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holidays: Island of SEXY secrets; It is one of the forgotten islands of the Mediterranean. ALAN HART visits Gozo and finds it's where the original nymphomaniac comes from.

Byline: ALAN HART

ACCORDING to Greek legend, one of the earliest tourists to visit the Mediterranean island of Gozo was intrepid explorer Odysseus.

The poor guywas seduced by a nymph and held prisoner in a small cave as a sex slave for seven years.

Holidaymakers are still being lured to this lovely little island today, but they choose to stay of their own accord.

Most take a 25-minute ferry ride from Gozo's big brother Malta and spend a day rushing round the sights on this piece of paradise just eight miles across and ve miles deep.

But a day is never enough to see all that Gozo has to offer.

Besides, as more Brits are discovering each year, the island is meant to be enjoyed at a leisurely pace.

Gozitans joke that their homeland is given a low prole because the Maltese want it for themselves. Thousands of them spend their weekends relaxing with what they regard as their pretty little sister.

Although it's a third the size of Malta, it has only 28,000 inhabitants, compared to 370,000.

The secret charms of Gozo are being admired by discerning visitors in ever increasing numbers. Veteran actors Sean Connery and Peter O'Toole have called on the island, and comedian Billy Connolly and soft-porn actor Robin Asquith have homes in Sannat.

England international and Manchester United soccer star Gary Neville proposed to his girlfriend at the Hotel Ta' Cenc and his pals the Beckhams attended the wedding last year.

Five-star hotels like Ta' Cenc on the south coast and the Kempinski on the west offer the highest quality and service at a fraction of the prices you would pay for the same standards in the UK.

But more adventurous visitors are choosing to stay in the hundreds of farmhouses, which offer bed and breakfast facilities. This gives a chance to get to know the Gozitan people, whose sunny dispositions match their climate.

One of the many must-see destinations is the Ggantija Temples in the centre of the island.

Archaeologists estimate these massive rocks, oldest free-standing structures in the world, were built around 3,600 BC.

To put that in historical perspective, they were constructed 1,000 years before the pyramids of Egypt. And as a boost to patriotic pride, the temples were uncovered in 1820 by the British who used convicts to excavate an unusual mound of earth.

How Gozo's Neolithic inhabitants managed to lift these huge stones to form multichambered buildings is a mystery. No wonder local folklore held that they were the work of giants.

The temples lie on the outskirts of Victoria, Gozo's capital, which was renamed after the British queen but is still known locally by its former Arabic name of Rabat.

T his is a reminder of the colourful history of the Maltese Islands, which have been occupied by the Phoenicians (750 BC), Romans (210BC), Arabs (870 AD), Normans (1091), Knights of St John (1530), French (1798), and British (1800) before gaining independence in 1964.

In 2004, they joined the European Union and on January 1, 2008, they swapped their Maltese pounds for Euros.

At the heart of Victoria is The Citadel, a fortiXed city within a city which commands magniXcent panoramic views of the island.

On a clear night you can look north and see car lights on the roads of Sicily 70 miles away.

Heading west from Victoria towards San Lawrenz is Dwejra Bay and another amazing sight. The Azure Window is a natural arch standing 22 yards high which has been created by the pounding of the waves.

Nearby is the Inland Sea, a secluded lagoon of crystal clear waters connected to the open sea by a small tunnel.

The rocky beach at Dwejra is one of many which surround Gozo. To the north are Xwejni, Qualjar and Marsalforn Bays. Further east is the red sandy beach at Ramla.

Nearby is Calypso's Cave, where the misery of being a sex slave must have been compensated for Odysseus by the seascape stretched out before his cell.

On the east coast are more rocky coves at Dahlet Qorrot, and to the south-west is Xlendi.

It is to Xlendi and Marsalforn that sub aqua divers Wock to observe the colourful marine life around underwater wrecks. Other water sports such as sailing, windsurXng and snorkelling are also available.

Walkers come to admire the spectacular scenery dotted with a cathedral, basilicas and churches carved in baroque, neo-gothic and classical style out of the local honeycoloured stone.

The frequent ferry service from the southwest port of Mgarr, where gaily-painted Xshing boats bob in the harbour to the rhythm of the lapping waves, heads west of the island of Comino on its three-mile trip to the Maltese port of Cirkewwa.

In 2002, the 400 year-old Comino Tower, built to deter pirates, represented the Chateau d'If in the movie The Count of Monte Cristo.

From Cirkewwa you can catch a bus to the ancient capital Mdina, or its historic successor Valletta. Sicily is only a 90-minute catamaran journey away, and from Valletta you can catch a seaplane back to Gozo.

My favourite restaurant there was Ta' Ricardo in Victoria, where a traditional Gozitan meal comprised vegetable soup with locally baked bread, a platter containing capers, sheep's cheese, olives, sun-dried tomatoes and salad, followed by fresh ravioli.

Washed down with Cisk beer, there was barely room for the delicious dessert of coils made from honey, cinnamon and molasses.

It's enough to make any intrepid explorer stay. Sex slave or not.

Travel file

Air Malta and British-based airlines have low-cost flights to Valletta from major UK airports.

For further info on Malta and Gozo click on www.visitmalta.com or ring 0208 877 6990.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Sep 14, 2008
Words:951
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