Gozo is approximately one third the size of the island of Malta and can be reached by means of a twenty minute ferry ride from a small harbour situated at the northern tip of Malta. If you are staying in Gozo your hotel or tour operator will normally arrange a transfer but, if you want to splash out, you can travel by helicopter from the airport at Luqa, to an airstrip on Gozo.
If you are staying on Malta but fancy seeing what Gozo has to offer, a day trip is entirely feasible; if you are on a package holiday your resort rep will no doubt offer a trip, but if you are traveling independently you’ll find no end of companies offering an assortment of trips. Some companies offer half day, day long and also evening tours so it’s worth taking a look at what’s available before buying tickets.
Gozo is very different from Malta. It’s much less built up, it’s much greener and it’s more traditional. Development has been strictly controlled and, although there are some hotels, holiday makers are more likely to stay in rented villas or farmhouses, or else in small apartments or rooms above bars and shops in the small settlements around a couple of the bays. Tourists and locals alike agree that Gozo also has the better beaches.
Looking at the towns in Gozo, you can see evidence of Malta’s chequered history as each subsequent occupier has left its mark. Older houses have distinctive rounded arches over the doorways that date from the Normans, while the piazzas of the capital, Victoria have an Italian feel about them. The main Gozitan industries are fishing and farming and life has a rather slow pace; the traditional art of lace making still continues and the quality of the items produced is high. Art glass is another of Gozo’s notable wares although it’s possible to buy such items from many shops on Malta too.
The town around the harbour at Mgarr is small but very pretty; the houses cling to the hillside, looking as if they could tumble down at any moment. If you arrive early for your return ferry to Malta, you might visit one of the charming little bars here, and watch the colourful luzzus, the traditional painted fishing boats of Malta, bobbing in the water. The boats are painted red, yellow and blue and at the front each one is decorated with an “eye” meant to represent the god Osiris, a good luck charm.
The manmade landscape of Gozo says much about the island’s history; settlements tend to be built on the higher ground, a legacy of the times when the island has fallen prey to invaders, so that enemy ships could be seen approaching. Both Malta and Gozo are teeming with impressive churches, many of which are built on high ground and can be seen from miles away. The skyline of Gozo is peppered with towers and domes.
Among them,the Rotunda Church in the village of Xewkija is an attractive church which is all the more notable for the fact that it was built by local people who raised the money for the project themselves. Although it is relatively new (it was consecrated in 1978, the church was actually built around a much older church; it’s possible to see the remains of the older church inside the newer one. While the interior of the church, especially its vast dome, is quite wonderful, the best thing about this church is going up onto the roof, from where you can take in dramatic views across the whole island and out towards Malta.
The “Azure Window” is one of Gozo’s most visited natural sights; over the centuries, the waves have crashed into the high outcrop and carved out a “window”. Officially, you aren’t meant to walk on top of the cliff, but you’ll see from my photographs that there are plenty of people willing to ignore that advice. Beside the Azure Window, “Fungus Rock” is so called because of a special fungus that grows on it. This particular fungus was prized because it had medicinal properties and so the Knights of St. John guarded the island fiercely in order to protect the rock that was so important to them.
Victoria, the capital, is also known as Rabat, a name that was often given to capital cities by the Arabs. It’s a handsome city that is the cultural and commercial centre of Gozo. Its chief attraction is the imposing citadel which contains not only Victoria’s stunning cathedral, but also a number of interesting museums and a handful of excellent souvenir shops selling handmade items. Even if you don’t visit any of the museums, it’s worth a walk through the citadel and onto the walls from where there are more brilliant views to be had. There’s a strong feeling of North Africa as you walk through the little lanes of the citadel, as the maze of walled in streets feels very much like a medina (but without the constant calls from Maghreb traders!).
Every year each village and town celebrates its own patron saint with a parade, not just through that town but often through neighbouring villages, and the event usually culminates with a firework display. Other festivals are celebrated throughout the island but festivities may not take place on the same day, to allow people to attend multiple events around the island. Gozo is a great place to see these festivals in action because the Gozitans have a tendency to hold onto the old traditions more than the people living on Malta.
Foodies should head to Jubilee Foods; in Victoria the company has a pub/restaurant and a food store but there are also branches on Malta in Sliema and Valletta. They sell traditional Maltese specialities and many of the items are suitable for taking home, even if you are traveling with hand luggage only. If you eat at the restaurant and want to take something home to try again, you’ll find that most items are on sale at the shop.
Gozo is a great place for walkers with late spring and late summer being the best times for such a holiday as the temperatures do climb high in the middle of summer. Gozo is infinitely less commercial than Malta and, for that reason, may not necessarily appeal to families. There are few children-focused attractions and the beaches are not really child friendly either. If you are looking for hotels with children’s entertainment, you’d do better to look at resorts in Malta. However, for those looking for a more relaxed, quieter destination with plenty of traditional and the allure of wonderful natural scenery, Gozo makes an excellent holiday choice.