To the northwest of Malta, one finds Malta’s sister island of Gozo, a short, twenty-minute ferry crossing away. Gozo, with a population of just 31,000, is more rural in character and hillier, greener and far less developed than Malta. Like Malta, it is rich in history and tradition, boasting such gems as the Ġgantija temples, a megalithic temple complex dating back to 3600BC and regarded as the oldest free-standing structure in the world predating both Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids. When one sees the size of the megaliths used in Ġgantija’s construction, one is left flabbergasted considering the fact that the wheel had not yet been invented and that no metal tools were available to the islanders. Unsurprisingly, Ġgantija is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Gozo is also well-known for its handcrafted lace and one can visit various places, particularly in the Old Citadel in Gozo’s capital Victoria, where one can still see women working this traditional craft.
The little picturesque Mġarr Harbour, the first port of call for most visitors, is home to ferries, private sea craft and typical Maltese fishing boats alike, with fishermen often seen repairing their nets along the breakwater. It is a such a beautiful scene that it is often captured by photographers and artists who are enthralled by its magical simplicity. The harbour is dominated by Fort Chambray, origally intended to be a new fortified city like Valletta, and eventually the new capital of Gozo instead of the Old Citadel in Victoria. However, the project fell apart because pirate attacks were no longer a major threat by the time construction began.
The Old Citadel in Victoria can be seen from almost all around the island as it rises almost perpendicularly from the surrounding countryside. For centuries, it served as a sanctuary from attack by pirates so after the Great Siege of 1565, the Knights of Malta decided to strengthen its fortifications to provide protection and defence against further attacks. In the main square, one finds the grandiose baroque cathedral as well as the Law Courts and the Bishop’s Palace. Despite the fact that only a couple of families live within its walls today, one may still come across local women making Gozo’s famous lace along the narrow winding streets. It’s definitely well worth the short climb up the steep hill from the city below as the views from the bastion walls are stunning.
Victoria, Gozo’s capital city, is known among the Maltese as Rabat. The name means ‘suburb’ in Arabic, because the town was a suburb of the Old Citadel. All roads in Gozo lead to Victoria, which is not only the geographic heart of Gozo, but also its centre of everyday activity. It combines the hustle and bustle of everyday life with a relaxed and carefree atmosphere. Part of its charm is getting lost in its narrow quaint streets and browsing around the shops, most of which sell traditional Maltese crafts, from traditional lace and woollens to blown glass and flashy souvenirs. Normally, the pace of life is idle unless one happens to be visiting in the morning when the flea market is on and the main square is busy. The town is perfect for people watching so just take a seat in one of the several cafes around and indulge yourself in some local delights such as the traditional Maltese pastizzi.
Dwejra is an amazing place with a number of attractions, including the famous Inland Sea that looks like a small lake but is connected to the open sea through a narrow natural archway. A unique event occurred here some years ago when two dolphins were stranded in the Inland Sea. Another popular attraction is the nearby Fungus Rock that the Knights of Malta declared out of bounds to the general public and punishable by three years’ oarsmanship in the galleys because an endemic fungus highly prized for its medicinal properties grew there. The place has now become a sort of pilgrimage to the Azure Window to join others paying tribute to what was there before. And just in case all of this is not enough, Dwejra is also an awesome spot for incredible sunsets!
It is often considered Gozo’s most beautiful beach and is one of the most iconic places on the island. It has the biggest sandy beach in Gozo and its unique reddish/golden coloured sand, together with its surrounding features, makes it stand apart from all the other beaches in Malta and Gozo. To really appreciate its beauty one should head to Calypso’s Cave, said to have belonged to Calypso, the mythological nymph as described in Homer’s Odyssey, to have a full view of the bay from high above.
Xlendi Bay is a popular seaside village with a small area of sand and a long stretch of rocky beach alongside one side. The bay lies in a lush green valley and offers beautiful sunsets and breathtaking walks, especially along the stark yet majestic rocky cliffs. To enjoy spectacular views, climb up the stairs to the top of the cliffs. Despite the large number of restaurants and blocks of flats, it still retains a relaxing and peaceful atmosphere, especially during the winter months. This picturesque bay lets you enjoy a day on the beach and have your lunch just on the seashore and then go back for a swim.
