. The Maltese greet with a friendly “Bonjour”, thank with a passionate “Grazie” and agree with a humble “Alright”. For someone who loves linguistics and languages, I was delighted by the way this was done with such ease.

The architecture is predominated by the Neo-Baroque style, which is beautifully realized in the several various churches spread out throughout both islands, while the British left the left-hand traffic and food is deliciously characterized by the Italian cuisine with some British influence. From the Spanish the Maltese took on the Festas, practiced earnestly in the various religious feasts in the several towns across the islands.

Malta 2011 (0205) by Meeta K. Wolff

So, it is not surprising that people coming to Malta become huge fans when they encounter the mélange of facets the islands offer. Be it culture, idyllic beaches, big city flair on one side mixed with rural tranquility on the other, Malta and Gozo provide its visitors with a diverse variety of exciting special attractions to fall in love with.

Our destination was Gozo, Malta’s sister island. Smaller than Malta, I was told Gozo has more charm than Malta, is a magical place with some of the most stunning scenes and we would feel more at home there. On the ferry crossing over to Gozo, I begin to get excited as I notice the azure blue waters around the small island.

We were staying at a farmhouse in the idyllic small town of Xaghra (Schara). It was my dear friend Nanette of Gourmet Worrier who had helped me find our domicile for the next two weeks.

Bellavista Farmhouses, Xaghra, Gozo

Monica Bigeni and her daughter are two of the warmest and very forthcoming hostesses, welcoming their guests to their charming farmhouses. Bellavista Farmhouses contain about 20 individual farmhouses from 2 to 4 bedrooms, each with a fresh water swimming pool and each with a stunning view of the Marsalforn valley and the medieval citadel of Victoria.

Our farmhouse is a quaint and rustically furnished house, from the pool we gaze at the wonderful view of the valley, Victoria, the citadel and the hills, behind which we experience breathtaking scenes of the sunsets each evening.

Malta 2011 (0152) by Meeta K. Wolff

The farmhouse is clean and although not luxuriously furnished it is just right for a vacation. The kitchen is equipped with all the basics required and outside on the terrace a gas grill provides the perfect means for great barbecues. Although the pool umbrella had probably seen better days and the Jacuzzi bathtub in the en suite bathroom to the master bedroom does not look like it works, the farmhouse is well cared for and we quickly settle in comfortably.

I really recommend these farmhouses as a fantastic place to stay when in Gozo.

Bellavista Farmhouses
Srug Street
Xaghra, Gozo
Telephone: +356 21 561 750
email: info@bellavistafarmhousesgozo.com
Website: www.bellavistafarmhousesgozo.com

Gozo has managed to preserve the pastoral charm of a Mediterranean island. The quaint villages dotted across the tiny island are compact and have not melted into an urban conglomerate like they have in Malta. Gozo is known as the green island and although it may seem rather exaggerated, it has a lot of fertile farmland providing over half of the agrarian products for both the islands with only a quarter of the size of Malta. It’s also a tiny island and with a car one can cover the entire island from coast to coast within a day!

Malta 2011 (0087) by Meeta K. Wolff

We quickly glide into an easy and relaxing routine, with daily visits to the market at the Xaghra square, buying fresh bread, eggs, fruit and vegetables from the produce vans that set up each morning in front of the church. This is followed by long breakfasts out on the terrace by the pool, a dip or two in the pool and depending on if it is a lazy day or an adventure day we either vegetate around the pool, playing cards, monopoly, and reading or dozing, otherwise we discover one of the Gozo villages or attractions.

The best way to get around Gozo independently is with a car. We rent a car on some of the days from a very efficient family car hire firm recommended to us by Monica from the farmhouse. The folks at Adventure Car Hire are punctual, reliable and efficient and are always available for us.

Adventure Car Hire
Church Street
Xaghra, Gozo
Telephone: +356 21 55 76 32
Email: adventur@go.net.mt
Website: www.gozocarsrental.com

On our adventure days we drive around the island visiting churches, sunning on beaches, walking through the quaint villages and indulging in the flavors of Gozo. Being a small island everything is easily accessible and our pace is wonderfully relaxed without the hectic and stress of rushing from sight to sight.

Allow me to take you to some of my favorite spots on the Maltese islands and share with you some of its spectacular sights.

Xaghra

Xaghra lies on a high plateau just overlooking Victoria, the capital city of Gozo. With a population of about 3200 it is one of Gozos larger towns. The town center is dominated by the wonderful church at the head of the square and with shops and restaurants along the sides.

