Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Day Seven: Goodbye Gozo - you are a special island.

Gozo: Day Seven, "The best trip of all - Comino."

Join walkers for perhaps the best trip of all, to Comino, an amazingly beautiful gem inhabited by only four people who are all related. A ten minute boat ride takes us to perfect turquoise waters. It's no wonder tourists flock to see the Blue Lagoon which is sandwiched between Comino, named after the cumin herb that once grew here, and neighbouring islet Cominotto. Once a refuge for hermits, fugitives and pirates, Comino is a paradise. In summer tanned bodies fill the beaches, but out of season Comino Hotel pulls down its shutters and Comino is left in the hands of  Salvu and his family.

Annalise in full flow!

Artists book of Comino
Passing the cemetery and British-built isolation hospital,we reach Santa Maria Tower, dating back to 1618 to protect the Comino Channel from acts of piracy against passenger and commercial vessels plying between Malta and Gozo.
It acted as Chateau d'If in the 2002 film Count of Monte Cristo, starring Richard Harris. Views are stunning from the top of the tower. This island, rich in garrigue ecology and geological marine erosion features, is designated as a bird sanctuary and is a haven for endemic flora. Annalise spots Maltese spurge, parasite called Dodder, Maltese shrubby kidney vetch, a soldier bug, seaside ox-eye daisy, silvery ragwort and best of all squirting cucumber!


Walking and making notes at the same time!

We visit Santa Maria Battery, built in 1715, complete with four of its original eight iron guns and constructed to resist an enemy fleet attempting to disembark their troops. On the way back to our boat, some of our party meet licensed bird ringers from Birdlife Malta, a project set up in 1991, to monitor migrating birds. Within a minute, they take vital measurements of an Icterine Warbler, White Throat, Whinchat and Sedge Warbler, put an aluminium ring from Malta on their leg and let them fly off.
Having a breather!
Saint Marino Tower, Comino
Meet up with artists and enjoy seeing their wonderful painting endeavours in an informal exhibition hosted by Roger on the fifth floor. Carol and Ian join us for our last meal together, where highlights of the week are talked about with merriment. As I have to leave at 4am I say a reluctant farewell to my Gozo companions and leave "this Fair land" enriched and blessed, determined to bring my husband back one day.
Goodbye Gozo, you are a special island.


Goodbye beautiful Gozo!

Day Six: Marsalforn and a visit to the local prison!

I-pad image - so clever!

Gozo: Day Six

The skies are blue, but the wind is still fierce, so painters head off to Marsalforn, a quaint harbour on the west coast of Gozo. In the summer it's buzzing with local and overseas holidaymakers. Considered the most popular tourist resort on this island, Masalforn was Gozo's most important port up until the 16th century. Today, a spring day, it is quiet. From a painting point of view, it is a feast of colour and texture with its myriad of boats, which are full of charm and character. Their vibrant palette of primary reds, blues and yellows make wonderful compositions. Each boat has a pair of eyes. This is the ancient Egyptian eye of Horus, a symbol of protection, royal power and good health.  I watch as our painters tuck themselves between boats and dutifully capture the coastal ambience. I admire their valiant efforts to keep going despite losing their palette and water on occasion to a sudden gust. Not as hardy as they, I draw one of two of them in the act of painting from a coffee shop window, holding tightly to my trusted friend Mr Latte.

Sheltering from the wind!
Egyptian eyes of Horus - a symbol of protection

Artist at work

I eventually find a sheltered spot in a tiny bay and do a couple of line drawings before an amazing picnic lunch of gorgeous healthy salads arrives prepared by Jason and his team. The minibus comes early to pick up weather-beaten painters while Ian and Carol kindly drop me in Victoria where I go back to the citadel walls and find the Prison Museum. I am intrigued by the markings on the wall left by the prisoners. Some are hand prints, galleons, some show evidence of games, but the most poignant are tiny line marks as if the inmate counted off the days he was there. I take rubbings of some of the graffiti and am moved by the mere fact I can touch the very etchings made by prisoners - many of whom would have been here for years. Some committed murders; others punished for more minor offences. However they were fed and treated well.

