Let go in Gozo - the 'Eco Island'
Yvonne Gordon sees sustainability in action while getting a taste of island life in Gozo
“At 5pm, people are coming to pick one kilo of olives each,” says Joseph Spiteri. He’s walking around Ta’Mena, his 25-hectare estate which has a winery, accommodation, events and farming activities that guests can get involved in.
“They’ll weigh the olives and if there are not enough, they go back. Then they have a tasting,” he says. “Then they understand what real extra virgin olive oil is. You learn how to not get cheated.”
As well as olive picking, guests can take part in a variety of other activities, all which help them learn about nature and about Gozo. There’s fruit picking, wine tasting and wine lessons for adults; kids can see the chickens and geese, pet baby goats or learn to cook. Guests can also get involved in the grape and olive harvests.
The accommodation – a variety of self-catering farmhouses and apartments – is a ‘simple rural experience’ says Joseph. “It’s nothing special,” he says. However the eggs are free range, the honey is the real thing, it’s quiet, and you can wander through the vineyards, climb the hill or enjoy a simple lunch of bread, olives, tomatoes and peppers over a glass of wine.
This is Gozo, the sister island of Malta in the Mediterranean; it’s a little quieter, a little greener, a little slower perhaps than its next-door neighbour. It’s just 5km away from mainland Malta yet Gozitans say that life moves at a more leisurely pace, with more focus on a rural way of life and on preserving the environment.
The Ministry for Gozo has stated that it ‘will transform Gozo into an ecological island, a model of sustainable development... We want to see quality of life in Gozo improving further through education, economic development and social progress. Gozo will strive to reduce its carbon and water footprints. We want to protect the Gozitan lifestyle, the island’s environment, resources, culture and identity.'
For visitors, there is a selection of dramatic coastal scenery, quiet beaches and sleepy villages to explore. The 5,000-year-old Temples of Ggantija are the oldest free standing structures in the world, while Ramla beach is a stretch of unique red sand. The romantic citadel of Victoria was a refuge in the middle ages and the Azure Window at Dwejra is one of the islands's most photogenic spots.
On the luxury end of the scale, the five-star Hotel Ta’Cenc and Spa, which is set in 160 acres on the south-west of the island, has a comprehensive Environment Management Programme which covers everything from energy consumption and waste management to being socially responsible. The 'Little Green Handbook' in each room discreetly asks guests to cooperate – demonstrating how much water or power can be saved by small actions.
Here, rooms are in bungalows and pathways between the bungalows and the three outdoor swimming pools are lined with fragrant flowers, shrubs and trees. On the land there are remains of temples, ancient cart ruts, dolmens and caves. Organic oranges, lemons, figs and prickly pears from the gardens are used in the kitchen – as are organic basil, rosemary, sage, mint and peppers plus wild organic herbs and asparagus growing on the plateau.
The pods from the hotel’s carob tree are collected and their syrup is used locally as a cough remedy. Olives from the trees are pressed into oil, and organic thyme honey is produced next to the hotel.