Located just as you enter Xaghra are the Ġgantija temples, Gozo’s most famous prehistoric site. Erected between 3600 and 3200 B.C., it is said to be one of the very first in the world. The site consists of a megalithic complex of two temples surrounded by a massive common boundary wall, and raised on a high terrace wall. The origins of Ġgantija date back to between 3600 and 3200 B.C., with the larger temple being the first to be built.  Extensive restoration work was carried out in the early 20th century to ensure the preservation of the monument. The temples are listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List making them a site of universal significance.

The name of the complex is derived from the Maltese word ġgant meaning giant. Apparently during the Middle Ages, people were unable to define such distinct stone structures and thought it to be the work of a giantess.

If you want some of the best sausages, lamb and beef steaks make sure you head on over to Jimmy the Butcher, right on the square directly next to the church and opposite the HSBC Bank. Jimmy Muscat will take time to explain the cuts of meat and what is in the sausages with such a passion it is hard not to buy more than you actually wanted. We become regular customers buying our meat and sausages to grill on the barbecue back at the farmhouse.

Xaghra also offers a few nice places to dine out. Our favorite is Oleandar a simple and rustic place offering typical Maltese dishes like the Gozo cheese filled ravioli or rabbit stew. It’s not fine dining but just good down to earth meals in a typical Mediterranean atmosphere. I recommend to reserve a table for dinner as it gets pretty full.

Ġgantija temples
Temples Street
Xaghra, Gozo
Telephone +356 21 553 194

Oleander
10 Pjazza Vittoria,
Xaghra, Gozo
Telephone: +356 21 55 72 30

Marsalforn

Marsalforn is a lively holiday town dominated by the promenade around the bay, which is lined with numerous restaurants, bars and shops. Although during the day it is a fairly sleepy town, in the evening it awakens as tourists and locals take to the streets strolling the promenade and enjoying al fresco meals in the warmth of the evenings.

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We walk the scenic promenade leading from Marsalforn to Qbajjar and Xwejni Bay (Schueini) where the dunes have formed into bizarre forms over time, and a number of salt-pans dating from Roman times are still in use today.

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In Marsalforn we stop for a light lunch at Il Kartell, a delightful place where the tables are set up on the waterfront, inviting us to take a break. With glasses of Maltese white wine we indulge in typical dishes from Gozo. I select the delicious Aljotta, a fantastic Maltese fish soup, infused with wonderful garlic, lemon and herbs.

Although we reserve the last night in Gozo to eat at Ta’ Frenc a restaurant highly recommended by Nanette and a few people I chatted with during our stay in Xaghra, we are rather disappointed when we learn they are closed for the evening.

Il-Kartell Restaurant
Marina Street
Marsalforn, Gozo
Telephone: +356 21 55 69 18
Email:ilkartellrestaurant@onvol.net
Website:www.il-kartellrestaurant.com

Ta Frenc
Ghajn Damma Street (on the main road between Xaghra and Marsalforn),
Xaghra, Gozo,
Telephone: +356 21 553 888
Website: www.tafrencrestaurant.com

Xewkija

Malta 2011 (0100) by Meeta K. Wolff

The impressive rotunda church of Xewkija (schukia) can be seen from afar and as we get closer a wonderful view of the church appears. The enormous circular structure in white local limestone, is called rotunda because of its form. The parish church dome, dedicated to St. John the Baptist, was completed in 1981 and was paid for by the 3,500 villagers. It boasts the fourth largest supported dome in the world. The Basilica of Santa Maria Della Salute in Venice was the inspiration for the architect Joseph D'Amato who designed the church of Xewkija.

Malta 2011 (0097) by Meeta K. Wolff

The church offers one of the most stunning views from the top. For €2.00 we take an elevator to the top platform of the church and experience a close to 360 degree view of Gozo.

Xlendi Bay

Xlendi (Schlendi) used to be a typical fisher village, which today has grown into a bustling summer resort. Wedged between majestic cliffs, I find Xlendi to be the most picturesque fishing village in Gozo. High rise buildings, constructed since the 1960’s, reign over the port. In contrast, the quaint pastel colored houses around the little harbor and the colorful fishing boats in the bay, create a vibrant image.

Malta 2011 (0272) by Meeta K. Wolff

Restaurants line the seafront and the little bay is consistently busy. Diving centers, hotels and a couple of clubs are also found here.

Malta 2011 (0304) by Meeta K. Wolff

The tiny beach in Xlendi is too lively for us and we venture a little further towards Xlendi tower and find an awesome spot on one of the cliffs where we rent 2 sun beds and an umbrella for €10/day. This spot on the cliffs provides fantastic access to the sea with ladders securely fixed on the rocks allowing us to spend the day leisurely snorkeling and swimming in crystal blue waters with a striking view of the steep cliffs and Xlendi tower opposite us.

Malta 2011 (0268) by Meeta K. Wolff

Ramla Bay and San Blas Bay

Gozo most certainly has an incredible coastline with fascinating scenery of steep cliffs and gorgeous sandy beaches.

