Żejtun - Winner 2019
Winner in the ‘Health and wellbeing tourism’ category
Żejtun (traditionally known as Citta' Beland), takes its name from the olive. It is situated on the top of a hill, that dominates the nearby bays of Marsaxlokk, St Thomas and Marsascala, popular ports of call for all Mediterranean sailors since Phoenician times. They also provided convenient landing beaches for invaders. Hence the location was important as a lookout post for any approaching shipping. Archaeological remains indicate that the area around Żejtun was already inhabited in Punic and Roman times, when the bay of Marsaxlokk was an important port of call both for import and export. Żejtun has a lot to offer in terms of natural beauty and historical and cultural heritage. The local council of Żejtun organises various open streets festivals that promote health and well-being and provide entertaining activities for all, adding to Żejtun as a relaxing destination that benefits mind and body alike.
What makes Żejtun special
The origins of Żejtun go back to Phoenician and Roman times and it offers a wealth of historical heritage being one of the oldest cities in the south of Malta. Żejtun always served as a place of relaxation and different Grand Masters of the Order of St John, bishops and notable citizens chose Żejtun to build their summer residence in the countryside. Żejtun is still a one of the best destinations for relaxation and well-being activities as it is surrounded with countryside and is ideal for walks and agritourism. The combination of beautiful natural surroundings and cultural and historical attractions makes Żejtun an outstanding destination.
Health and wellbeing tourism
The village of Żejtun has a long and distinguished history and has archaeological remains that testify to its ancient past as well as lovely churches and graceful palaces, townhouses, and gardens. It is set in beautiful countryside, close to charming beaches and fishing villages. The setting provides plenty of opportunity for restful activities and more active pastimes. There is free access to the skatepark and open and indoor gyms and council premises for yoga, pilates, marital arts and judo, talks, seminars and courses about healthy lifestyles. Art and culture activities such as singing, poetry and painting are also organised by the local council. Take part in the renowned night meditation tour, illuminated by candles. The Open Streets for sport activities are also popular and open to all who want to join in.
Żejtun is a village which is mostly renowned for its agrarian activity and is not one of the most visited destinations despite its historical, cultural, and natural attractions. The destination offers authentic tourism experiences because it integrates tourism with the village life, its Open Streets activities and walks, as well as cultural activities in which tourists and locals all freely participate and mingle.
- Żejtun’s old Parish Church of St Catherine, originally dating back to 1200, with a statue of of St Gregory and a front area including several palaces, chapels and elegant houses.
- Take a walk down to one of the South East of Malta picturesque rocky beaches, namely St Thomas Bay, St Peter’s Pool, Kalanka Bay and Xrobb l-Ghagin Bay.
- Try one of the walking or cycling routes, via the free heritage maps (download or physical) with signposts containing QR codes for an interactive tour.
- The Lieutenant’s Garden, a botanical garden known as Gnien il-Kmand, built in 1802 by the British High Commissioner.
Qrendi - Winner 2017
Winner in the Cultural Tourism category
Qrendi is located in the South West part of Malta. Life within the Qrendi confines has been recorded as far back as the early to later Pleistocene times (circa 2.588 million to 11.700 years ago). In 1858, dwarf elephants, hippopotami, bears, stags, foxes and giant dormouse fossilised bones were excavated from the 'bones caves' at the nearby hard coralline limestone quarries. Neolithic ruins that complement Malta’s largest free-standing temples, Phoenician, and Palo Christian rock tombs and catacombs are also located in Qrendi. Qrendi is complimented by a countryside rich in flora and fauna. There is an abundance of carob trees, potato and onion fields, and the legendary Maqluba dolina, where Malta’s national tree, the Sandarac Gum Tree (Għargħar) grows to its heart’s content.
What makes Qrendi special?
Apart from the historic village itself and the renowned pre-historic temples, the destination also comprises the Maqluba Doline (1342), the smaller San Matthew Chapel (pre-1575), and the larger San Matthew Chapel (1682). These structures beautifully coexist with particularly rich and indigenous flora set in a unique landscape. This offers a wonderful blend of culture, heritage, and beauty for visitors to enjoy.