Prisoners graffiti

After I have done my time in the cells, I venture outside but not before being locked in the prison stocks by a member of the museum staff! She does allow be back out and I go off in the rain to find my bus home. I almost get blown into Xlendi bay by the wind and enjoy my cappuccino even more when I get back to the hotel. Roger gives his regular evening demonstrations to painting enthusiasts and we all congregate around our wedding-like table to catch up on the day's events and devour ravioli stuffed with cheese and other delightful cuisine.

Over my shoulder

Day Five: A free day to explore the capital, Victoria

St.Georges Parish Church, Victoria

Gozo: Day Five

It's a free day for both painters and walkers so individuals and couples make their own arrangements. Nine of them embark on a guided tour around Malta, organised by hotel owner Jason. I take my time and have an extra leisurely breakfast, tasting things I wouldn't normally - including a very moist cake embedded with red and green fruits.
Guarding my cappuccino against strong winds!
Catch up with some writing, before hopping on a bus to Gozo's capital, Victoria. The locals still call it Rabat, even though the city changed its name to mark Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee. I struggle to walk in a straight line. The wind is so fierce it almost knocks me off my feet. What strikes me is the amount of balconies in this city - it speaks of communities chatting over streets as cars pass by underneath. I take refuge from the wind in a small street cafe, in St Francis' Square and guard my cappuccino carefully while attempting to sketch an ornate fountain.
On my way to find out more about Victoria's history, I pass a statue of Gorg Pisani (1909-1999) who was a Gozitan poet. Realise I have arrived during siesta time so most of the shops are shut, so plans to buy my children gifts are put on hold. Endeavour to try a local pastry called a cheese qassatat and venture off to find St George's Square where I spot a couple of our party dining. I don't disturb their quiet lunch and have a peep inside the elaborate almost overwhelmingly ornate St George's parish church, built in the 17th century and bestowed the dignity of a basilica (a canonical title granting special privileges) by Pope Pius XII in 1958. I find out more about Gozo's ancient past by visiting the Gozo Museum of Archaeology, containing pottery dating back to the Copper Age and Bronze Age. Intrigued by clay wine containers dating back to 2BC recovered in 1961 from a shipwreck at the mouth of Xlendi bay, where I am currently staying.
The cathedral
Brace the winds again and climb up Castle Hill to reach the citadel, which is what the Greeks referred to as Acropolis - the highest part of the city. The views up here are breath-taking, but having already lost my museum ticket in the wind, I daren't risk taking anything else out of my bag. I need my hands to ensure I'm not blown over the edge. I have never experienced such string winds, which locals say are 44kts or 51MPH.
Walking back down, I spend time reading up about Victoria in a delightful restaurant called Ta'Rikardu, which is almost carved into the city walls and has such character. It acts as a perfect shelter and free Wifi means a quick chat with my lovely husband who is ably looking after the children this week. I walk past the old prison and have a look round Gozo Nature Museum, taking note of the island's butterfly collection and fossil-rich limestone, before buying what looks like a giant pretzel. The shop keeper informs me it is a honey ring, a traditional Maltese food. Manage to get a small gift for each of my daughters before reaching the bus station. Wait at the wrong bus stop, but thankfully one of my party spots me and rushes out of their bus to ensure I get back safely. In the evening I meet up with a handful of ladies from our group and dine at one of the local restaurants looking out on Xlendi bay. Enjoy listening to their accounts of the day which involved fine dining and not a lot of art.

Wine pots discovered in a shipwreck off Xlendi Bay at The Museum of Archeology

View from the citadel

Friday, 26 April 2013

Tales of an Adventurer: John Brough, Founder and Managing director of Authentic Adventures, tells us a few tales!

Tales of an adventurer: John Brough, owner of travel company Authentic Adventures.

Up mountains, across oceans, deep in rural Andalucia….stories of rescue and escape!

