A CURIOUS exhibition of crutches, hearing aids and even motorbike helmets pay testament to the purported miracles performed at Gozo’s Ta’Pinu.
The intriguing showcase was an unlikely highlight of a recent holiday to Malta, which incorporated a day trip by ferry to the stunning island of Gozo.
Formally known as The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Blessed Virgin, and located at the western point of Gozo, Ta’Pinu can only be described as a kind of Ripley’s Believe it or Not for devout Catholics.
The building is heaving with a palpable energy as prayers linger in the air, only interrupted by a growing clamour of tourists-seemingly oblivious to the service in progress. The location engraves itself in one’s memory.
Walls lined with tokens of gratitude tell stories of people who once believed their lives had been altered irreversibly here. Everything from handwritten letters to locks of hair and baby grows have been immortalised behind their own glass frames.
Of course, some tales are more outlandish than others. A Maltese tour guide once regaled me with an anecdote about a woman she found washing her underwear in the church’s holy water. After confronting her, she learned the underwear was not in fact the property of the lady, but rather her daughter, who was struggling with fertility issues. It seems almost everyone these days is in search of some kind of miracle.
Older members of the religious community in Gozo are more than happy to offer tourists a glimpse into their fascinating world. In another nearby church, our collective gaze is averted to a portrait of a teenage boy who looks more Harry Styles than Francis of Assisi.
The fact Carlo Acutis is the first Playstation fan on the path to sainthood is probably the least interesting detail about him. The Italian teen had become known in Catholic circles as the patron saint of the internet for his IT talent, which he used to catalogue eucharistic miracles from across the globe.
Revered among Malta’s religious, 15-year-old Carlo, who enjoyed comic book editing in his spare time, was known for defending his peers with disabilities against bullies in school and working with the homeless and destitute. He was beatified two days before the 14th anniversary of his death from leukaemia in 2006.
What remains of our tour of Gozo does not disappoint.
A lemon sun casts its palour over a breath-taking landscape. It’s not difficult to see how almost every part of Malta has found its way on to a TV screen, especially when sitting in a tuk tuk weaving through the island.
By The Sea, starring Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, is one such example. The movie was shot in Gozo, Malta’s sister island, and the second largest in Malta. While Angelina and Brad shone in their roles, the real star of the show was Gozo’s divine scenery.
Malta’s resemblance to other exotic locations, including the Middle East, has made it a playground for movie producers and film buffs alike. Our tour guide Daryl jokes he devotes his spare time to “getting chased by dinosaurs”. He is referring to cherished memories of his time as an extra on Jurassic World Dominion, much of which was filmed in Valletta. A statue of the velociraptor Blue in St George’s Square marks the spot where heartthrob Chris Pratt was chased through the cobbled streets.
Those in search of action outside of blockbusters need look no further than the Oratory of St John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta - home to one of the world’s most famous paintings-The Beheading of St John. The iconic piece is a must-see for anyone with an interest in art history.
What’s intriguing is that this is the only artwork by Caravaggio to bear the artist’s signature, which takes the form of red blood dripping from John the Baptist’s cut throat.
Malta has a wealth to offer tourists. For holidaymakers tempted to ditch their tour guide, rolling geeks are a must. The vehicles, which are similar to go-carts, come complete with pre-programmed GPS systems that not only offer you directions but elaborate on the details behind local tourist spots too.
After a full day’s excursion, it doesn’t seem long before we’re back at our hotel.
The Intercontinental Hotel in St Julians is a hidden five-star gem amid the urban sprawl that is home to Malta’s entertainment and clubbing district. The oasis of calm boasts a private a sizable outdoor pool and garden terrace. Overall, the verdict is favourable.
Sadly, unlike Angelina Jolie, most of us will never have the chance to honeymoon in Malta with Brad Pitt, but the city’s five-star appeal is enough to make anyone feel like a movie star.
Recommendations for dining in Malta
Charles & Ron Café
This eatery is the product of creative minds bringing together two loves - namely food and fashion. It’s basically a one stop shop for foodies and fashionistas.
The menu comprises high-quality dishes from ingredients sourced around the island. Be warned, the designer treats on offer might lead you to invest in a new wardrobe before dessert has arrived.
A wonderland for carnivores, the Chophouse boasts a tempting selection of succulent steaks, among other meats - as well as a selection of daily grilled fish.
This charming little bistro started life in 1906 as a confectionery shop, serving - among other edible gems - cassata Siciliana. The cake is still enjoyed by diners to this day.
Rubino comprises three traditional rooms with a cosy quality. Delicacies include a host of Maltese and Italian dishes.
This restaurant in Marsalforn has remained a family affair since its inception in the early 1970s.
Described as a local cornerstone in the world of dining, the kitchen and restaurants retain much of their original structures. They originally were home to three boat houses.
The restaurant’s stunning sea views are as mouth-watering as the dishes on offer, which include seafood, Mediterranean and European cuisine.
Another family-run establishment, the eatery utilises fresh ingredients to create delicious local dishes with an international twist.
Its daily sourced fresh fish is one of the main draws for customers, hence the name, which is borrowed from a special Maltese fishing net.