Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Review: Bella Vista Farmhouses, Gozo, Malta

This summer my husband and I spent a week on Gozo, a small island off Malta. It was a nice relaxing holiday - there are a few things to do on Gozo but it's not as busy as Malta. We stayed on the outskirts of a small village and enjoyed pottering around and sitting by the pool.

We booked through a holiday rentals website as we were looking for a villa, and the Bella Vista Farmhouses looked nice and seemed good value. By the time we had decided where to book though, it turned out the smallest villa, which slept four, was not available, and we ended up with one that slept six just for the two of us.


Bella Vista can arrange transfers from Gozo ferry which is helpful; they have several farmhouses and a main reception area where you can go for help or information about booking excursions, and Monica on reception speaks good English.

The website didn't actually say these were villas - they are described as farmhouses - but I was expecting lots of separate stand-alone properties, perhaps dotted about the hillside (the amazing view you can see in their pictures is accurate as you are high up looking down). However this was a big disappointment - I would call these apartments rather than farmhouses.

To get to ours - Ta Natu - you walk through an underground car park and down a small corridor, where there are front doors to the different 'farmhouses' all along the same corridor. There were then steep steps going down into our apartment, and the living room leads out to a small terrace with a very small swimming pool. But there's a wall next to the pool and on the other side is the next apartment's pool, and because the apartments are slightly staggered, you are then overlooked - I was in the pool one day and looked up and saw someone standing at the wall of their terrace looking down on me. We had wanted a private villa that was detached and ideally far enough away from neighbours that you wouldn't hear them let alone see them so this was quite disappointing.

This is the barbecue

The apartments themselves are quite rustic in style but the furniture was decent quality, and the sunloungers outside next to the pool were comfortable, but the barbecue was another disappointment. We'd hoped to barbecue every night and did end up using it several times but had to buy foil trays in the village to put the food in. The barbecue itself was like nothing I've seen before -a sort of flat tray over a burner (not a grill) - and it was absolutely filthy and didn't look like it would be easy to clean so we didn't want to put food directly on it. It is also hard to control the heat as there was basically a flame that you could turn on and that was it.

view from our terrace

Our apartment had three bedrooms, one with a double bed and two twins. The double bed was the hardest, most uncomfortable bed I have ever slept on - my husband had such back ache after the first night we had to switch to one of the twin rooms where the beds weren't great, but they were better.

watching fireworks over the Citadel by night from our terrace

We decided not to hire a car and the village, Xaghra, was about a 15 minute walk - fairly easy to do but we avoided doing it in the heat of the middle of the day. It's well lit at night as well and we were quite happy walking to restaurants and back.


Overall I was fairly happy with our stay at Bella Vista; the apartment had everything we needed (apart from privacy or a comfortable bed); the pool is too small to swim properly but I like to just sit in the pool and read which you can do (sitting on the steps that lead in) and I'm glad we had the extra space without trying to squeeze in six people. Xaghra is a nice little village with some decent restaurants (see my separate reviews) and it's easy to get around the island to explore.

We discovered that the main historical site on Gozo was actually just outside the village where we were staying - Ggantija, meaning 'giant's tower' is a temple complex older than the Egyptian pyramids, built around 3600 BC. They are the world's second oldest existing man-made religious structures (after somewhere in Turkey) and we saw it referred to a few times as the Maltese Stonehenge which was ironic because I grew up just a few miles away from Stonehenge.

It was about a half hour walk and didn't take that long to go around as it's basically ruins with a few information signs but it was quite interesting and I would say worth a visit if you are on Gozo.

Blue Lagoon- first thing in the morning

Another day trip we did was to the Blue Lagoon - an area with beautifully clear water on Comino, which is a tiny island between Gozo and Malta. We booked through the Bella Vista reception and were taken by taxi to the harbour where we got a ferry to Comino. We had wanted to do a longer boat trip around the island where you could snorkel off the boat but it was fully booked - if you want to do something like this it's probably a good idea to book in advance.

We decided to get the first ferry at 10am and I'm glad we did (it only took 10-15 minutes to get to Comino). The beach area next to the Blue Lagoon is tiny - in fact you couldn't really call it a beach. There's a very small semi circle of sand and then mainly a paved area where deckchairs are laid out - you have to pay for them and there isn't an inch of space between loungers. If you don't want to pay you can climb higher up and sit on the rocks but it didn't look all that comfortable.

We paid 15 euros for two deckchairs and an umbrella; the chairs in the beach area are more expensive than the jetty area where we were but it's only a few metres apart and didn't make much difference. At 11am more boats arrived, and it was getting really crowded; by midday it was absolutely heaving and I heard the guy who was renting the deckchairs telling someone there were no more left.

There's a toilet block and several stands selling food but all food truck style so nowhere to escape the hot sun unless you have a beach umbrella - and apart from swimming and sunbathing there's nothing to do here (and no space to do anything!).

The water was lovely - you can see fish without even needing snorkelling equipment - and it was nice to swim in the morning but in the afternoon it was so crowded I decided not to go back in. Our return ferry in the afternoon was a different kind of boat I think; it took us on a tour of some caves around Camino and was driving really fast almost like a speedboat where the back of the boat is in the water and the front is higher up, which I really didn't like, but luckily it was only for about 10 minutes! I would say the Blue Lagoon is worth a trip but definitely go early to beat the crowds, at least if it is peak season like when we went.

A few other tips if you are staying at Bella Vista Farmhouses:
  • We paid our deposit in advance by bank transfer with the balance (several hundred euros) to be paid on arrival - but they only take cash. There is a cash point in the village (a 5 min drive or 15 min walk) but you might want to bring the cash with you.
  • There is a big fan in the living room which kept us surprisingly cool - we bought a few cards for the air conditioning (5 euros each for about 10 hours) but didn't use all of them
  • Buy or bring a clicker to turn on the gas hob and oven if you plan to use it (and given how bad the barbecue was, we did end up cooking inside). The ignition switch on our cooker didn't work which means you have to reach right inside the oven to light it with a match which Monica did for us the first time, but I was too nervous to do myself. The barbecue also needs to be lit with a match underneath the cooking plate so a clicker is much easier and safer. We bought one in the grocery shop in the village.
  • We were given a map to the Lighthouse Grocery store; they are open 7am-7pm and will deliver to the farmhouses though we got there around 6.30 as we hadn't wanted to walk in the afternoon the first time (as we didn't know how far it was) and the lady in the shop seemed quite put out we wanted delivery that late in the day (we hadn't realised that would be an issue). She said it could be arranged though and we would have our food in about 30 mins so she got us to pay and pack it into a box and leave it in the corner. We walked back to our farmhouse and in the end delivery took about an hour - so don't buy anything frozen!
  • Since we didn't hire a car Monica gave us the number of a local taxi driver and we used him to go to a restaurant one evening; it was very reasonably priced and we called him when we had finished our meal and he picked us up again about 15 minutes later. It's really easy to get around Gozo if you don't want the expense of hiring a car.


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