Although many told us Ramla Bay was the best place to spend a day at the beach, for us it is over-populated with sun-worshipers. Yes, the beach is magnificent and the water absolutely crystal clear but being the largest and the most popular beach on Gozo it attracts many tourists.

Malta 2011 (0188) by Meeta K. Wolff

San Blas Bay on the other hand is a delightful and secluded beach with shimmering red sand. The almost luminous turquoise water invites us to roll out our towels and spend a day on this idyllic beach. It is not crowded and for a small fee of €5 we rent an umbrella, finding a quiet spot between a few large rocks.

A word of warning though: the path to the bay is rather steep and no cars are allowed on this path, so while the walk down is easy, the walk up was rather tiring! However the sandy beach is of exceptional charm and well worth it.

Ta’Pinu, The Azure Window and Festas

Malta 2011 (0142) by Meeta K. Wolff

Just before you approach the village of Gharb, a road forks right to the Shrine of Blessed Virgin of Ta'Pinu. It is hard to miss this beautiful basilica standing free in the midst of the fields. It is said that on this spot a young country woman received a message for prayer from the Virgin Mary. Since then people have taken religious pilgrimage to the site. The actual shrine was built between 1920 and 1931 and is definitely worth the visit.

Malta 2011 (0139) by Meeta K. Wolff

The Maltese people are a religious folk and it is not only due to the several churches scattered across both the islands but it is also resonated in the several celebrations, called festas, that take place throughout the year.

Malta 2011 (0146) by Meeta K. Wolff

The Maltese Islands are predominantly Catholic and each weekend between May and September, Gozo’s towns and villages pay homage to its patron saint with exciting and colorful annual feasts. The priest at Xewkija church tells us about a few festas taking place over the two weekends we are here for. He described the festas so vividly that we just have to experience them ourselves.

Malta 2011 (0145) by Meeta K. Wolff

Festas are made up of brass bands, fireworks and processions. The façade of the village church as well as the main streets are decorated with thousands of lights. From the Wednesday preceding the festa to its eve, brass bands march through different streets followed by merry revelers. On Sunday afternoon a traditional horse and donkey race along the main street takes place. The climax of the festa is reached on Sunday evening when a procession with the statue of the saint carried shoulder-high winds its way slowly through the village streets. The villagers, men, women and children put on their best outfits and the houses are appropriately decorated and lit for the occasion. During the entire duration of the festa there are fireworks and loud bangs, which can be heard throughout the island.

We are told that each village vies for the most splendid show, the best fireworks, and the most spectacular festival, causing the rivalry between the villages to reach exorbitant proportions.

If you do visit Gozo during the summer months, do try to take part in one of these festas, it’s an unforgettable experience.

Malta 2011 (0323) by Meeta K. Wolff

Dwerja Bay is a unique inland sea and gives visitors a brilliant impression of what Gozitan geology is like. Imposing rock formations and steep cliffs provide for incredible images. The famous Azure Window rises above the formation into the open sea and has become a very popular tourist attraction.

Malta 2011 (0126) by Meeta K. Wolff

An absolute must: enjoy a spectacular sunset sitting on one of the rocks.

We take a picnic basket filled with some typical Gozitan specialties and are engulfed by the beautiful sight and colors of this breathtaking view.

Malta 2011 (0315) by Meeta K. Wolff

Victoria

Projecting from the middle of the island the citadel thrones high-a-top Gozo’s capital city, Victoria. For the locals the city is simply known as Rabat, the suburb. With just about 6500 residents, Victoria has kept its country town flair.

The best way to see the city is to pick out a few points of interests and take a walking tour.

Malta 2011 (0111) by Meeta K. Wolff 

It-Tokk or the Piazza Indipendenza where every weekday morning a charming little market offering typical Gozitan lace and other handmade items and souvenirs, takes firm hold of the piazza. Surrounding the piazza are an assortment of shops and restaurants offering everything from clothes, vegetables and fruit, souvenirs and of course plenty of local food. Go inside and taste (and eventually buy) some of the wonderful nougat that comes in many flavors, the sticky honey, olives, Gozo cheese and a lovely array of pastries sold here.

Malta 2011 (0109) by Meeta K. Wolff

The It-Tokk restaurant has a great rooftop terrace with a great view of the square. We have a nice dinner and enjoy the relaxing atmosphere and very friendly service. We pick the catch of the day, I decide on the grilled red snapper and Tom goes for the grilled tuna – disappointing however is the fact it is only served with “chips” (or fries) and salad. After asking the waitress if I can have some steamed vegetables instead of the salad I am told it is not possible. Soeren has a lasagne and is extremely happy with his choice. The food is not outstanding in any way but simple, good and has fair prices.