The Neolithic Temples of Ħagar Qim, Mnajdra, the Blue Grotto, Wied iż-Żurrieq, the Octagonal Tower, and the Ġnien tal-Kmand gardens are all worthy attractions located in Qrendi. The locals go out of their way to make your visit as enjoyable as possible. An increasingly popular attraction is San Mattew tal-Maqluba, whose rich surroundings offer a tranquil and relaxing environment. Here, heritage, beauty, legend, culture, and religion intersect. This venue is a popular venue for wedding celebrations, especially for those that truly want to make their ‘special day’ a little more special.
- if you want to see natural beauty try the Blue Grotto Coastal caves & Grottos, the Petrified Riverbed coastal walk or the Maqluba Doline
- there are several churches such as the parish church dedicated to the Assumption of Our Lady chapels dedicated to St Matthew, St Anne, St Catherine and Our Saviour
- ancient culture aficionados can visit the 2 prehistoric temples of Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra
Xaghra - Winner 2015
Winner in the Tourism and Local Gastronomy category
The name Xaghra, on the island of Gozo, derives from a rocky plateau which was mainly used by hunters and as a recreational place. Nowadays, the local council still organises recreational activities, such as the Fig and Traditional Food Festival, where both locals and guests participate.
Visitors can mingle easily with the local population in the various bars, restaurants and clubs in the area. During the summer season, visit the Ramla Bay for a dip in the Mediterranean Sea, and enjoy the shining sun throughout the year.
Every year the Figs Festival is organised by the Xaghra Local Council. Interest in the festival has been increasing ever since it was held for the first time. Providing both locals and foreign visitors with unique insight on Gozitan tradition, it also familiarises people with a healthy fruit which for many people would be beneficial as part of the daily diet.
The Figs Festival is a traditional event which exposes Gozo’s heritage, while at the same time giving visitors the chance to taste and buy fig-based products. The event is held on the main square of Gozo with the Church of Xaghra as the backdrop, enabling tourists to enjoy the beautiful architechtural monuments located in Xaghra. The festival also includes traditional Maltese music and other activities.
- The Ggantija Temples, a historical site which is considered as one of the oldest free-standing monuments in the world.
- The Ta’ Kola Windmill, one of the largest known collections of tools, some of which were manufactured by the last miller who lived inside the mill. Also, this historical site provides a glimpse of local traditional rural life of Gozo in the past centuries.
- Ninu’s Cave, a natural cave in Xaghra where visitors can observe the natural stalactites and stalagmites which formed in it throughout the years.
- The traditional feast of St Anthony the abbot with blessings of the animals
- The Carnival, including the traditional Komittiva dance
- The Feast of Christ the King
- The Fish Festival
- The traditional Christmas procession
- The Easter Festival – pageant and procession on Easter Sunday
- The Gozo Half-Marathon
Gharb - Winner 2011
Winner in the Accessible Tourism category
Gharb is a tranquil small village situated in the west of Gozo Island. It is one of the oldest settlements on the island, best known for its local crafts, deep-rooted culture, ancient architecture and pristine landscapes.
The local Council has always championed conservation projects. A great success story and a key achievement of the island’s regeneration efforts is the revival of Wied il-Mielah, from wasteland to a magnificent rural destination.
Regeneration and revival
Wied il-Mielah is a project that has earned incredible success in the quest towards sustainability and eco-tourism.
Wied il-Mielah, which literally means 'salty valley', now forms one of the most important landscapes in Gharb. This stunning location combines rubble walls and valley basins with rich flora and fauna.
For a very long time, Wied il-Mielah was abandoned and was merely used as wasteland. The misuse of the site motivated the local Council to take action and revive Wied il- Mielah.
The main aim of the regeneration project was to make it an outstanding rural destination. The project included restoration of the location to its natural state and reconstruction of the rubble walls, while also making it a sought after tourist destination.
A cultural aspect was also considered during the restoration works, and today the valley is included in some of Gozo’s most important festivities.
