Gozo: The magic of Calypso's Isle

The charm of Gozo is apparent the moment you arrive on the island. Greener, more rural and just one third the size of Malta, Gozo moves to a strikingly different, more leisurely, rhythm than its sister island.

Gozo is steeped in myth. According to legend, this was Homer’s isle of Ogygia, where the nymph Calypso held the Greek hero Odysseus as her companion, in a cave, for seven years. Today though, it seems that visitors willingly surrender themselves to Calypso’s charms, as they admire the glimmering red sand of Ramla Bay from the vantage point at the nymph’s erstwhile home.

Whatever the Greek legend, the Romans did leave their mark on Gozo. The ancient Citadel in Victoria was the site of a Roman temple. Before the Romans, the steep, flat-topped hill was home to various ancient civilisations. Among these were the prehistoric stone builders who left the awe inspiring temple of Ggantija, believed to be the world’s oldest free-standing structure, and today a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

To really appreciate Gozo’s unique character, you should be prepared to stray from the beaten tourist track and explore its villages, its rugged landscape and spectacular coastline. Indeed, Gozo boasts some of the most picturesque scenery of all the Maltese islands. There’s always something to discover on Calypso’s Isle, whatever the season.

For swimming, you can choose between secluded rocky inlets or popular bays and beaches. Snorkelling and diving can also prove to be an exhilarating experience. The sea around the island is warm and clear, and there are dive sites to suit all tastes and levels. Gozo in its entirety is excellent walking country and the island is criss-crossed by tracks and lanes. The possibilities are endless. However, make sure not to miss out on a visit to the Azure Window and the Inland Sea at Dwejra, the cliffs of Ta` Cenc, picturesque Xlendi Bay, and the majestic sanctuary of the Ta` Pinu Basilica.

All roads in Gozo lead to Victoria, or Rabat, the ancient and traditional name by which the locals still call it. Approaching Victoria, you will see its Citadel rising steeply above the surrounding countryside. A visit to this historic, fortified part of Gozo’s capital is a must, as the impressive bastions command a superb view of the island. For centuries the Citadel served as a sanctuary from attack by pirates, saracens and Ottoman invaders. At several times in Gozo’s history its population was taken into slavery by these raiders. When the threat subsided after the Great Siege, a prosperous town developed below the Citadel.

Victoria is not just the geographic heart of Gozo, it is also the centre of everyday activity. It manages to combine the bustle of its market and shops with a relaxed atmosphere. It is a great place to watch the islanders go about their day, especially when the main market square, it- Tokk, comes to life. Browse around Victoria’s market and narrow winding streets and you’ll find everything from delicious fresh produce, cheeses and wines to antiques, crafts, fishing nets and knitwear. The town also has a thriving cultural life all its own, with some surprising attractions ranging from opera to horse races in the main street on festa day.

A visit to Gozo will also give you the opportunity to take back home some quality souvenirs. Crafts have undergone a revival here in recent years, not solely because they make interesting souvenirs but also because of their cultural significance. Some crafts, such as knitwear, basket-making and lace, have a long history. In Gozo, there are two main centres where you can browse and buy crafts: the Crafts Centre in Victoria (in the Citadel) and the Ta’ Dbiegi Crafts Village, at San Lawrenz. You can also find local crafts in souvenir shops across the island.

Getting to Gozo is easy. A regular ferry service carries passengers and cars between the two islands on a trip that takes about 30 minutes. Moreover, a regular helicopter service links Malta International Airport with the heliport in Xewkija, Gozo. The flight takes around 15 minutes. However you decide to reach Gozo, a visit to this tranquil haven is guaranteed to leave you with indelible memories of a land where time appears to have stood still, and where relaxation comes incredibly easy.

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