This year we are celebrating fifteen years of specialist holidays! Over the course of working together, John often tells us stories of his travels, and we thought you might like to hear them too! We hope you find them entertaining...

Subbetica, Southern Spain... We were there on one of our first ever walking trips back in 1997, walking in a really rural part of Subbetica. Clive Jarman and I were in our element, and came across an extremely rural dwelling, no running water, no electricity, just a goat herder and his goats. Back then, my Spanish was good and we got talking. Turned out he had studied at University in England, Oxford, Cambridge, Durham and Bristol. He had been born into an aristocratic family from Northern Spain and had left his old life behind to live simply on the land. His English was very good, and myself and the group stood in awe as this muddy figure in an old, torn tweed suit stood before us chatting in near perfect English. He mused for a moment and explained, “I lived at No.133 Redland Park Road, Bristol in 1964…” and before he could go on, one of our guests piped up, “Well I own that property!” Wow, what an amazing co-incidence. We chatted for a while longer, and he told us about an early love affair with a young lady who he had dreamed of for years since. He gave us her details, her name, age and where she used to live, and on our return I posted an advert in the Bristol Advertiser to try and find her. Low and behold, she replied and told us she now lived in the Isle of Wight. The pair were re-united there, and still remain friends!

Southern Spain 2000... The year we rescued two goats. The first goat, lets call him Billy, had got stuck trying to jump through a fork in a tree. His fat belly was somehow wedged, and he couldn’t seem to pick up the gravity to push himself forward or back. Lucky for him, we Adventurers happened to be walking along on our journey from Subbetica to Lucena, and I had a bivvy bag with me (part of my outward bound teaching equipment). It doubled up as a stretcher, and with the full backing and pleads of the group, we set off over the hills to the nearest village. We came across the second goat in Lucena who was dying of thirst, lain on the dirt track. He was rescued too. Later the farmer told us that all our efforts would probably be in vain……but that was the year we rescued two lucky goats.

Chris Stewart. Author, raconteur, bon vivant, Alpujarras dweller. He has guided for Authentic Adventures in the past, and was a very popular guy. If you’ve read his ‘Driving over Lemons’ books, you’ll know he’s got a great sense of humour. He is famed for his local knowledge of flowers, butterflies etc. and has stacks of books and encyclopedias piled high in his home. Guests are often caught out when exploring his bookshelves to find the “Penguin book of Erotic Verse”. It has been known to be a popular dinner party piece for each guest to recite a verse from it’s pages! No better ice-breaker.

Singing in Zuheros... We took a singing group here, and along with a Spanish choir, ended up performing for in old peoples home in this tiny village of only 650 people. There were a lot of tears from both performers and guests, such was the emotion of all involved. So memorable.

In 2002, I invited my accountant Chris, out on a trip to Spain. Man walks into a bar, woman serves man, and woman and man move to Wells, Somerset! He fell in love with Carmen, the local waitress and I enjoyed attending a wonderful wedding ceremony and feast in Spanish tradition two years later!

Howling at the Wolves! One of our most memorable trips in the Abruzzo National Park, in the central mountainous region of Italy. Brown bear, lynx, chamois and eagle are just a few of the exciting animals to be found here. Our guide, Stefano Spinetti will take you into the mountains, where you literally sing to the wolves, in the darkness with only the light from the stars, and the wolves howl back to you! We’re thinking of bringing this holiday back – what do you think?

My friend Raoul Gamiz and I go way back. I first met him on a trip to Spain in 1998. His dream was to become an air traffic controller…but it seemed an impossible dream, with a great deal of training and a requirement of fluent English. So I decided to offer him a job in my company in England, and he came and worked for me for a year of so. He lived in a flat in Tetbury, and inevitably learnt English very well. We sent him out to Mallorca as an assistant on a painting trip with Roger Jones, and he ended up living there and getting a job as an air traffic controller many years later! I like to think I had a hand in helping Raol realise his life-long dream.