Throughout our 2 week stay in Gozo we consume mostly Maltese wines and although they are not famous or distinguished wines, in the last few years with the import of Italian and French grape variety, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay, some of the wines we indulge in are quite good.

Despite the intensive sunshine throughout the year, the barren and rugged land is not a very good foundation for viticulture. Nonetheless, in 1995 the manufacturer Emanuel Delicata received the first award for their wines, Green Label and Chardonnay.

From the Piazza Independenza take the stair street Telgha Tal-Belt up to the citadel. Be prepared to spend a few hours here as there is a lot to see and discover. Not only the cathedral but also the impressive museums offer a fantastic insight of Gozo’s history.

Malta 2011 (0154) by Meeta K. Wolff

There is the Cathedral Museum, Museum of Archeology, Natural History Museum, Old Prisons, Folklore Museum and the Crafts Center. If you do not have time for all of the museums make sure you take a stroll on the fortifications, which offers a superb view all around the horizon with panorama views over the tiny fields cut by yellow stone walls, domes of village churches rising from clusters of houses and the Gordan Lighthouse. We also spot our own farmhouse high on the plateau of Xaghra.

South and just a few meters from It-Tokk is the Piazza San Georg with Victoria’s second main cathedral the Basilica San Georg. The Piazza in comparison to the bustling It-Tokk was cool, tranquil and relaxing. We pause to have a late lunch at The Grapes Wine Bar, where over pizza and pasta we are able to re-charge our batteries.

Malta 2011 (0270) by Meeta K. Wolff

From the Piazza San Georg we simply stroll the many winding streets of the city, stopping to take pictures, peak into the courtyards of houses and chatting with the locals. It must be the Mediterranean sun, but I am convinced it makes the people happier and loosens up any inhibitions one might have.

The Maltese are incredibly friendly and almost everyone supports a firm smile fixed on their faces. They are easy going and very outgoing – just perfect for me. I take almost every opportunity I can to go up to people and chat with them about everything and anything.

Malta 2011 (0034) by Meeta K. Wolff

The most memorable discussion is at a boules match with a few older gentlemen, who are probably chuffed to have their pictures taken, but we spend an hour chatting about families, weather, wines, politics and religion.

We make our way to the Rundle Gardens but are disappointed to find it closed due to renovations. Apparently Rundle Gardens, established by Sir Leslie Rundle in 1914 houses some exotic plants and flowers. It is said that the gardens are very popular amongst young lovers therefore they close at 7PM!

It-Tokk Restaurant
Pjazza Independenza,
Victoria, Gozo
Telephone: +3562 21 55 12 13

The Grapes Wine Bar
Mirah San Georg,
Victoria, Gozo
Telephone: +3562 79473503

Comino

A mere 2.5 km2 small is the smallest of the Maltese islands, Comino. A delightful, car-free little island with a jagged coastline and many small creeks, sea caves and a lagoon with azure blues waters that will take your breath away. Comino is largely infertile but luxuriant in wild thyme and it provides a tranquil haven from busy everyday life. However, one would not think so upon arrival at the Blue Lagoon. Over-crowded with masses of people, lined like sardines on the beach and cruisers, boats and yachts speckled all across the water is the sight we get as we arrive on our boat. Still one cannot help but let out a deep sigh at probably one of the most wonderful sights Malta has to offer.

Malta 2011 (0196) by Meeta K. WolffMalta 2011 (0199) by Meeta K. WolffMalta 2011 (0200) by Meeta K. Wolff 

We trek the island all the way up to the Comino tower and find a lovely secluded bay where we spend the rest of the day diving from the cliffs and snorkeling.

Malta 2011 (0210) by Meeta K. Wolff

Valletta

After we spend a week on Gozo we finally decide to venture across with the ferry back to Malta. Valletta, Malta’s proud capital is on our plan for the day. A city I read a lot about prior to our arrival and am really looking forward to discovering and enjoying the many attractions in and around Valletta.

As a World Heritage site, Valletta boasts to be an “open-air museum” and it is true. There is plenty to see and experience in this city it so I would advise to get an early start.

Malta 2011 (0245) by Meeta K. Wolff

Valletta is one of the smallest capitals in the world: ca. 1 x ½ km. Built after the Turkish siege in 1565 much of the city was destroyed to almost rubble. The Knights of St. John, who ruled over Malta, planned a city with strong fortifications making Valletta an impregnable city.

Today Valletta still stands as it was built. With its grid-like streets it is one of the first examples of what is called city planning. The city has a lovely charm with a lot of atmosphere offering several historical attractions with plenty of incredible detail.

Park at one of the parking complexes just outside of the city. For just €5 you can leave your car in a safe parking complex for the entire day.

