Gozo

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.

Things to do and points of interest

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.

Round and About the Citadel

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.

Churches and shrines

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):

  • The Cittadella Cathedral, designed by Lorenzo Gafà and built between 1697 and 1711 in baroque style.

  • The onyx covered Żebbuġ church, dedicated to the Assumption. It is also the second oldest consecrated church in Gozo.

  • The Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of Ta’ Pinu, close to Għarb is not only beautiful to behold but also worth viewing for its surroundings and for the treasure that lies within – a large room literally full of memoirs left there by those who received a miracle

  • Dwejra

  • 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.

  • Time travel in Gozo

  • 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:

  • Borġ l-Imramma, in the middle of the Ta’ Ċenċ plateau where one can see remains of a temple

  • Ras il-Wardija Nymphaeum – an artificial cave dating back to Phoenician times. It was probably a religious sanctuary.

  • Living the Gozitan way

  • Eco tours have gained popularity in recent years. These kinds of tours offer a more intimate experience to a visitor, since they introduce you to the everyday life of Gozitans. You enter their homes, and live a day like they do, doing chores, preparing food, eating traditional food and learning all you care to ask directly from these local experts.

  • 6 “Off the beaten path” points of interest in Gozo

  • Calypso’s cave, made famous in Homer’s The Odyssey, lies on the other side of Xagħra, overlooking the largest sandy beach of the island. According to Homer’s story, Ulysses was trapped here by the nymph Calypso for seven years before resuming his journey. Update: The actual cave is no longer to the public (probably because it’s become unsafe). The view is still great but a better alternative is Tal-Mixta Cave. It takes a little bit of navigating but the view and location are very much worth the effort!

  • A walk along the Marsalforn promenade can take you up to Qbajjar and on into Xwejni, a remote part of the coast overlooking open sea where it is said that on a clear summer night one can even see the lights of cars off the coast in Sicily. What’s certain is that from here you can catch a glimpse of the milky way in all its glory – there are only a few places on the archipelago where you can do that since light pollution is a big problem. If you’re not stargazing, the walk is nice. You’ll also find some of the island’s salt pans that make for a pretty picture towards the end of the day

  • Tal-Merżuq Hill, or as it is most popularly known nowadays – Tas-Salvatur – offers a breathtaking view of a great part of the island. It takes some hard work to get to the top, where you’ll meet the statue of the Risen Christ that gives the hill its modern name. This statue was placed here in the 1970s at an altitude of 320 feet.

  • Wied l-Għasri is a secluded valley that winds down from Ta’ Dbieġi Hill through the village of Għasri and on to Żebbuġ. It finally meets the sea – popular with divers who like to explore the surrounding underwater caves. It is also a good place to swim or just for a quiet walk.

  • The carnival in Gozo (celebrated in February) is an annual event that year after year attracts more and more audiences. In fact, it has become a much sought after event. Although the main activities take place in the main square of Rabat, many are those who flock to Nadur to celebrate a more spontaneous, informal carnival where everything goes and there are no rules.

  • Near the villages of Għasri and Għarb you can find two lighthouses (il-Fanal Ta’ Ġurdan being the more popular one), each on a separate hill, both with stunning 360-degree views over the island. il-Fanal Ta’ Ġurdan, the more popular of the two is easily accessible through a side road right opposite Ta` Pinu church. The other is a little trickier to find but signs in Għasri will guide you to the steep road up the hill. Drive slowly – it’s a narrow road.