Gozo is a lesser-known destination in Malta and is the second largest island in the archipelago. With a population of just 37,000 or so people, yet covering an area of 67 km2 (26 square miles), Gozo is a much quieter place to be. In fact, many people refer to Gozo as “what Malta used to be like”, a rural area where time just seems to be passing slower than most places.
Sitting on the dock of the bay, watching the Gozo ferry as it moves away is strangely comforting. As you board the vessel you feel like you’ve shed an enormous weight off your shoulders, leaving the stress of everyday behind you. Gozo is magical, and the magic starts with the crossing.
There’s no direct road connection to Gozo, so you’ll need to catch the Gozo ferry (which transports both foot passengers as well as vehicles) to make the crossing. The ferry departs from Ċirkewwa (at the Northern most tip of main island Malta) at frequent intervals, with trips that continue even throughout the night.
If you’re considering making Gozo your main holiday destination, there is a direct bus connection (route X1) that take you right up to Ċirkewwa from the airport. Right from outside the arrivals terminal you can find the bus terminus.
Route X1 usually departs every 45 minutes. There’s no night service though, so the earliest trip departs at around 5am, while the last bus leaves the terminal at 22:50h. Taking potential traffic into account, it’s not exactly a short trip. If you’re unlucky it could take up to 1.5h. The good news is the price: €2 per person for a single trip.
Alternatively, a taxi ride will set you back €30-35. Depending on the time of day it’s usually a 45 min trip.
Once on board the Gozo ferry, head up to the topmost deck to enjoy some exquisite views of the islands. Mid-way between Malta and Gozo, if you look toward your right, you will catch a glimpse of Comino – a tiny island with one of the most sought after swimming zones of the archipelago – the Blue Lagoon.
The tower on top of the cliff stands out, and if like me you’re a movie buff you’ll recognise it as the prison where the count of Montecristo was kept in the 2002 version of Alexandre Dumas novel.
Once you leave Comino behind, Ta’ Ċenċ Cliffs loom into view, as the ferry heads for Mġarr Harbour. If you’re lucky enough, you might even spot dolphins following the trail left by the vessel.
The ferry docks and lowers the ramps to set the vehicles in its belly free. At the same time, foot passengers disembark via the recently built passenger terminal. Many Maltese will cross just to stop at one of the cosy restaurants in the harbour, while others continue their journey inland.
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Although tiny, Gozo has a lot to offer to the visiting tourist:
All roads in Gozo lead to the Citadel in Rabat (also known as Victoria) – a beautiful fortified city that has witnessed many historic moments and stood the test of time in the most handsome way. It’ s impossible to determine when or who originally built this fortress, but research has proven that settlements have been present on the same hill since the Neolithic period.
Archaeologists are certain that the site was fortified during the Bronze Age, around 1500 BC. The Phoenicians and the Romans added their share of temples and buildings. The Aragonese period saw the Citadel take the shape we know today, with improvements carried out by the order of the Knights between 1599 and 1603 to withstand and provide shelter against Ottoman incursions.
For this reason, until 1637, the entire population of Gozo was required by law to spend the night within the Citadel for their own safety.
The view from the bastions is not simply breathtaking – it is incomparable to any other on the islands. Within its walls, the Citadel holds many precious gems, such as the little old graffiti ridden-prison where, in 1538, a young La Vallette was held for four months after attacking another man. There are also museums and old medieval houses open to the public, as well as a couple of exquisite restaurants specialising in traditional Gozitan cuisine.
Outside the Citadel, you’ll find the busiest city on the island – Rabat. Also known as Victoria, it is the capital city of Gozo and the only place on the tiny island where you can find a concentration of shops. Buying pastizzi and eating them in the plaza called ‘It-Tokk’ is a tradition many locals follow religiously. And you should try it too.
Gozo is not shy of its fervent Christian roots, with cathedrals, churches and chapels around every corner. Some of these Christian temples are fine examples of architecture, ranging from seventeenth-century baroque to twentieth-century neoclassical. Although all of them are beautiful in construction and in décor, three of these are surely worth mentioning (and visiting):
From Rabat, it is easy to reach all the other towns and small villages. Head West towards the setting sun to visit Għarb – the most western village on the archipelago. From this village, you can gain access to Dwejra and the location once known for the Azure Window – a natural rock formation which sadly collapsed into the sea in March 2017.
From the little natural harbour in Dwejra you can easily hire a boat trip on a little traditional Gozo boat called luzzu, to go out and explore the Gozitan coast from the water.
