Unique Travel Experiences in Malta
Artistic expression is one of those strange unfathomable things to me. It’s something I wish I desperately understood and possessed, and I’m delighted when I get to hang out with people who have it. I think I secretly hope it rubs off on me. So when I came across a Trip Advisor review of Artist Walks on the island of Gozo I was immediately interested.
Gozo is only a short 30 minute ferry ride from Malta and is the vacation destination for many Maltese in the summer. It is also the home to many artists and creative people; it’s the perfect little island of simplicity and inspiration that artists look for. A marriage and family might have brought artist Hermine Sammut to Gozo, but it was the simple, creative atmosphere that made her stay. Hermine is not only talented in her multitude of artistic ability, but she’s talented in business too. She started the Connect2Gozo tours and workshops herself as a way to bring an appreciation of art to the many tourists visiting Gozo.
She met me at the ferry terminal and we spent the day together visiting artists in their studios and talking about creativity. She normally combines these visits with walks through the countryside from studio to studio; a clever way to combine outdoor inspiration with indoor visits.
The Gozo hills were bursting with yellow flowers contrasting with the green fields providing you the perfect feel of spring. I looked at the scene and thought, what lovely photo opportunities. Hermine looked at the scene and thought, materials. She picked a bright yellow flower and took a piece of paper and had me watch as she rubbed the flower petal on the paper turning the paper a brilliant gold as if it were paint. Hermine integrates the land and these flowers into her painting – literally. Not all flowers have this vibrancy she explains. She goes on to tell me that the flowers are also a tasty treat as she bites into the stem. She picks a white flower and tells me to try it, it’s like horseradish. I put the flower in my mouth and chew; it tastes just as she says, the bite of horseradish fills my mouth!
She uses flower pigments, clay, and mud all found around Gozo as her painting materials. One of the various one day workshops she teaches includes this natural painting as she shows people how to utilize the things you see around you as your creative palette. Her goal is to you get you to connect to the island through getting to know the local environment with your senses.
However today I was in Gozo to learn about her unique art walks; a 4 to 5 hour walk through Gozo’s fields and villages to artist studios. When I first heard about these walks I was excited she was creating something active, social, creative, and educational – it is a complete experience.
We stop first in a village nearby the harbor that is the home studio of Joe Xuereb. Joe is a self taught sculpture who uses the robust neolithic sculptures found around the islands in neolithic temples as his inspiration. He sculpts out of limestone, the prevalent stone resource found on the islands. As we walked around his workshop, he demonstrated for me how he started with a rectangular block and chipped away at the soft limestone to begin to form smooth, curved, delicate figures. We sat in his garden and talked about what it was like to be an artist in Gozo and how he markets his work. He’s a fascinating man who is completely self taught, but has made a living in art.
Next Hermine and I enjoyed the views as we climbed to Nadur, her home village on Gozo. She lives in an old farmhouse with her husband and son. The farmhouse looks a simple brick building from the outside, but once inside it’s a work of creativity and natural design. The walls were lined with her various creations; paintings, sculptures, metal work, pottery, and jewelry bathed in soft natural lite of the entry way. She took me into her cozy workshop where she holds small group workshops and show me her latest jewelry creations; the Maltese Venus collection. Then she got out bottles and boxes of the pigments she uses for her painting and explained to me the scientific process of how the flowers we saw earlier are turned into these powders through heat, water, and bonding agents. Clearly demonstrating to me that her work is a labor of love from beginning to end.
The weather was just nice enough to sit outside on her patio and enjoy a snack served up on her own pottery creations and some tea. She explained to me that for her “Art is expressing your insides.”; a beautiful thought about the creative process. She said that everything she does tells a story or is a statement, even her jewelry.
She finds that the people who attend her day workshops aren’t necessarily looking to to get trained in painting or sculpture, instead they are simply looking for a mental get-away. Creating such pieces are really a form of relaxation. To me this seemed like a great addition to any vacation.
Next we drove to the other side of the island to meet Jorg Bottcher, another self-taught artist and photographer. Once again he ran a studio in his old farmhouse and he and his lazy cats welcomes visitors. The moment you walked into his home you were at ease. He poured me a glass of wine and we sat in his stone living room and talked about art on Gozo and his career. He had experimented with many different styles ranging from a very traditional local landscapes and heritage focused scenes to abstract, modern, colorful paintings. It was clear to me that he could find beauty in the most mundane scenes and his personality completely matched his creations.
Hermine drove me back to the ferry terminal and we talked about the uniqueness of her tours. I asked her what the Gozitan arists thought when she came to them with this idea of bringing tourists into their homes for viewings or workshops. She told me that many of them didn’t really understand this type of tourism. As I listened to her talk about the challenges up getting it all up and running I thought to myself , “I understand this tourism.” This is the ‘new’ form of tourism that values local experiences over canned tours. Her business may be small, but I believe this type of tourism is growing.
She said to me that she didn’t really need her tours to be big. Her art comes first, and the other projects are secondary. It’s a way for her to stay in touch with people from various parts of the world and learn just as much from them as they learn from her. In a way, the whole idea is a creative endeavor – a perfect little niche of tourism that not many people are competing in. This is the type of experiences which I value as a traveler, and I know I’m not the only one out there who is looking for unique travel experiences.
If you holiday in Malta, be sure to go meet Hermine and take a walk with her; it’s your chance to experience the island from a different angle.
Tours/Workshops – Recreation through Creation: