Gozo is one of the three islands of the Maltese archipelago situated in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, just 95km south of Sicily. It is smaller, more remote and less built-up than its sister island Malta, but it is a popular destination in its own right, particularly for more mature British and German couples and those who wish to immerse themselves in the culture of the place. With its pretty countrysides, beautiful sunsets, spectacular coastlines and a high concentration of churches, alongside historic fortifications and megalithic temples it makes a good excursion from Malta and an even better destination for a peaceful and relaxing short break.
Also called Rabat by the locals, is the island’s capital city. Here lies the ancient Citadel, the island’s fortress which was used as a safe haven when the island was frequently raided and people were taken by pirates and sold into slavery in the 15th and 16th centuries.
There are also a number of small villages on the island:
- Ix-Xatt tal-Imgarr – Not to be confused with Mgarr, Malta, this is where the Gozo ferry docks. The areas has plenty of seaside restaurants specialising in fish and seafood.
- Ghajnsielem – A sleepy village that is on the hill above Mgarr which is mostly residential and boasts a healthy village life.
- Xaghra – where the Ġgantija Temples, Ninu’s Caves, a Toy Museum, the Calypso Caves and Ramla Bay are located.
- Qala – where ‘Ġebla l-Wieqfa’, a prehistoric dolmen is located. Other interesting things to do in Qala besides immersing oneself in the colourful village nightlife, are to visit Ħondoq Bay, go to the panoramic Belvedere which offers a breathtaking view of Malta & Comino and walk to the small local fortress which is presently being restored.
Nadur – the largest village in Gozo. Situated on one of the island’s highest points, it boasts two Watch Towers and a Maritime museum, as well as the beautiful sandy San Blas beach and Dahlet Qorrot beach.
Xewkija – featuring an impressive large rotunda church, the Mgarr ix-Xini watch tower and the beautiful Mgarr ix-Xini beach.
- Għarb and Għasri are 2 small villages in the western part of Gozo between which lies the ‘Ta` Pinu’ basilica, a Marian shrine built on the spot where on 22nd June 1883 the Virgin Mary was heard by Karmela Grima calling for prayers.
- San Lawrenz – where ‘Dwejra’, the Azure Window, the Blue Hole, the Inland Sea and the Fungus Rock are located.
Some settlements are used primarily as summer residences and will be mostly deserted during the winter months are:
- Marsalforn – A popular seaside resort north west coast of Gozo. The famous Xwejni salt pans are located here as well as the Qbajjar watch tower, as well as numerous bars and restaurants.
- Xlendi – Another popular seaside resort located south west of Gozo. The beach here is small but enclosed between high spectacular cliffs which make Xlendi one of the best spots in Gozo. Xlendi has its own watch tower as well as a club and some bars and restaurants.
Ramla il-Ħamra is arguably Malta’s (Gozo’s) finest beach. The name means red sands, referring to the beautiful reddish colour of the sand.
The bay is completely spared from development, and thus the beach remains relatively uncrowded. This site also claims to be where Calypso’s cave is, the cave referred to in Homer’s Odyssey.
One sometimes gets the sense that Gozo is how Malta could have been in years gone by. With the exceptions of Marsalforn and Xlendi, it has been largely spared from over development, the traditional way of life has been largely preserved, and the land has been maintained better, thus giving a more fertile ground. Buildings and houses in Gozo are mainly constructed with natural materials, as opposed to many of the concrete and breeze-block constructions on the mainland.
Gozo is at its best from October to May. The average temperature in this period is around 18C, ideal for rambling around the island. While exploring the island you will see a wide variety of amazing views due to a large number of valleys, hills and small beaches. There is an abundance of abandoned hidden ancient temples and shrines in the countryside. If you are pressed for time and do not have much time to explore, but also want to see the best hidden places, it is best to hire or join a guide that specializes in country walks. Although Gozo is small, once you go to the countryside you will feel that you are alone on the island since you can walk for hours without meeting anybody. During the winter storms, Gozo’s seaside is often totally deserted but spectacular with the big waves exploding on big boulders and lofty cliffs.
Gozo‘s history is intimately linked to Malta. It shares its megalithic culture, and with the Ggantija temples, it is officially home of the oldest structure on the planet. Interestingly, Gozo up until the end of medieval times was inhabited in a manner the same as Malta, with Mġarr and Victoria/Rabat being to Gozo what Vittoriosa and Mdina are to Malta: the main port and the main settlement consisting of a citadel and surrounding suburbs. The inhabitants of Gozo were, in medieval times, required by law to return to the Citadella each evening to spend the night there to prevent corsairs from abducting them. These measures were proven to be necessary when, in 1551, the Turks tried their first invasion of Malta. When they failed, they attacked Gozo and took the entire population off in ships to sell them into slavery.
- If you happen to be in Gozo during your visit, then the rotunda church in the village of Xewkija is a wonderful spot to visit. The church was built in honor of St. John the Baptist (each village has a saint that they honor) and is the largest in Gozo.
- Among the numerous sites and attractions worth seeing which are present in the citadel, is a section of the bastions which consists of a gunpowder Magazine, a lower battery, three silos and some air-shelters. The former three were added in the early 17th century, after the disastrous siege of Gozo by Turkish pirates in 1551. Graffiti on the walls are evidence of the French occupation of Gozo as well. During the English occupation, the grain silos were modified into stores for water. Some air raid shelters were dug by Gozitan families. These sites are managed by Wirt Għawdex – an environmental non-governmental organization.
- Wirt Għawdex organisation also manages Mġarr ix-Xini tower, one of the coastal towers built by the Knights in Gozo. Entrance to the tower can be arranged upon appointment.
- At present, one can also view the Gozo Boat, known as id-Dgħajsa tal-Latini, which has been restored by the Gozo Channel Company and is now managed by Wirt Għawdex Organization. This boat is now exhibited to the public at Mġarr Harbour, Gozo’s main harbour. This boat was used to ferry Gozitans and Maltese between the Islands.
- The Azure Window, the Inland Sea and the the Blue Hole all make going to the spectacular west coast of Gozo very worthwhile. The Azure Window is a cliff outcropping with a hole in the middle. The Inland Sea is a typically Maltese name in that it slightly exaggerates its size (Mdina is referred to as a city with its 400 inhabitants). It’s actually a small lake connected to the sea by a tunnel about 100 meters long through the cliffs. In contrast to Xlendi and Marsalforn this place has been spared from development and makes an unusual and picturesque place to swim. The beach surrounding the lake is unfortunately made of pebbles but there are a few piers and terraces in front of the fishermen’s boathouses one can also use. The Blue Hole is not a true blue hole in the geological sense but still makes an amazing spot to dive, having won awards as one of the most beautiful diving spots of Europe.
- Ta’ Pinu Basilica, situated in open countryside is an important place of pilgrimage as miracles are claimed to have occurred here. The interior of the Basicila is rich in decoration. One can enjoy views of open countryside from outside the church.