- Stop at the Gharb Folklore Museum which hosts a collection of local arts and traditional crafts.
- Check out the Sanctuary of Ta’ Pinu, a grand basilica building surrounded by countryside.
- See the Gharb Church Basilica, a baroque style church dedicated to the Visitation of Our Lady to St Elizabeth.
Isla (Senglea) - Winner 2010
Winner in the Aquatic Tourism category
Isla (or Senglea) is the smallest of the Three Cities in the Cottonera, located in the south-east of Malta.
This locality is one of the hidden jewels of the Maltese Islands, while also being one of the oldest cities, founded around the 16th century. It is a gem of a town enclosed by spectacular bastions, with commanding views of the Grand Harbour.
It is a rather new peninsula, situated between Galley Port (or Dockyard Creek) on the Cospicua side and the French Creek. The city received its name Isla (meaning island) due to its unique geographic position, being nearly cut off from the mainland by two mountains the Mill Hill and the St. Julian’s Hill.
What makes Isla (Senglea) special?
The city’s attractiveness is in its mild climate all year-round, friendly sea, a unique historical location and architectural monuments.
Also, its historical heritage dates back to the times of the Knights of St John, which makes it one of the most heavily fortified areas on the island.
Strong religious influence is also felt around the city and finds its expression through numerous churches.
One of the most famous churches is the Basilica of Our Lady of Victories, built to commemorate the great siege victory in 1581.
- Visit Gardjola Gardens.
- Stroll alongside the Senglea Promenade.
- See the Macina (Sheer Bastion).
- Visit the Church of St. Philip (Porto Salvo).
Mellieha and the Hamlet of Maikata - Winner 2009
Winner in the Tourism and Protected Areas category
With its marvellous Mediterranean weather, Mellieha is a dream-destination for those in search of sun. The beaches that line the coast of Mellieha are some of the world's finest. All the 'fun under the sun' activities are available, along with top-notch restaurants, nightlife and accommodations.
For visitors looking for non-beach culture, Mellieha is rich in archaeological sites. The magnificent church, Our Lady Mellieha, is one of Malta's most-prized pieces. It was built shortly after the Knights re-established the island in the 1500s.
Every year on 30 August, the feast of Our Ladies of Victories commemorates the repelling of the Ottoman Great Siege in 1565. The celebration lasts until 8 September and it is said that this victory helped save Europe's Christianity.
What makes the locality of Mellieha special?
The charm and mystique in the region are alluring. With a combined population of 8,200 residents, Mellieha and Manikata offer visitors a relaxed 'rural-island' experience. The picturesque landscapes on the coastal region are second to none, with many trails leading to spectacular vista points.
Inland, vast and fertile farmlands provide fresh produce to the region’s many restaurants. Local farmers, through programs like the Rural Heritage Trail, have recently banded together to preserve their authentic farming practices and the results are impressive.
Mellieha is also home to many rare and protected species of wildlife. Its close proximity to the seashores attracts a great number of colourful birds.
The people of Mellieha are constantly looking at ways to improve their land. Major projects to clean up abandoned countryside farms and other places of neglect are top priorities. One such area, Il-Bajjad, once was a deteriorating scrapyard. After incalculable hours of work, the terraced fields re-opened in 2008 with a vineyard, garden and fruit trees.
Countless other projects have also succeeded in refurbishing old farmhouses and turning them into modern bed and breakfasts. These unique practices are what make this locality a leader in today's world of redeveloped landscapes.
What to do in...
- spring: Walk the trails with other adventurous walkers.
- summer: Visit the sun-drenched beaches with sparkling sand.
- autunm: Have fantastic dinners with seasonal vegetables.
- winter: See the breathtaking sunsets from beachside villas.
- Spend a week celebrating at the Our Ladies of Victories Feast.
- Have fresh strawberries for breakfast.
- Wake up at a countryside B&B.