When we first travelled to Andalucia in the 90’s the Spanish had a strange idea that the tourists wanted Americanised food and all we could find was burger and chips, chips and more chips! We had a hand in revising the menus in the hotels we stayed at, re-introducing the chefs to traditional Spanish recipes. It sounds strange, but using fresh produce from the local area was, at that time, unheard of!

Romania 2012: 40 degrees. I’d been walking for four to five hours and had already drunk two litres of water. I reached an abandoned village, deep in rural Transylvania. Knocking on a seemingly empty house, a Hungarian man appeared…neither speaking the same language as the other, we eventually communicated in bad Spanish. Turned out he had worked there, having left when the Soviets occupied Hungary during the War. He disappeared and returned with a large bottle of home-made lemonade. It was fizzy, and deeply thirst quenching, and like elderflower champagne, it had elderflower heads in it. I don’t know what he had put in it……..but it was the best drink I have ever had!

Zuheros: 2000. We were in a hire car on a research trip to Zuheros. The sun was going down, and we were on a dirt track, not entirely sure where we were going. Having already driven over a large drop in the road, we hit the cliffs. We tried turning the car around and in the process got it stuck. We had to abandon it, at this stage the sky was black with only the moon lighting up the road. We walked for miles to Zuheros, and as we approached, heard the eery sound of barking dogs: not very inviting. We holed up in a bar, asking locals if they could help us. Finally we were rescued by a man called ‘Angel’ who took us back to the car in his Land Rover and pulled us out. We still see Angel most years, and he’s a great friend, and guardian angel.

Italy: 2001. As usual, I find myself in the middle of nowhere (just how I like it) and hot and tired. I’m in rural Tuscany, and there’s not much around when I come across a well….there must be water in the bottom, although it’s not immediately obvious, only from a huge fig tree who’s roots reach deep into the ground. Looking up into its branches I discover enormous dark black figs idly hanging, as if waiting for me. Biting into them through soft purple skin, releases a delicious honey taste and smell: unforgettable.

Subbetica... We are on a painting trip in Southern Spain, sheltering from the sun, sitting against a hot brick wall in the ruins of old farm buildings. Looking around, one of our guests spots a trellis with vines growing up it, and from it grapes that had been sun ripened into raisins. Manna from heaven! We sit and gorge, laughing and telling stories.

Day Four: Discovering the Azure Window - the scenery is beautiful yet fragile.

Gozo: Day Four

Go for an early morning climb to get a clear view of Xlendi, where our hotel is based. Wind is strong so take refuge in cleft of rock. Above me an array of birds mirror my actions. I jump as gun shots are fired above. It's shooting season and for a limited period of the day and for a few weeks only, it is legal to shoot Turtle Dove and Quail. As each shot fires yet more birds congregate in safety. I shan't tell. Join the painters today who after consulting the locals, change schedule and head for Dwerja as winds are so strong. Here the Azure Window, a prominent landmark is the attraction but is eroding fast due to ferocious waves and weather. It's predicted within 20 years it will be a mere sea stack. Waves pound dramatically through and completely fill the arch. I chat with Joan Grima from Gallery Crystal, which sells beautiful Gozo Glass. She grew up with this arch and admits she will be sad to see it disappear. I buy a vase from their Seaweed collection and pendant to remind me of this place. Fragility yet beauty sums up the scenery.

Ian Barber and his wife Carol, who act as the support team for Authentic Adventures, live in Gozo and fill us in about Dwerja's history. Ian points out Fungus Rock, believed to grow fungus containing healing properties. However in the 17th and 18th centuries anyone caught on this rock was put in the galleys for three years. A nearby smaller rock - Crocodile Rock - is so named for obvious reasons with its menacing jaw like form. Intrigued by the number of trace fossils embedded in the stone under foot, I receive an informative marine biology lesson from Roger, indicating his former BBC role as a senior producer on popular natural history documentaries. I attempt to capture the fossil imprints by tracing them in graphite and ink intense pencil before tackling the famous arch, which my fellow painters embrace determinedly despite losing various tools and canvases in the process due to the high winds.
Hilary Archer paints in acrylics