I am greeted with my first disappointment of the day as soon as we walk out of the parking complex, which is situated in the vicinity of the Triton Fountain. The central bus terminal, where I read is a bustling place filled with vivid colored old-timer buses, was something I was really looking forward to getting a few good images of these. However there is not one old-timer bus in sight. Instead modern, regular buses have taken their place and the once lively hub resembles a regular bus terminal anywhere in the world.

Then shortly after that came the second disappointment! The City Gates, which opens the doors to Valletta are closed due to renovations. My mood lifted as we enter the Republic Street, which is the city’s main street, starting from the City Gates and cutting through all the way to St. Elmo’s Fort, behind which the aquamarine sea glimmers in the sun. The Republic Street is Valletta’s main shopping street and most favorite promenade.

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Walking is the best method to get around Valletta, especially as for a few hours during the day, streets are closed to traffic. There is plenty to see, many intriguing museums and exciting spots to discover and of course several stunning vistas. My advice: pick out a few and cover them, not everything is worth seeing and you can leave the rest of the day for a bit of shopping and relaxing.

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To help you with your selection I’ve listed a few things we enjoyed.

St. John’s Co-Cathedral

Although the façade seems rather plain, in comparison, the St. John’s Co-Cathedral houses not only some magnificent artwork but the incredibly decorated interior work is a piece of art itself. The church is dedicated to St John the Baptist, the patron saint of the Order and construction was completed in 1577. The dawn of the 17th century brought in the new Baroque style and Grand Master Cotoner ordered the redecoration of the Church’s interior.

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Eager to rival the great churches of Rome and the era’s flamboyant and demonstrative character the knights provided ample material gifts of high artistic value and enormous contributions were made to enrich it with only the best works of art by leading artists available to them. The Calabrian artist Mattia Preti, who was commissioned with the works of designing the interior of the church, transformed it into a celebration of Baroque art.

St. John's Co-Cathedral
St. Lucia's Street,
Valletta, Malta
Telephone: +356 2122 0536 ‎

The Grandmasters Palace

The Grandmaster’s Palace has always been the house of government. Initially by the knights, then from 1800 it housed the British Governor and today it is where the Parliament offices are found. The palace can be visited when parliament is not in session for free and should not be missed if possible.

The Hall of the Supreme Council of the Knights, which hosts fine frescoes and the Hall of the Ambassadors, where portraits of Grand Masters and European rulers hang are particularly interesting, as is the Armory (entrance via Merchants Street), which is one of the largest of its kind in the world.

The Grandmaster's Palace
Palace square,
Valletta, Malta
Telephone: +356 5622 1221 ‎

Upper and Lower Barrakka Gardens

Small havens of serenity in the middle of a bustling town. The Upper Barrakka Gardens is located opposite the Castille palace and it offers one a mesmeric view of the Grand Harbor. The gardens are situated on the St. Paul’s Bastion and contain monuments and sculptures, but best of all are the arcades that open like windows to the harbor below!

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The Lower Barrakka Gardens is located at the end of the St. Lazarus Bastion and provides a wonderful cool and green sanctuary. Also great views of the city from here.

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Upper Barakka Gardens
Valletta, Malta
Telephone: +356 2123 7747 ‎

Lower Barrakka Gardens
Xatt Il-Barriera,
Valletta, Malta

The National Museum of Fine Arts

This museum is located in South Street and houses a collection of fine arts ranging from the early Renaissance to modern times. Besides artwork from Italian and Flemish artists you will find paintings by Maltese artists such as Francesco Zahra and Giuseppe Grech.

Malta 2011 (0334) by Meeta K. Wolff

We always enjoy visiting such museums when we travel as one can get a considerable idea of the culture and how it developed through the eras. While it cannot be compared to Vienna’s Museum of Fine Arts, Valletta does have some impressive work by leading local and internationally acclaimed artists.

National Museum of Fine Arts
South Street,
Valletta, Malta
Telephone: +356 21225769

Another disappointment for me is the Market Hall on the Old Theatre Street just opposite the Grand Master’s palace. The iron construction was constructed in 1859 and has been re-modeled into a mall-like building housing mostly butchers, fishmongers and produce sellers. I guess I was expecting something along the lines of a Borough Market in London, but realize when I enter that I had put my expectations far too high. Just outside the market hall stalls of the Il Monti market sell the usual mix of dodgy fashion items and other gear, but you can find some interesting Maltese items and souvenirs here.

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Walk the winding and narrow streets, taking a step away from the main attractions and streets. See how the Maltese live and take a glimpse into the Maltese lifestyle. I loved the tiny streets with their old and at times bedraggled balconies. We wonder how seemingly one building can have 4 doors and we giggle at some of the clothes hanging out of the windows.