Kercem - Hamlet of Santa Lucija - Winner 2008
Winner in the Tourism and Local Intangible Heritage category
Kercem is a small village (1,700 inhabitants) on the mythical island of Gozo, which forms part of the Maltese archipelago in the heart of the Mediterranean.
It is the closest village to Victoria, Gozo’s capital, and its name is most probably derived from that of a family living in the area in the 15th century.
The village of the old hamlet of Santa Lucija in Kercem nestles between the three hills of Ghar Ilma, Il-Mixta and Santa Lucija. Each has a natural water spring, making the surroundings one of the most fertile areas of Gozo.
Kercem is the oldest inhabited place in the Maltese Islands, with the first settlements from Sicily dating back to around 5000 BC.
Spirit and surroundings
Kercem was once very well-known for a traditional procession.
On 12 March, the 'Feast of Pope St Gregory the Great' procession used to make its way from the cathedral to an old church and, later, onward to the village parish church. Gozo bridegrooms used to promise their brides before marriage that they would take them to this procession every year.
The rural surroundings provide an idyllic backdrop to candle-lit evenings in this tranquil and enchanting village. The starry nights give an added touch of romanticism for those who choose to wine and dine there, carried away by notes from the traditional stringed instruments.
Cultural and historical monuments are also to be found on various parts of the road, such as Ghar Gerduf, the site of a 3rd or 4th-century Christian catacomb, with four chapels clustered together, and remnants of Roman baths revealed by excavations.
Parallel to the church, a road leads to the hamlet of Santa Lucija and its own parish church. The church building was started on the feast of St. Gregory in 1846. Santa Lucija is the place where the oldest inhabitants of Malta settled.
A characteristic pottery, claimed to be of a purer Sentinello variety, was found on the hill of Il-Mixta, brought there by the first settlers who also introduced stone tools, domesticated animals and seeds.
On the Ghar Ilma plateau, visitors can feast their eyes on a settlement of late mediaeval houses. The 19th-century aqueduct, connected to tunnels and reservoirs in Santa Lucija and a fountain in Kercem, is another proud local feature. It supplies natural spring water to Ghajn Abdun and Ghar Ilma.
Kercem and the hamlet of Santa Lucija organise cultural activities throughout the year to foster appreciation of the inherited traditions. Events centre around three main festivities:
Ikla tan-Nanna – meaning 'seven-course meal', is mainly a gastronomic event that consists of a traditional meal of seven courses. These feature traditional local food and are prepared using authentic ingredients from the surrounding fields.
Waiters and volunteers working for the event all dress in traditional costumes. From food to historical re-enactments, music to wine, Ikla tan-Nanna offers its many participants an unforgettable taste of Maltese culture.
The participants are given a menu that not only presents each course, but also explains the preparation and the tradition linked to the specific courses and traditional Maltese cooking. The entertainment consists of traditional music and songs performed by local bands and folk groups. The foundation also offers free transport services from the harbour to the village to encourage people from both near and far to participate.
The Bis-Sahha Wine Festival takes place around the streets of Santa Lucija. The event is held in cooperation with a local wine company that looks after the wine stalls.
The Fondazzjoni Folkloristika Ta’ Klula organises stands with local food and a barbecue for visitors as well as crafts and on-site painting activities. Prices are kept low to avoid any form of elitism and to ensure that as wide an audience as possible can enjoy the event.
The ‘Santa Lucija by Night’ Light Festival links spirituality and the locality. Candles are lit around the streets of the village. Cakes and local pastries are handed out as a young girl lights a bonfire. There is a common time for recollection and prayer as the village takes on a truly unique ambience.
Nadur - Winner 2007
Winner of Best Emerging European Rural Destinations of Excellence category
Nadur is situated on the easternmost hill of the island of Gozo, Malta's sister-island. Fresh fruit such as apples, peaches, pears, plums, oranges, lemons and melons from the fields of Nadur are distributed around Malta and Gozo.
Nadur also has a plenty of cultural heritage. In fact, several towers such as the Ta' Sopu Tower and Ta’ Kenuna Tower are located here. The Feast of Nadur, the Mnarja, celebrated on the 29 June, is considered as festival rooted in Maltese seasonal rituals and customs.