Marsalforn is Gozo’s main holiday resort with a small sandy beach and plenty of other safe swimming zones from the rocks or harbour walls. The place comes alive in summer with many tourists and hundreds of Gozitan and Maltese families coming to stay for a relaxing holiday. There is a promenade running right round the head of the bay, providing a pleasant walkat all times of year and a traditional summer evening gathering place for locals and visitors alike. Small fishing boats can be seen on the eastern side and in winter, when the place is calm and peaceful, fishermen can be seen skilfully repairing their boats and mending their nets.
These fascinating 350-year-old salt pans are still in use today and are to be found on the north coast of Gozo, just past Qbajjar Bay and west of Marsalforn. They stretch about 3km along the coast and are very photogenic with unique and beautiful scenery. They are part of the centuries-old Gozitan tradition of sea salt production that has been passed down within certain families for generations on end. During the summer months, locals can be seen scraping up the crystals of salt that are then collected, stored and processed in the caves that have been carved into the coastal rock. The whole process is pure and genuine, and one can also taste and buy this authentic Gozitan product from here.
You can get to the cliffs by walking from Ta’ Ċenċ or from Xlendi Bay, or directly to the cliffs by car. The cliffs run along one of the highest spots on the island and offer stunning views across to Malta and Comino and is regarded as one of Gozo’s gems. The sheer precipice of white limestone cliffs looks just like a slice of cake with hundreds of layers that drop off into the azure sea below. The area around Ta’ Sanap Cliffs has recently been paved, making it much more accessible. It’s also an excellent place for bird watching.
The magnificent Basilica of Ta’ Pinu is an architectural masterpiece and a national shrine devoted to the Virgin Mary. It is one of the most visited places on the island by both Maltese and tourists alike. Inside one can find great architecture, especially with its superb sculptures and craftsmanship in Maltese stone. What makes it unique is that one can witness the devotion of the Maltese expressed on various items hung on the walls as votive offerings to Our Lady of Ta’ Pinu for graces received. A series of 14 marble statues representing the Way of the Cross run up Għammar Hill opposite the Church. From up here, one can enjoy an amazing view of the Shrine and surrounding countryside.
The Ġgantija Temples in Xagħra are one of the most important archaeological sites in the Maltese Islands and are listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The site consists of two temples dating back to between 3600 and 3200 B.C. Until recently, they were thought to be the oldest free-standing archaeological monument in the world, even older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian Pyramids, but the Turkish site of GöbekliTepe is now thought to be the oldest. The name Ġgantija derives from the word ġgant, the Maltese word for giant, since it in the past it had been assumed that the huge megalithic stones were placed there by giants. In fact, some of the megaliths are over five metres in length and weigh in excess of fifty tons.
Although lace makers on the island have dwindled, it’s still possible to see a lace maker at work at the Old Citadel in Victoria and in a few small villages. The craft was probably introduced to Malta and Gozo not further back than the 16th century, when the art of lace making, probably introduced into Venice from the East, began to spread in Europe. From Venice the new technique was soon taken up by Genoa, where pillow lace, as distinct from Venetian point lace, developed. Modern Gozitan lace is descended directly from Genoese lace but with the characteristic Maltese cross in the patterns used. In the past, lace-making was a cottage industry that helped to alleviate the poor, rural families and brought in extra income. Traditional Gozo lace comes typically in silk and linen. Make sure you get the genuine product so the high price denotes its authenticity.
It looks like a pizza, but bread dough is used as the base instead. All the ingredients are placed on top of the flat round bread base and it is placed inside a baker’s oven. Typical ingredients include a layer of thinly sliced potatoes, onions and fresh tomatoes plus any choice of Mediterranean ingredients. The most traditional version also features olives, capers and tuna or anchovies. The Gozitan ftira is practically a trademark of two bakeries, Maxokk andMekrem, both located in the village of Nadur.
The production of cheeselets is a very ancient craft in Gozo. They can be made with cow, sheep or goat’s milk but it is the ones made of sheep’s milk that make the true authentic cheeselet. They are made by adding rennet – a digestive enzyme produced by mammals – to the milk and allowing the milk to stand until it hardens enough to be cut with a knife. At this point, the mixture is transferred into little containers or baskets and left to drain overnight. It is ready when the cheese has fully drained. The cheeselets are available in three different forms – fresh, hardened or peppered.