Malta 2011 (0258) by Meeta K. Wolff

Maltese Food

Maltese cuisine has developed as a result of the many invaders who occupied Malta over the centuries. This influence of a diversified mix of flavors and tastes has given Maltese cuisine a unique edge. One finds many culinary aspects from the Italian, Arabic and British in the Maltese cuisine.

Malta 2011 (0113) by Meeta K. Wolff

Traditional Maltese food is rustic and very seasonal; dishes are made with fresh produce and local ingredients. Stews, soups and pies are very popular. A few things to try out are Lampuki Pie (fish pie), Rabbit Stew, Bragioli (beef olives) and of course the Aljotta.

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The Maltese waters offer a wide range of splendid fish like bass, stone fish, white bream and later in season tuna and swordfish.

Stop at a fish market early in the morning and indulge in some of the freshest fish. We often buy a variety of fish and back at the farmhouse over a bottle of wine we spend time grilling whole fish and vegetables on the barbecue or making very fine seafood risotto.

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In Gozo I absolutely fall in love with the Gozitan speciality Ftira, which is a kind of flatbread filled with the wonderful goat cheese, Gbejniet, another local delicacy.

We discover Merken’s Bakery quite by fluke as we are on our way to San Blas Bay. A wrong turn finds us on Hanaq Street in Nadur and there as we drive past we notice a few people sitting on the pavement eating what looked like a very appetizing pie of some sort.

In this backstreet, it is easy to overlook Mekren’s Bakery, with its nondescript blue door, the only indication a sign hanging next to the door. We park and enter this 100 year old bakery.

If at all possible, inside it is even more unpretentious. There are no glass showcases displaying pretty pastries and cakes as we know bakeries in Germany, France, Austria or Switzerland. Instead we walk straight into the kitchen. Dark and hot, it is bustling with activity. Shelves are laden with crusty round loaves and slightly misshapen rolls, a few large trays and the bakery’s only machine at the center of the room, used for kneading the bread dough. But the real focus stands quietly at the side, an old black oven, brooding silently, spreading waves of warmth inside the bakery, the kitchen’s beating heart, from which everything seems to emanate. Fueled with a wood fire, it is in constant use and the baker consistently takes out or puts in pizzas, pies and breads.

The bakery is run by the Portelli family and the entire family are in that kitchen, each doing his or her part of chopping, kneading, mixing or cutting.

We buy a gbejniet ftira and some pea filled pastizzi, and just like the people we saw outside, make ourselves comfortable on the pavement opposite the bakery and take greedy bites out of the soft and warm bread.

Merken’s Bakery
41, Hanaq Street,
Nadur, Gozo

We cook a lot at the farmhouse, trying to prepare our meals like the locals do. Using seasonal and local ingredients we make risottos using fresh seafood or vegetables, sprinkling them with local gbejniet instead of Parmesan, grilled fish, meat and locally made sausages always served with vegetables and salads. We buy fresh bread and rolls every morning and indulge in stuffed olives, sun-dried tomatoes and locally made bean dips during the day.

Malta 2011 (0167) by Meeta K. WolffMalta 2011 (0168) by Meeta K. WolffMalta 2011 (0291) by Meeta K. Wolff


One of the dishes I make at the farmhouse is inspired by the Maltese way of life. It is probably not a typical Maltese dish but it is what Maltese food is all about. Fresh marrow or squash is stuffed with a filling of couscous, ground beef, lightly sautéed garlic and onions with a sauce made of juicy sun ripened Maltese tomatoes, seasoned only with salt, pepper and a sprinkling of ground cumin.

Malta 2011 (0057) by Meeta K. WolffMalta 2011 (0060) by Meeta K. Wolff


Recipe: Round Summer Squash stuffed with Couscous, Beef and Tomatoes

Printable version of recipe here

 Round Summer Squash stuffed with Couscous, Beef and Tomatoes by Meeta K. Wolff

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 6 round summer squash
  • 100g couscous, cooked
  • 200 lean ground beef
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • Pinch of ground cumin
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • Freshly cracked pepper
  • Flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped

Method:

  1. In a Cut the tops of the summer squash and using a teaspoon scoop out the flesh, chopping it coarsely.

  2. In a large skillet heat up the olive oil and lightly sauté onions and garlic, then add the ground meat and brown gently on medium heat.

  3. Add the squash flesh and the chopped tomatoes and allow the juices to intermingle. Add the cooked couscous season with sea salt, pepper and ground cumin. Toss well.

  4. Fill the squash with the filling and place on a baking tray. Pour about half a cup of water into the tray and place in a pre-heated oven at 180 degrees C for 20-25 minutes or until the squash are tender.

Although it was not love at first sight, each of us found something in Malta and Gozo that enchanted us.