Paul Hewson paints an old doorway

The Azure window - in artists book form

The word Picnic now has a new definition for me. Mine normally consists of sandwiches wrapped in tin foil. Today we are given ceramic plates, proper cutlery and top notch island-grown salads, as we shelter in a fossilised sand dune. Enjoy the warmth of the sun rays and drink in bird sounds and those of squealing youngsters braving the chilly waters in the distance. Pretend to be a fossil detective and take tracings of the indentations left by these once-living creatures. Watch the brave, pull on wet suits and heavy diving equipment and disappear under the water surface, before seeking out members of the painting party who have dispersed in various places of shelters to capture boats, rocks and the general ambience of this idyllic place.

While Hilary Archer tackles the intricacies and colours in the cliff facade in acrylics, I settle for drawing Paul Hewson in graphite and ink as he attempts a watercolour sketch of a weather-worn doorway with strips of peeling turquoise paint. Just check the famous Azure Window is still intact before heading back to the hotel to chat with our ramblers who have been to Marsalforn Valley to taste the wines and cheese at a local farm and vineyard.


Day Three: A day spent walking with guide Annalise discovering the natural beauty of Gozo

Gozo – Day Three

Start morning by feasting on Maltese bread and cheeses for breakfast whilst engaging in more delightful conversation. Authentic Adventures is about people and it is they who make the holidays - united in their common interest. Holidays are perfect for individuals and couples alike.
A painting wife and a walking husband (and vice versa) can experience Gozo from fresh perspectives and reconvene to compare notes. I spend the day with the walkers while the painters leave for Lunzjata Chapel, valley and market gardens to artistically capture the culture.  

 Walkers in Qala

Quick sketch of San Blas Bay
The caper
Annalise, our leader is a walking encyclopaedia, pulling out facts about Gozo's natural history, the fauna, flora and bird life. Today she takes us to East Gozo, where we start walking from the village of Qala (meaning harbour) and embark on steep ascents and descents. It's like trekking through dry jungle in places. I stumble across a banana plant and it immediately takes me back to my adventurous Fiji days. We take care not to tread on skink and rare plants such as Sea Daffodil and Sea Holly. Annalise's eyes light up as she points out a Scarlet pimpernel, Bear's Breeches - an exploding plant which fires out its seeds like bullets as they heat up; an array of butterflies - Painted Lady, Swallow Tail; Bugloss, a magical plant nicknamed a Christmas Tree by the Maltese for obvious reasons and majestic birds of prey circling overhead. Conversation suddenly stops as she or one of the group spots a Marsh-harrier, Honey Buzzard, Kestrel and Malta’s national bird the Blue Rock Thrush.

We find ourselves in the Land of the Boulders, dwarfed by dramatic, magnificent limestone rock. In contrast nature's tiny creatures take refuge in this terrain. It takes a trained eye to spot them. I come away from this walk enriched and in awe of the beauty in the minute things such as tiny star-like Azure Stonecrop, white and pink rock roses, By-the-wind-sailor Jellyfish which resembled tiny flip flops, Sea Grass and Bladder Campion, a funny-looking pod like flower.

Azure stonecrop

I’m particularly drawn to the meticulously manicured terracing and agricultural gardens. All kinds of fruits are spotted, particularly lemon and orange trees which throw refreshing splashes of vivid colour on the essentially rustic canvas. Almonds, Carobs and Capers are also pointed out; the latter considered by Annalise as the “taste of summer,” marking the start of a warmer season.

Our three refreshment stops are welcome breaks on small secluded beaches, where the sound of water lapping against rock is soothing. I manage to do two small pencil sketches to help assist my visual memory. It makes me stop and look in a similar way as the walkers do on these botanical walks. I learn a valuable lesson today. Slowing down and walking at a lower gear makes you see more and I come away all the better for uplifting conversation with fellow trekkers and knowing a little bit more about Gozo’s unique natural secrets.

Tracy hiding beneath a banana tree!

