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Island Idyll

20th May, 2012
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When it comes to a laid-back lifestyle and traditional scenery the sun-kissed island of Malta is hard to beat, but if there’s one corner of this republic that truly emphasises its distinctiveness — it is Gozo – a step-back-in-time outcrop just four miles off the mainland. The island has an undisputable step-back-in-time feel. Compact and bijou at just 9-miles by 4, it still boasts a diverse topography – its south east coast replete with fishing boats, tugs and a bustling customs house.

Head inland and green hills and fertile valleys separate the tight-knit clusters of hamlets and villages, with a pick ‘n mix of vintage architecture strewn across the landscape, with ‘must-see’ sites such as the megalithic Ggantija Temples and the Gran Castello. The wider coastline has its home spun attractions too. Characterised by rugged cliffs and meandering creeks on the south coast, and a series of majestic bluffs and secluded bays on the north coast, wherever you look, the sea is always within the easy reach. Victoria, the capital meanwhile, is a small-scale version of Valletta, its cobbled grid of passageways and shady alleys brimming with Baroque town houses, and quaint stores selling cakes, lace and leather goods.

To date, rural tourism has been the lifeblood of the community. With a population of just 28,000 that swells to over 65,000 peak season — local government has been shrewd in keeping a handle of development. “Many years of debate have brought a consensus about the developmental merits of residential tourism on the island,” explains Tourist Authority spokesperson Nadine Brincat, “one that is veering towards upscale eco-tourism – turning Gozo into ‘a model of sustainable development’. The government is equally aware however, that a multi-pronged approach is necessary to help the island evolve, one that keeps the way of life on Gozo both rural and refined.”

True to its development ethos, resort projects to date, have been of the discreet luxury variety limited to just a handful of elegant five-star establishments attracting well-off European retirees and Maltese. Kempinski Residences (www.kempinski-residences.com) located in Saint Lawrence, is a classic example; a resort that seamlessly blends with the island’s pared-down style. Set in mature landscaped grounds, the estate sports a limited edition collection of one, two, three-bedroom residences and three-bedroom penthouses coupled with the luxury of a five star spa resort, with 24hr hotel concierge. Living next to one of the island’s luxurious hideaway spas, owners can indulge at leisure, while making full use of the community facilities including a state-of-the-art gym, tennis and squash courts, indoor and outdoor pools, Jacuzzi and steam baths. Unit prices start from £210,000.

An equally important development thrust is the remodelling of the island’s supply of traditional homes, many of which have caught the attention of foreign investors including Brits, who have happily taken on the challenge of coaxing them back to their former glory. “Many owners have converted older residences without losing the properties’ innate character,” explains Marie Grech of local agents Frank Salt (www.new.malta-gozo-property.com). “Most properties have charming bespoke features such as wall recesses and mangers and carved balconies embellished with balustrades. Upgrades invariably include adding in a pool. For those looking to rent their home for holiday lets, it’s essential.”

Now with a concerted push to put the island on the tourist map – a larger quota of properties are coming onto the market, confirms Grech, local families who own plots of land also now prepared to take a punt to see what premiums they can make.

“It’s a hard balancing act,” she adds, “growing Gozo’s potential while ensuring we don’t fuel property speculation. The authorities are particularly keen to ensure that big name developers don’t push through lucrative property developments in the guise of tourism – at least not without scaleable master plans.”

As to property values and locations: “We’ve seen significant annual increases of 8%, especially in the late Eighties and mid-Nineties and price stability over the past five years,” adds Grech. “One key factor driving this is the mixed buyer pool from foreigners and locals – its makes the exit strategy for owners much easier. Location wise – all the villages have their own charm, character and lifestyle. It’s a matter of buyer taste. Gharb, Xaghra, and Qala are popular locations, but the island is so small anyway that everywhere is within easy reach.”

A further key factor in the island’s favour is the growing pool of foreigners who are actively taking up residence and integrating into the community, among them British, Italians and Germans, and, more recently, Northern Europeans, including Finns, Norwegians and Swiss. Shirley and James Wilberforce moved to Gozo in 2008 from Hertfordshire and haven’t looked back. “Shirley’s dad loved Malta and always said we should consider retiring there when we were looking for a place to put down roots. He was right.”

The Wilberforces found their current home a stunning farmhouse in Nadur with lashings of character through Frank Salt and have since upgraded it putting in a pool and building a small studio for artist Shirley to display her work. “We love the lifestyle here,” adds James. “Long may it stay that way.”

Source: The Good Property Guide; article written by Laura Henderson

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