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. It’s possible to take one of Malta’s distinctive yellow buses directly to the port but we had booked our excursion with a local tour company which picked us up at our hotel and took us to the port. We then had to pay for our own crossing, and once disembarked in Gozo, we were allocated to different minibuses depending on which tour we’d chosen. If you do wish to visit independently, there are more of the yellow buses covering Gozo. 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.
Usually I avoid guided tours but we wanted to see as much of Gozo as possible and, as it turned out, this particular tour did allow for quite a bit of free time for us to explore independently. The tour also covered a good mix of different types of attraction, both natural and manmade; our company offered half day, day long and also evening tours so it’s worth taking a look at what’s available before buying tickets. It was possible to buy a ticket that included a meal but we chose not to.
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. From what I saw, Gozo also has much nicer beaches (although neither really has any truly excellent beaches, with most being composed of pebbles rather than sand).
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.
Our first stop on the tour was at the Rotunda Church in the village of Xewkija, a striking 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.
Next stop was the "Azure Window" and the (rather less impressive) "Fungus Rock", which we arrived at by way of a winding road that passed through delightful little villages; it was a Saturday morning and locals were picking up a few groceries before the shops closed for the rest of the weekend. 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.
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 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!).
We were given plenty of time to explore Victoria though it was very quiet on a Saturday and many places were closed. We found a tiny back street bar and the owner chatted with us as we enjoyed a couple of cold beers. He told us about the many festivals in Gozo, most of which revolve around the saints. 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. We were visiting just before Easter and the bar owner explained that these are the most important of all celebrations.
Finally we headed back to the port but stopped on the way at a popular viewpoint where we could look down on the tiny island of Comino which lies roughly halfway between the two other islands. We had a perfect view of the "blue lagoon" which featured as a backdrop for the movies "Troy" and "The Count of Monte Cristo".
While I felt that I saw a good snapshot of Gozo from our day trip, I was tempted by the many other attractions on the island and could happily spend a week to ten days there. It’s a great place for walking with but would suggest that late spring and late summer would be the best time for such a holiday. The beaches tend to be mainly rocky or pebbly but I could certainly see myself enjoying morning and evening swims with a good few hours sightseeing in between.
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.
I loved Gozo for its traditional feeling and for the beautiful landscape. The inland villages are quiet and unspoilt while the little settlements around the inlets are charming miniature resorts with attractive bars and tempting seafood restaurants. Gozo is more of a place for people happy to make their own entertainment; however, if you enjoy walking and nature, and history, it’s a great destination. For tourists holidaying on Malta I would strongly recommend a day trip to Gozo.