6 Reasons Not To Miss Gozo

Gillian Thornton is captivated by Gozo, legendary island of Calypso and perfect for a relaxing Mediterranean break.

More than just a mini-Malta

Some 90km south of Sicily, Gozo is part of the Maltese archipelago in the central Mediterranean, lying north-west of the largest island, Malta, and the smallest, Comino. One-third the size of Malta, Gozo has much in common with its larger neighbour, but still has a personality all its own. 

Greener than Malta, Gozo measures just 14km by 7 at its widest point, the rocky coast punctuated by small beaches that rarely become crowded. Greek poet Homer chose Ramla Bay on the island’s north coast to site the cave where the sea nymph Calypso keeps Odysseus for seven years after his shipwreck.   Today, the red sands of Ramla and the neighbouring small resort of Marsalforn are the most popular beaches for swimming, but visitors with a hire car can access secluded bays and creeks all around the island. 

A twin-centre destination

Air Malta operate flights to Malta International Airport from London-Heathrow and London-Gatwick, but the island is served by a wide range of international airlines. I’ve long had a soft spot for the Maltese capital Valletta, perched on a lofty peninsula and built in grand Baroque style by the Knights of St John in the 16th century. So if you’ve never looked over the Grand Harbour from Upper Barakka Gardens or blinked at the gilded bling of St John’s Co-Cathedral with its immense painting by Caravaggio – the only one signed by the artist – I’d recommend combining buzzing Valletta and tranquil Gozo in one holiday.

Fast ferries operate from Valletta’s Grand Harbour to Gozo – a 40-minute journey to Mgarr with glorious views all the way (www.gozofastferry.com). Or you can head to Cirkewwa on Malta’s northern tip for the 25-minute ferry journey across the 5km strait (www.gozochannel.com).

Chill-out guaranteed

Malta’s traffic can be frustrating at times especially in rush hour, but going Gozo means stepping down a gear. Fewer than 32,000 people live here permanently, so driving is a generally tranquil experience along quiet roads. 

Exploring Goza by Yippee Tuk Tuk

A novel way to explore is on a chauffeur-driven excursion by Tuk Tuk that also includes neighbouring Comino (75 euros for the day), or a day-long island adventure by quad bike behind an expert lead driver (www.yippeemalta.com). Hire a bike to explore coast and countryside at your own pace or, for the ultimate in slow tourism, simply strike out on foot.  Visit www.visitmalta.com for seven downloadable walking routes on Gozo,

Heritage sites

Gozo’s No 1 visitor attraction is the Ggantija Temples complex in the village of Xaghra. Older than Stonehenge, the Pyramids and Carnac’s standing stones, these twin Megalithic monuments dedicated to the goddess of fertility date back more than 5500 years. Discover their story at the visitor centre before wandering amongst the ancient stones of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. And if hunger beckons, maybe treat yourself to a meal in Xaghra at Ta Frenc, Gozo’s first Michelin-listed restaurant (www.tafrenc.mt).

Church spires and domes rise out of rural communities in every direction. But Ta’Pinu Basilica stands in open countryside, consecrated in 1932 as a place of pilgrimage after a vision of the Virgin was witnessed at a chapel on the same site. Whatever your religious beliefs, or lack of them, it’s impossible not to be moved by the messages of thanks for pilgrims’ own miracles, often accompanied by photographs and artefacts celebrating their good fortune.

Walk the walls of Victoria

In the centre of the island, safely out of reach of marauding pirates and would-be invaders, Gozo’s chief town is Victoria. At least it is now. Originally called Rabat, Victoria was renamed by the British governors of Malta to honour the queen’s Golden Jubilee in 1882, but you’ll still hear it called by both names. 

At Victoria’s heart stands Cittadella, a hilltop citadel that has existed in one form or another since the Bronze Age and continued to be used for shelter under the Knights of St John in the 16th century. Few people now live inside the walls, but the Cathedral square is a stunner and the restored ramparts of honey-coloured stone offer high-level views to every coast. Then wander down through the narrow streets outside the ramparts to soak up the atmosphere from a café table.  

Gillian on the ramparts at Cittadella

Adventures in, on and under water

Much though I enjoy swimming, I’ve never had the nerve to try deep sea diving which is a shame when I find myself surrounded by some of the best dive waters in the Mediterranean. Experienced divers can explore hidden wrecks off Gozo as well as swim with the fish through underwater caverns.  Something a bit nearer the surface? Try snorkelling instead. All gear available to hire locally. 

But you don’t even have to get your feet wet to enjoy Gozo’s spectacular waters. I loved my magical short cruise from the ‘inland sea’ at Dwerja through a narrow fissure in the cliff face towards an ever-widening triangle of blue. Emerging into open sea beneath sheer cliffs of striped limestone, we pottered in and out of deep caverns to see tiny coral clinging to rocks in the clear waters. Back on the beach, I loved the fossilised sea urchins preserved for eternity in the rock. But the island’s entire coastline is gloriously unspoilt and boat trips also run from harbours like Marsalforn and Xlendi – absolutely no diving equipment required!

Next steps:

To plan your holiday to Gozo or elsewhere in Malta, please call our Silver Travel Advisors on 0800 412 5678.

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Gillian Thornton

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