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Exploring the Gozitan Countryside: A Walk around Għarb & Għasri

On the north-western part of Gozo lie two small neighbouring villages. Archaeological remains from the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods are proof that Għarb is one of the oldest settlements on the island. It has a distinctly rural character and was until recently populated almost exclusively by people who worked the surrounding land. Għasri, on the other hand, is the smallest village in Gozo, and its name, of Semitic origin, indicates its past links with olive oil production. Despite the charm of these two villages, a number of interesting features can also be found in the surrounding countryside - a fantastic place for a gentle, quiet walk during the cooler months of the year.

Basilica of the Blessed Virgin of Ta' Pinu

Undoubtedly the most well-known building in Għarb is the Church of Ta' Pinu which lies on the edge of the village and is considered to be one of the most important shrines in Malta. In 1883, a local woman claimed to have heard the voice of Our Lady at the small chapel that then stood on the same spot. Word soon spread, forcing the church authorities to erect a larger church to handle the crowds.

Built between 1920 and 1931 in a Neo-Romanesque style, the architectural masterpiece saw the original chapel being integrated into it, and this can still be seen at the back of the new church. Later elevated to the status of Minor Basilica, the shrine remains very popular with pilgrims to this very day, and Pope John Paul II even celebrated mass in its forecourt in 1990. At the back of the church, a small museum displays votive offerings from people who claim to have been cured after offering prayers at the church.

St. Demetrius Chapel

Heading out of Għarb in the direction of the coastal cliffs, one comes across another interesting building. The 18th century chapel of St. Demetrius, built on the site of an earlier medieval structure, is connected to a famous local legend about an old woman, known as Żgugina, who lived nearby with her only son.

When one day he was abducted by pirates, the desperate Żgugina ran to the church and prayed to St. Demetrius to free her son, promising that if he would bring him back she would make sure that the saint’s lamp in the chapel would always be lit. Suddenly, the painting came alive: St. Demetrius rode out on his horse and set off in pursuit of the pirate ship, only to return soon after with the rescued boy beside him, before re-entering the painting. But the legend does not end there: it is claimed that the chapel, which has since been replaced by the present one, toppled into the sea as a result of an earthquake some years later. And yet, sailors and fishermen passing from the area could often see Żgugina’s lamp still burning even underwater!

Ta' Ġurdan Lighthouse

The village of Għarb is dominated by the Ta' Ġurdan Lighthouse, which stands on top of a nearby hill of the same name. This Gozitan landmark, which rises to 161 metres above sea level, was constructed in the 1850s to meet the ever-increasing maritime traffic in the area.

The lighthouse had a number of purposely-designed oil lamps, which together with a system of reflectors and large lenses created a beam that could be seen from nearly 40 miles away. Although it still functions to this day, due to the advances in technology, it has been fully automated and has lost a lot of its importance. The marvellous 360-degree views of Gozo from the top of the hill itself make the walk up well worth the effort.

Wied il-Mielaħ

Another interesting natural feature, located on the coast between the two villages, is the valley known as Wied il-Mielaħ. The valley itself is very rich in local flora, and is a beautiful place for a gentle walk, especially in the autumn and spring.

The highlight, however, is to be found upon reaching the sea, where one can enjoy a natural stone arch, formed by coastal erosion, which has increased in popularity since the loss of the more well-known Azure Window at nearby Dwejra.

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