If you don’t fancy the water trip, you can walk around the area and visit the Dwejra Tower, one of a number of watchtowers built by the Knights around the coast of Malta and Gozo. From these towers, two sentinels kept watchful eyes on the horizon to alert the cities against Turkish invasions. The tower in Dwejra is particularly impressive because it has been impeccably restored in recent years.
Prehistoric Gozo has some interesting offerings to the curious traveller. The Gozo Museum of Archeology is a perfect place to start, since it offers a glimpse of all the important settlements that lived in Gozo from the early Neolithic up to the arrival of the Knights of St John. The museum itself resides within a beautiful 17th-century townhouse within the Citadel.
A visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Ġgantija temples is a must if you want to see how the anonymous Neolithic inhabitants of the islands planned and built shrines thousands of years before Stone Henge and the great pyramid of Giza were even conceived.
The Ġgantija temples recently gained a refurbished visitor center and it’s a great place to get a glimpse of the past with videos, information and guided tours around the small complex. On the same hill, the Xagħra Circle echoes the wonders of the Hypogeum in Ħal Salflieni, Malta. This was a burial site that dates back to 4,000 BC.
Other sites worth a visit include:
Taking a day tour or excursion around Gozo can be a great way to explore the highlights that Gozo has to offer if you’re not actually staying there (and then be tempted to visit again for a proper stay 😉). These are a few options to consider:
If you’d like to get a taste of a few local flavours, with fresh produce including oil, tomato paste, cheese, a variety of wines from locally grown grapes and more, pay a visit to Ta’ Mena Estate, on the winding road between Victoria and Marsalforn. They organise guided tours and food tasting sessions, which need to be booked in advance. You can find more details at http://tamena-gozo.com/agritourism/.
The sea around the little island is as beautiful as it looks and although there aren’t a lot of sandy beaches in Gozo, there are a few beautiful ones around. Ramla l-Ħamra and San Blas Bay (on the Northern coastline) are perhaps the most accessible and the most popular among swimmers.
Marsalforn (North) also has a small sandy beach, although usually quite busy and probably not the prettiest of all. Ħondoq ir-Rummien (South East) is far more beautiful, but its sandy beach is pretty small and fills up easily.
Finally, Dahlet Qorrot Bay has a small sandy beach that is much more secluded and only really the locals know of. Highly recommended for an early morning swim. Peaceful, quiet, clean – a stunning little bay.
Have a look at the best beaches in Gozo for more info!
However, there are plenty of other places that although harder to access, provide a lasting impression on visitors. Imġarr ix-Xini, for example, is a secluded pebbled beach at the end of a long gorge and is a good spot for both swimming and diving. The movie By the Sea, starring Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt was partially filmed at Mġarr ix-Xini in 2014.
Ix-Xatt l-Aħmar is another undiscovered spot ideal for swimming and diving. Divers should take note – the crystal clear waters hide the wreck of an old ferryboat called ‘Ix-Xlendi’ which lies just beyond the bay.
The area of Dwejra is known for its small bay (“Inland sea”) surrounded by tall cliffs (a nice spot for swimming and snorkelling in a unique location) and was the site where the Azure Window (a naturally formed arch on the rocky coastline) once stood.
As far as accommodation is concerned, there are quite a few options to choose from. In terms of variety, Gozo offers a number of accommodation types that can make it hard to decide which is best:
One cannot simply walk into Gozo – although the island is relatively small, it still would take you days to discover its hidden beauties on foot.
If you have hired a car in Malta, you can cross over to Gozo with it using the ferry at an additional fee. Compared to Malta, driving in Gozo is easier and much more relaxed. There’s hardly any traffic, except perhaps in and around Rabat at times.
If you crossed without a car, then you have some options as well:
The Gozo ferry terminal at Ċirkewwa in Malta is about 1 (car/taxi) to 1.5 (bus) hours away from Malta International Airport. The ferry crossing to Gozo itself takes roughly 20 minutes.
If you’re looking for a quiet holiday, yes, Gozo will be a better fit. If you’re looking to explore the country and visit points of interest, you’re probably better off in Malta and paying Gozo a visit as part of your exploration.
As the Maltese often say, Gozo is what Malta used to be: Quiet, rural and not nearly as developed as its much bigger sister island. Just because it’s quiet doesn’t mean it’s not worth considering as your main holiday destination. There’s plenty to do and see and the island has a few beautiful points of interest and sandy beaches to help recharge your batteries.
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