After 15 years of offering walking and cycling tours on the unspoiled island of Gozo in the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean, we were pleased to hear that it has been chosen as the location for filming of a new Hollywood romantic blockbuster, By the Sea, due out next year.
Written and directed by Oscar-winning actress and human rights activist, Angelina Jolie, with husband Brad Pitt playing a leading role, the film will start shooting at the end of this month – with Mgarr ix-Xini Bay (a secluded bay adjacent to Breakaway’s walking base hotel, the exclusive 5-star Ta’Cenc) one of the key chosen locations.
Lying just a scant 56 miles south of Sicily, Gozo is the last European outpost before Africa. Malta’s sister island, accessible only by ferry, is scarcely populated (31, 000 pop) and mostly undiscovered by tourists. It is a curious mix of the enticingly exotic and reassuringly familiar; palm trees, Arabic-style honey-colored stone houses, lemon groves and the ubiquitous prickly pear all contrasting wonderfully with the bustling market streets and nightlife of its capital, Victoria. As well as spectacular natural beauty – breathtaking cliffs, tiny coves, crystal clear seas for diving – Gozo also boasts a fascinating history with Neolithic caves, a huge Copper Age temple (which pre-dates the Giza Pyramids by 1,000 years) and an amazing array of monumental Baroque, neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque churches and basilicas.
With its diminutive size (25 sq miles), the island is ideal for exploring on foot or by bike (or on a combo – walking + cycling tour). We’ve keep distances reasonably short, to allow time for relaxing – the spa at our hotel in San Lawrenz, for example, has been voted one of the best in Europe.
After the film’s release, we suspect this well kept secret will be out! So early booking for next year is advised.
Maybe you’re thinking of a getaway by yourself or with a couple of friends, either way, a Christmas escape is great time to travel and explore Europe. The summer crowds are gone and you’ll be able to enjoy the quiet countryside like a local.
Since Christmas traditions vary around the world, you’ll also get have a fascinating look into the culture and history of a region during the holiday season. In Spain, Santa Claus is called Papa Noel, but he doesn’t bring toys to children and he is not as important. Nativity scenes reign supreme (over Christmas trees!) and are the center piece of the Andalucían home and on display in every village.
Holiday celebrations begin in early December, but extend beyond Christmas day to the twelfth night after Christmas, when the Three Kings or Wise men brought gifts to the baby Jesus. On Christmas Eve, Spanish families have a special dinner together at home. The traditional Christmas dinner is Pavo Trufado de Navida – Turkey stuffed with truffles (rare, wild mushrooms) along with prawns, cheeses and jamón (cured ham) all washed down with local red wines.
The holiday season culminates on January 5th with the Cabalgata (float parade) celebrating the arrival of the Three Kings, when gifts are left overnight for opening the next morning. Cake is served for lunch as soon as presents are opened – Roscon de Reyes – a light brioche style ring shaped cake filled with nata (white cream) and covered with candied fruit and sugar. A King figurine is hidden inside the Roscon – anyone who finds the figurine gets to wear the paper Golden Crown and is aptly named – the King!
On one of our most popular tours, you’ll meet like-minded people that want to be active over the holidays – along with companionship around a blazing log fire on Christmas Eve!
Our Secrets of Andalucía Walk starting December 20 is a firm favorite for the holidays. Situated in the heart of the southern Andalucía province of Axarquia, you’ll stay at the enchanting Hotel Finca el Cerrillo – the living areas include a wonderfully charming beamed lounge – kept cozy on winter nights with a log fire, a dining room, small library and ‘honesty’ bar.
With an average daytime temperature of 60 degrees, it’s perfect walking weather with cool nights and sunny days. Our experienced guide will take you out on the ancient bandit mule trail used to transport silk from Cómpeta to Granada, walking beneath the majestic peaks of the Sierra Almijara. You’ll also walk through olives and almonds to the Moorish white villages of Archez, Competa and Canilas de Albaida – with time to explore the local shops filled with artisan wares.
You’ll spend a day in the beautiful city of Granada to visit the world-famous Alhambra Palace. At Christmas time the narrow streets of Granada are filled with street markets, nativity scenes and festive lights making for a special atmosphere.