Malta 2011 (0143) by Meeta K. Wolff
With 7,000 years of history the Maltese islands are steeped in culture and heritage and due to the advantage of the fantastic weather throughout the year the islands offer several outdoor activities. The countryside is dotted with some of the world's oldest free-standing structures in the world, waiting to be explored. The islands offer some of the most stunning views, be it dramatic cliffs plunging into waves, the rocky, scrubland of the garrigue or hidden, lush valleys, turquoise bays or sandy beaches.  En route, you’ll come across mysterious, prehistoric sites, caves, chapels and secluded palaces of the Knights.

All this is Malta and Gozo.

More travel on WFLH


All photographs and written content on What's For Lunch, Honey? © 2006-2011 Meeta Khurana Wolff unless otherwise indicated. | All rights reserved | Please Ask First

37 comments :

  1. What a beautiful post Meeta! With your talent of photography and writing you have truly captured the true essence of Malta. Who can beat this travel guide now? I truly enjoy coming here. For me it often is like opening a page of your favorite book and browsing through it!

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  2. Wow!! I feel like I have been there! All that blue, blue water... Will read properly and comment later but just wanted to say that Soeren is one cool dude leaning against that lamppost ;o)

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  3. Lovely clicks! Thanks for sharing. Thanks to you, I have travelled virtually...

    Scrumptious stuffed squash. The filling is very original!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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  4. Gorgeous post Meeta and so informative...love yr pics!

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  5. really enjoyed seeing the pictures meeta ! fantastic writeup :D

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  6. Beautiful shots! I got sucked right into this post. And those food shots are downright gorgeous! This all made me feel like I was right there... err wanting to be at least. I've been a few places where I didn't fall in love with it right away--or at all--but sometimes the magic for me in traveling is, as you put it, the idiosyncrasies of a place.

    And a recipe too! You've been busy. I love how you like to cook like the locals while you were there. It is very inspirational. I love the flavors of this stuffed squash. It reminds me of the dishes a good palestinian friend of mine cooks. Yum.

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  7. Thanks for posting about the Maltese Islands. I m Maltese and at some point I thought I would appear in a some photo since I work in a street in Valletta :) Great photos !

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  8. I see you managed to climb, with camera in hand, to all the right spots!

    Clearly the weather gods were kind to you xx

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  9. Feels like I just went on a holiday. What a lovely informative post and the pictures are gorgeous as always.

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  10. Wow, this is a WONDERFUL article!!! :D

    You make me very proud of my homeland!

    Just one little note though, Gbejniet are actually made from ewe's not goats milk!

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  11. Wow, breathtaking! Funny it reminds me of a mix of our honeymoon on Cyprus and Sete, a French coastal town with Italian influences and, yes, Italy. More than just beautiful, it looks like the kind of place we love to explore. Ah, now you have me dreaming of adventures. And love your take on stuffed courgettes. Fabulous vacation, I know it was, but I, for one, am glad you are back. xo

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  12. All I can say is WOW Meeta. I feel like I've just been given the grand tour of a place I would never have thought about visiting until now.
    Absolutely gorgeous. I LOVE the look of Valetta with it's historical walls and buildings; the Azure Window and I have to say my favorite photos was of the gorgeous blue boat at Xlendi Bay.

    There's something about the contrast of its lovely colors against the dry, worn walls and dock in the background.

    Forget a blog Meeta, you should be writing for Travel.com :)

    Can't wait to see where we go to next.

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  13. Absolutely stunning photos. I feel like I was right there with you! And the stuffed squash? Amazing! Love it!

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  14. I'm another of your Maltese readers and I'm so glad you enjoyed your visit to our little rock! Beautiful photos that really captured the spirit and charm of our gorgeous island.

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  15. Truly intriguing pictures. Could stare at each one for ages! Thanks for taking us on this adventure, everything looks so beautiful.

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  16. Your photos are beautiful. I appreciate your "tour guide" as well. I've long wanted to visit Malta, ever since reading Dorothy Dunnett Crawford series a long time ago. It sounds so different and yet is so resonant of Europe.

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  17. Amazing. I can totally see stuffing zucchini here with that, as I don't see those little round kinds of squash often...they call them "eight balls" here, I believe? Amazing photos. Splendid.

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  18. I got such a big grin when I saw the title of your blog, Meeta! Would you believe I JUST booked a ticket to go here?? Yes'm - I fly out on Wednesday. :-) I can't wait. Love your pictures so much. :-)

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  19. Hi Meeta-
    This post consumed me for much of a day during my vacation. Your pics are breathtaking. I love the ones of Soeren! I would love to see shots of the farmhouse too. Your writing and photography makes me want to pick up and go!
    Xoxo
    Robin

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  20. Meeta, those pictures and everything you wrote was so beautiful. I felt like I was there with you! What a wonderful trip. I hope it get to visit there someday.

