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On a Maltese Island

Touristclick British Virgin Islands Travel News

On a Maltese Island

by New York Times

Bert and Kathi Childers of Dallas first visited Gozo in 2002 on a two-week package tour they had taken from Hamburg with a couple of German friends. Something about the island struck a chord and they decided to stay on for another two weeks.

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Darrin Lupi for The New York Times
Kathi and Bert Childers in the living room of their apartment in Xlendi.

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Darrin Lupi for The New York Times
The Childerses rent the home for 800 Maltese lira, or about $2,650, a year.
Mrs. Childers, who had worked for years at the Dallas Museum of Natural History, said it was the layers of prehistory beneath their feet that intrigued her, as well as the friendliness of the people. On another trip they stayed for a month and discovered they could rent a furnished apartment for a year for less than a month’s stay at their five-star hotel.

That’s how the couple became part-time residents of Malta’s second island, a 40-square-mile dot in the Mediterranean between the tip of Italy and Tunisia. A waiter they met at their hotel showed the Childerses various apartments. They took the second one they saw: two bedrooms on a top floor with a bay view and around 500 square feet of living space. The apartment also has a terrace and room for their grill on the roof. It is in Xlendi, a village on Gozo’s south coast, and the Childerses rent it for 800 Maltese lira, or about $2,650, a year.

“When we came, it was $2,000," said Mr. Childers, who is a retired veterinarian.

"We stay every year," he said. "We use the apartment from June to December, except for the hottest month, when we go to a Danish island, Anholt, in the Kattegut Sea."

The apartment is a block from the beach on a dead-end street. "So there’s no traffic and it’s very quiet," he said, "except on weekends when people come over on the ferry from Malta" to use the beach.

"I go to sleep most nights listening to the waves," Mrs. Childers said. "It is tranquil; it is refreshing to me."

Gozo has just one town, which the Arabs called Rabat and the British, who ruled Malta as a colony from 1800 to 1964, renamed Victoria. Malta became a republic in 1974 as part of the British Commonwealth and joined the European Union in 2002. Maltese is the official language; English is spoken as a second language by all but some of the oldest residents.

Of the island’s population of 31,000, about 6,000 live in Victoria, which is roughly in the center of Gozo. Buses connect 13 of Gozo’s villages to Victoria and the ferry landing at the southeastern harbor of Mgarr. The Childerses rent a car for their stays.

The hotel waiter who helped them find their apartment also introduced them to a garage owner from whom they rent the car, usually a Toyota Starlet diesel, for 4 lira, or about $13, a day.

"We call ahead," Mr. Childers said, "and when we come in on the ferry, the car’s waiting by the dock with our name on the windshield and the keys inside." Gas costs about 43 Maltese cents a liter, which Mr. Childers said was roughly $7 a gallon. When they leave the island, he added, they stop by the garage and pick up a driver who rides to the ferry with them and takes the car back to the garage.

Gozo is virtually crime-free. "People leave their doors open," Mrs. Childers said. "We never shut our door. People leave gifts at our door — tomatoes, oranges. One day we came home and our outside light was out, and I tripped over a box of peaches someone had left for us. It’s like a walk back in time."

During their first stay, Mrs. Childers said, she accidentally left her digital camera outside a shop in Victoria before boarding a bus back to their hotel in the north coast village of Sannat. That evening, the Childerses got a phone call from a Victoria resident whose family had found the camera and traced them to the hotel through the photos on her camera and a business card belonging to Mr. Childers that they had found in the camera case.

Although the island is tiny, "there’s so much to do here," Mrs. Childers said. "We go to the opera. There are three opera houses on Gozo, and often singers come from Italy. And there are street festivals all the time." There is also an archaeological site and a prehistoric stone temple complex that has been dated back to about 3500 B.C. A natural rock formation called the Azure Window, at Gozo’s west end, draws scuba divers. And pilgrims come to a shrine near Ghorb, built to commemorate a farmer’s vision of the Virgin Mary, and visited once by Pope John Paul II.

Mr. Childers does volunteer work at Gozo’s animal shelter, performing surgeries and spaying pets. Sometimes he plays tennis with a group of British expatriates. There are a handful of Americans on the island, but most of the foreign residents are English, Australian or Italian. Although there are many new houses being built in several of Gozo’s villages, long-term rentals are still a bargain — at least for now.

"We have British friends who rent high-end places with pools for about 4,000 lira a year," or $13,650, Mr. Childers said. "You can find a place for a family of six for 1,500 lira. We have some friends who have a lifetime contract on a big house for 1,600 lira," or about $5,300, a year.

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