Home to the earliest inhabitants of Gozo, Xaghra boasts temples, caves, an unspoiled beach and so much more.
History really is everywhere on the Maltese Islands, but few towns can boast as much architectural and cultural heritage as Gozo’s second largest town (after Victoria), Xaghra. From the oldest free-standing temple in the world to one of the most beautiful beaches on the Maltese Islands overlooked by a legendary cave, Xaghra packs a punch at every street corner. Cameras at the ready? Let’s go!
Forget the pyramids. Forget Stonehenge. The oldest free-standing structures in the world are right here on this tiny island. The two temples of Ggantija date back to between 3,600 and 3,200 BC, and are UNESCO World Heritage sites. The name derives from the Maltese word for giant, as it was commonly believed that only giants could have built such a structure, using megaliths weighing over 50 tonnes (yes, TONNES) and over five metres high.
Xerri’s Grotto and Ninu’s Cave
If you think the town looks lovely, wait until you see what lies beneath those houses! When local resident Anthony Xerri started digging a well underneath his house in 1924, he stumbled upon a small cavern with extraordinary stalactites and stalagmites. Over 90 years later, the cave is still drawing in curious visitors, even though they have to traipse through his grandchildren’s private house. It’s a bit of a tight squeeze down a narrow spiral staircase, but the rock formations are fascinating. Two streets away, at No.15, Triq Jannar, is another natural cave discovered by Joseph Rapa back in 1888. Don’t be shy. Ring the doorbell and pop down to discover a forest of natural columns including some helictites!
Ta’ Kola Windmill
You won't believe this but there was a time when Malta had more windmills per capita than anywhere else in the world. Yes, even more than the Netherlands. Dating back to 1725, Ta’ Kola windmill is one of the last two remaining complete and fully functioning mills on the Maltese Islands, although today it is just for show. The museum displays an array of tools made by the last miller Zeppu ta’ Kola (Joseph, son of Nikola) and offers an insight into traditional rural life in Gozo.
The parish church is the heart of every town on the Maltese Islands. The Xaghra parish church dedicated to the Nativity of Our Lady (affectionately known as Maria Bambina) dominates the town square. Built in the 19th century, this is the only church in Gozo to sport two bell towers with six bells, the oldest dating to 1770 and the largest weighing 2,778 kg. The church also boasts the finest marble in any church on the Maltese Islands, (or so the Xaghra residents claim!) If you happen to visit on 8th September, you'll see it in all its majestic splendour as the town celebrates the parish feast. Before this basilica was built, the town’s parish was the Church of St Anthony Abbot which dates back to at least 1520. While the church still stands, all its original furniture, including the altarpiece, had to be burned in 1814 because of the plague. Best time to visit would be the third Sunday in January, when the feast of St Anthony is celebrated with the traditional blessing of animals, as St Anthony is their patron saint.
Museum of Toys
Just when you thought the town couldn’t get any more charming, there’s another delight to discover. Pomskizillious toy museum is a labour of love that has been going for over 25 years. The small museum is packed with exquisite toys from yesteryear collected with love by owners Sue and Edwin Lowe. It’s unusual name was coined by British artist and creator of nonsense verse Edward Lear, who visited the Maltese Islands several times and spent some time exploring Gozo on foot.
Ramla Bay and Calypso’s Cave
One of the most unspoiled beaches on the Maltese Islands, Ramla Bay is famous for its reddish golden sand and dunes which are home to endemic plants and animals. This popular summer hotspot is idyllic to visit at any time of year. Overlooking the beach is a cave of legendary fame. This is popularly believed to have been the home of the nymph Calypso, who kept Ulysses as her prisoner of love for seven years, as described in the ancient Greek poem the Odyssey attributed to Homer. Fact or fiction, the truth is that while the cave today is sadly closed due to geological damages, the views from above are just as bewitching as ever!