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  21. Beautiful Meeta! What beautiful pictures and your son is adorable.

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  22. oh this is lovely! I feel like going there.
    And that of course, is what makes a travel post click! :)

    Beautiful pictures!

    I think the bluest ocean is definitely the Mediterranean! I remember how awestruck I was when I saw it in Spain!

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  23. Thanks! I now need a holiday! Certainly encapsulated the islands in those excellent photos...

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  24. Stunning captures and def a great holiday by the looks of it Meeta! Love the stuffed squash recipe too.

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  25. Thank you so much for the stories ... and the precious information. And wow these pictures !
    great trip to a land that I don't know yet .

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  26. I almost feel I have been on holiday a little with you after seeing all these gorgeous photos. I've always had this idea that Malta (and Gozo) were both essentially boring and naked places due to their volcanic nature but how wrong you have proven me through these stunning shots! And that looks like a great recipe too!

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  27. your blog is simply amazing. Every photo captures a beautiful moment. I have lots of blogs to follow, but your blog is one of my favorite!!

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  28. Hi meets.
    I've been looking for an opportunity to read your post- it really is a guide book post and I feel like I could plan a trip to Gozo and Malta based on it! So glad you had a wonderful time. Amazed how you compiled all of this so soon after your return. I hope we have a holiday soon where I have enough time to cook, like the locals, like you did. Best ryes from us, up in Clarens close to Lesotho border at the moment

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  29. Surreal photographs and your vacation sounds like a DREAM.. a dream I would love to dream and have come true. Meeta thank you for sharing this...

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  30. I have met several Maltese who immigrated to either the Middle EAst or Europe, but have never been to Malta; thanks to you today, I feel like I know a bit of Malta now. Great photos and wonderful reportage.

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  31. I loved Malta! we've been there few years ago and I am still dreaming about it! a magical place, indeed!

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  32. Thanks for advertising our beautiful island :)

    I am a frequent visitor to your blog, I love your photography and I have bookmarked several recipes of yours. To be honest, I've only tried one, the Melt-in-your-mouth beef stew, and it was gorgeous and delicious :)

    I am glad you enjoyed your stay in Gozo and Malta. Breath-taking photos by the way! I was in Gozo beginning of this month, went there for a week. Stayed at Bigeni accomodations in Xlendi (appartments not farmhouses though). Not at all stunning to look at, and the decor was disgusting but you get what you pay for eh?? :)

    I agree that Malta doesn't catch the eye at first, especially because of the disorganization of buildings, traffic (!!) and bumpy roads. But we have a lovely culture, exquisitely simple yet delicious (and healthy) cuisine, and beautiful places. You can count your blessings that your visit was (I assume) in the beginning of August. It wasn't as hot as it usually is during August. At the moment it is sweltering though, makes you feel like jumping into that beautiful blue sea :)

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  33. Thank you so much for all your comments. First I am blown away by the fact that i have so many Maltese readers. I would never have guessed that. Second I want to say hi to all my new readers .... hope you like spending your time here. Lastly Malta/Gozo are wonderful islands and I can recommend it for short relaxing breaks! Glad you all liked the stuffed squash recipe - it is a bit different but that is what WFLH is all about! ;o)

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  34. Hey Meeta, what a wonderful photography! the pictures and the description reminds me of the set up of some of the beautiful classics that I have read :)... I so much want to connect with Malta now, I will have to plan a visit soon :)

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  35. Thank you so much! This is the very best 'tour guide' I've found and we are so excited about our upcoming trip to Gozo and Malta. I can't wait to check out the bakery and the secluded beaches and all your recommendations!
    Cate

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  36. I was in Malta and Gozo last year! Being of Maltese heritage it was great to visit, from Sydney Australia!

    Love your blog!

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  37. Another Malteser, here! I just came across your blog quite unexpectedly and it was a real treat to see you wrote an article about our little rock.
    One thing you might like finding out is that the dish you came up with is very, very close to one of our traditional dishes called 'Qarabagħli Mimli' (Literally: Filled Squash). The only difference is that we don't use couscous. You can either just omit the couscous and the sauce, or you could add fresh ricotta to the ground beef (always omitting the sauce)and pop them into an oven to bake.
    It was really lovely to read about your discoveries. Your pictures are thoughtful and a lovely accompaniment to your guide. I'm glad you enjoyed your stay.

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Thank you for visiting What's For Lunch, Honey? and taking time to browse through my recipes, listen to my ramblings and enjoy my photographs. I appreciate all your comments, feedback and input. I will answer your questions to my best knowledge and respond to your comments as soon as possible.

In the meantime I hope you enjoy your stay here and that I was able to make this an experience for your senses.

Hugs
Meeta