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Day Two: Tracy Spiers, Cotswold Life journalist enjoys learning new painting techniques on holiday in Gozo

Study with soluble graphite

Gozo day two, by Tracy Spiers

Spend day with the painters, getting to know them and the peaceful surroundings around Xlendi, immediately around hotel area. Authentic Adventures enable guests to have not only a visual experience, but a cultural and culinary one too. It’s quite amazing what comes out of Hotel San Andrea’s kitchen. Staff are calm and nothing is too much trouble. Catering for a large number such as ours must have its challenges, but food is excellently presented and delicious. While the walking group don on boots and head off with their Maltese leader Annalise Falzon, I join the artistic tribe and benefit from watercolour and pen and wash demonstrations from Roger.

Roger Jones demonstrating pen and wash
I’m introduced to soluble graphite pencil and away I go. While others capture the beauty of the place, I’m drawn to the traces and palimpsest on the walls, crumbling buildings and layers of peeling paint and historic building fabric. What narratives and secrets do they hold, who has lived here and enjoyed this place I am now in.

Local boy six-year-old Giuseppe keeps me company with his animated conversation while I attempt to paint and draw, accompanied by my faithful friend Mr. Latte. Like my twins Giuseppe too likes chicken nuggets and pizza. His mother works nearby and he pops home to get his own set of paints to make his own marks.

Roger Jones demonstrating to the group
Texture on wall study, by Tracy Spiers
Painting has its own language. The brush, depending on how it’s used can be used to describe, inform and highlight in the way verbs and adjectives do. The key is to build up your own vocabulary. I enjoy chatting to fellow artists just as much as the act of painting itself. Each individual here has a story to tell and add their own flavour to the holiday as well as art work. A leisurely healthy lunch on the terrace of Hotel San Andrea complete with Gozo’s amazingly mouth-watering strawberries sets off the afternoon. Later run along the coast, up a steep hill and coastal path to reach the Xlendi Tower, the oldest one in Gozo, built in 1650 to prevent enemy fleets invading the bay. Up here get a clear view of this beautiful town and sheer magnificence of steep rock faces; below me salt pans and pure white rock. Imitate land artist Richard Long by leaving my trace by drawing with a stick in the white dust. Get refreshed by devouring Amaretto icecream with Sheila, a fellow painter, before embarking on more line drawings. Later enjoy catching up with walkers who are refreshed yet exhausted after a long day trekking in the fresh air. Group is relaxed as folk get to know each other better. Many of us sample Braggioli, or “beef olives” (although there’s not one olive in sight) - the most famous example of Maltese cuisine.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Authentic Adventures are launching cookery holidays in 2014!

We've been thinking about introducing cookery holidays into our programme for a long time, and we've decided that 2014 is going to be the year!
As we speak, Hamish Scott-Brown, our photographer tutor, is in Puglia on a reccy for both photography and cookery locations. He has discovered a two hundred year old trulli, traditional stone building specific to the region, in which we can learn to cook with 'Mama'. Perfect for keeping your foodstuffs cold inside the shaded, dark and cool stone building.
Here are some of the images he has sent to us......and if that doesn't make you want to join us; nothing will!

To launch our new venture, we've teamed up with local celebrity chefs The Fabulous Baker Brothers, who have just opened a new cookery school in Gloucestershire, near our offices. They have offered our competition winners a days cookery course (Chocolate Workshop!) and a signed copy of their brand new cookbook! We hope this entices you to enter our competition on Facebook and join up to our cookery holiday mailing list - we will be able to keep you up to date with our new discoveries, trips and finds - and of course, our long awaited Cookery Holidays 2014!

We can't wait.....


To mark our 15th anniversary, we have sent Cotswold Life journalist and artist Tracy Spiers on a painting holiday to Gozo, Malta!

Quick ten minute sketch: view from hotel balcony
In our bid to initiate some press for our 15th anniversary year, I was delighted to be put in touch with Tracy Spiers, not only a talented freelance journalist working for Cotswold Life, but also an accomplished and practising artist in her own right! How perfect then, that we send her on a painting holiday to Gozo, a wonderful and sunny island a short ferry ride from Malta's mainland.