Nadur offers a number of areas of scenic beauty which are unique and rather rare.
Malta's first agro-tourism initiative
Malta is a country boasting high integration of urban and rural landscapes. Among the competing destinations, Nadur was the only locality in the area that successfully met the required qualities and standards of sustainability, holistic management and improvement, and was the first to implement and offer visitors a pure agro-tourism experience.
The project succeeded in attracting a diverse range of tourists, from those interested in culture to those interested in rural activities. It is a typical example of an initiative that enshrines the principles of economic, social, environmental and cultural sustainability.
The tourism development strategy adopted by the Nadur Local Council comprises activities and projects referring to:
- quality of life
- Cconservation and enhancing of environmental heritage
- recovery of hidden treasures and cultural spaces
- spurring tourism demand
- arranging international activities aimed at increasing the know-how on European Policy and in promoting the island.
With a small population of just around 4,700 people and with a great percentage of its territory falling outside the permitted development zone, Nadur succeeded in using its rural area as one of its main assets and thereby creating the first, and possibly only, form of agro-tourism not only in Gozo but in the whole of the Maltese Islands.
The Destination of Excellence Award was given thanks to the following main thrusts of the strategy, adopted by the Nadur Local Council and managed over a three-year period:
Nadur’s potential as an agro-tourism destination: The Nadur Local Council has been the catalyst for the development of agro-tourism in its locality.
Intent on rehabilitating and putting its valleys to better use, the local council purchased 7,000 citrus and olive trees and made them available to farmers at a subsidised price. This initiative not only reinforced the rural environment, but also led to an increase in the cultivation of the valleys of Nadur.
Combining visitor’s experiences and local’s interests: Once local farmers were found to be positive towards the project, the Local Council entered into discussions with them encouraging farmers to open up their fields and allow tourists to experience fruit picking.
Faced with a very conservative mentality, the Council initially worked with the most willing farmers, ensuring that the more conservative ones would be convinced once seeing the project in practice.
Cultural and natural heritage: The Nadur Local Council has managed to bring together its cultural and natural heritage assets as well as its agricultural resources through the design of six walks.
The walks take visitors across the area, mixing the enjoyment and appreciation of nature with rural-related activities such as fruit picking.
The Local Council has also organised specific events that have become traditions on Gozo’s events calendar.
The Nadur Carnival, being themed with satire, has today become synonymous with the locality and has grown into a popular event.
Another anchor event is the Wine Festival - 3 days of Maltese wine tasting - which takes place in Nadur. This type of festival complements the agro-tourism theme as well serving the niche market for traditional products.
Intent on focusing on off-peak events, the Nadur Local Council is also organising a Christmas market, an attraction which is popular in a number of European cities.
Restoration works: The Local Council undertook the restoration of the Ta’ Sopu and Ta’ Kenuna Towers. They are the two most prominent cultural heritage features in the locality, and their restoration adds another dimension to the tourism product.
Embellishment activities: The Local Council has also undertaken a number of embellishment activities in order to create supporting infrastructure for the areas of scenic beauty from where the natural and tangible heritage could be enjoyed.
Destination for meetings and conferences: The Local Council also promoted Nadur as a destination for meetings, conferences and incentives.
One-off events: Nadur organises a number of one-off events which have so far included meetings between mayors, training on the subject of tapping EU funds, celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the EUs foundation, an EU festival and a meeting on the Charter of the European Rural Committee.
The success story
There is quite substantial proof that the methods used have been successful, as Nadur has managed to attract tourists from countries where there is an interest in agro-tourism. Nadur has also managed to fully involve the local community and use local assets strategically without exploiting them irreversibly.
The agro-tourism concept has been realised, a cottage industry to process the produce of citrus and olives from farmers has been created and several meetings for overseas delegates have been held in the locality.
Furthermore, the two towers that form an important part of Nadur’s cultural heritage have been restored, a number of commercial establishments have ben set up, and there has been an increase in employment opportunities in the locality.