In the heart of the village of Nadur, high on a plateau above the harbour of the small island of Gozo (baby sister to Malta), the new Quaint Hotel is something of an anomaly. First, it is not actually a hotel; it’s a set of rooms attached to an independent restaurant. Second, it isn’t really quaint. The décor is urban-sleek rather than village chintz.
The setting, however, is absolutely traditional and an ideal place to get under the skin of Gozo. Quaint – the first of an anticipated chain of four properties across Gozo, due to open in 2016 and 2017 – sits just behind the oversized Nadur parish church, in front of which is the main square. Here locals hang out in café-bars, there are shops and a couple of remnants of British colonial days: a classic red phone box and a dangling blue lantern marking the tiny police station – both wonderfully incongruous against the honeyed Mediterranean limestone.
Although the building was constructed as a hotel in the 19th century, it hasn’t been used as such since 1901, and its earlier owners would certainly not recognise the place with its stripped-back contemporary style. A grey concrete corridor decorated with historic black and white photos – and a marvellous old film projector – leads to 12 pared-back bedrooms, each with sleek, modern shower rooms behind frosted glass. Some rooms have baths in the bedrooms too, and all have quality modern bedding. All the rooms are reasonably spacious, though they vary in size.
Taking up most of the ground floor of the building is the Fat Rabbit restaurant, which has a connecting door to Quaint. This is where you’ll be served breakfast, among the locals who drop by here for coffee and a croissant, or you can take your food out in the sunny little square beyond.
The owner, a young Gozitan developer, has made a career of buying up characterful buildings and restoring or repurposing them, and his partner designed the interiors at Quaint. They do not run the place on a day-to-day basis but the you’ll be met on arrival by helpful staff and given a 24-hour phone number to use when reception is not manned. The friendly owners of Fat Rabbit are Nadur locals and happy to chat or help with queries.
Gozo is only 14km long and 7km wide, so it is easy to explore. Its charming little capital, Victoria – known locally as Rabat – is just a 15-minute drive away. It is dominated by the Gozo Citadel, a maze of tiny medieval alleys amid towering fortified walls.
In Xaghra, near Nadur, are the remarkable remains of the Ggantija temples, built between 3,600 and 2,500BC – earlier than Stonehenge or the Great Pyramids . Don’t miss the temple statuary including the characterful “Fat Ladies”, thought by some to be part of a fertility cult.
Enough sightseeing? Splash into Gozo’s clear blue waters – perfect for diving, snorkelling, and swimming. Head for the glorious red sands of Ramla Bay, Gozo’s (and arguably Malta’s) finest beach, backed by dunes for relaxed sun and sea. Or contact one of Gozo’s dozen licensed dive centres (bit.ly/DiveGozo) to admire its celebrated underwater landscape at sites such as the Blue Hole (Dwejra) or the cathedral-like Ghasri Cave.
If it isn’t swimming weather, take a walk along Gozo’s coast – at Dwejra or Xwejni Bay salt pans for instance, for scenery Edward Lear described as “pomskizillious and gromphiberous”.
Nadur has a notable traditional bakery, Mekren (Hanaq Street, signed to Ramla; 00 356 2155 2342). In old-fashioned wood-burning ovens that smell richly of charcoal, they bake Hobz-Malti (Maltese bread – a local staple) from the early hours, and ftira (a Gozitan take on pizza) – as well as Italian-style pizzas. The cheese ftira is delicious – rather like a savoury cheesecake in pizza casing. Drop by in the morning to see them baking and order a pizza for later. Take it out on to Nadur’s Belvedere and munch while admiring the panoramic views of Mgarr Harbour, the Gozo Channel, Comino and northern Malta.
In cooler weather, enjoy the same view from inside Fliegu . Here there is a choice of 38 different pizzas (the Fliegu al Tartufo is particularly good) as well as salads and other dishes – and a long wine list.
Quaint Hotel, 13th December Street, Nadur, Gozo. The entrance is in a passageway between this street and Archpriest Martin Camilleri Square (00 356 2210 8500; quainthotels.com).