Tracy hasn't been 'adventuring' for twenty years, since her first solo adventure spending seven months living in a bure - a small mud hut - in Fiji. Two decades later, she is embarking on a different kind of adventure with Authentic Adventures, this time leaving a husband and five children behind! We feel that she is more than deserving....and particularly as the trip is being led by our Senior Tutor, Roger Jones, who is reassuring in a kind, fatherly way and instantly puts Tracy at her ease, when they meet at Gatwick.

Over the course of her trip, Tracy has promised to send a daily diary of her findings, through pencil, paint and words. Follow her experiences right here on our blog and via Facebook. Sitting in the office here in Stroud, I feel totally inspired and delighted by her daily images and copy, and I think you will too!

Day One:


Going to Gozo

It's greener, more traditional, picturesque and quaint than it's big sister Malta and a fabulous place for artists, walkers and anyone who just needs to be uplifted, inspired and refreshed. Gozo – thought to derive from the latin “gaudium,” meaning gladness or delight – is indeed a joyful place so it's not surprising why visitors are spellbound by its special magic. For 15 years Authentic Adventures has been running holidays, specially geared for painters and ramblers, and more recently photographers and singers. To mark the company’s anniversary, Cotswold Life writer and artist Tracy Spiers is currently visiting this idyllic island and records her findings through pencil, paint and words.

Realise it’s exactly 20 years to the day, I flew home from my first solo adventure abroad, having spent seven months living in a bure - a small mud hut - in Fiji.  Two decades later I spread my wings again; this time as a wife and mother of five. I feel more nervous and apprehensive than at 23. Leaving my brood behind is tough yet award-winning artist and Authentic Adventure’s Senior Tutor Roger Jones, who leads this painting trip, is quick to reassure me in his kind fatherly way – as he does all his guests. So I allow the intrepid explorer within to step forward. I did manage to get locked in my parent’s garage yesterday however and envisaged spending the week cushioned between rakes and mum’s Mini Cooper. So to go anywhere today is a bonus; to go to Gozo even better.
Roger’s job requires stamina, patience and forward-thinking. Twenty-four people – half are painters, half are walkers - fly in to Gatwick from a range of towns, cities and even countries. It reminds me of geese flying into the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at Slimbridge from across the globe. Arrival and departure times are all different. It’s no mean feat organising minibus pick-ups and ferry rides to get everyone across the water to delightful family-run Hotel San Andrea, owned by Jason Galea and wife Sharon but it all works seamlessly thanks to careful planning.
First meal for weary travellers
Defrost car before leaving Stroud early this morning so to get off plane and feel warmth is heaven. Equivalent in size to the Isle of Wight, Malta’s palette is a rich patchwork of cream-coloured buildings, rustic hues of olive greens, burnt umber and iron-rich soils with smatterings of vibrant red poppies. Terrain is agriculturally rural and rugged and a dream for market gardening. It is strawberry season and we get chance to taste the fruits later.
En route to catch ferry, get chance to see Popeye’s Village, an intriguing mix of authentic and ramshackle wooden buildings, built as a film set for the 1980 live-action musical feature film Popeye, starring Robin Williams. It took a 165-strong construction crew seven months to build what is now a theme park. 
Popeyes village
Across the water, Gozo, Malta’s little sister has an independence and individuality about it with different traditions, topography and milestones. According to Edward Lear, the coastal landscape of Gozo is "pomskizillious and gromphiberous." By that I think he means remarkably stimulating with its tiny creeks, turquoise bays, red sand beaches and majestic high cliff faces. Our hotel overlooks a secluded bay. The sound of water lapping on beach follows us into the dining room and sooths tired travellers. I manage a quick sketch of the secluded bay from the fifth floor balcony and enjoy a meal with the wonderful eclectic mix of walkers and artists, buzzing with enthusiasm and delightful banter.