Gozo, Malta: an Unspoiled Escape Pod
By Mary Charlebois
Gozo Malta is the EU Mediterranean. The Island of Gozo is small, just 9 x 4.5 miles. You get there by ferry or private boat. Malta’s charming little sister brings you back in time. It’s slower-paced than the island of Malta. Fewer tourists go there.
Away from the ferry, traffic is light. Shops close for a mid-day break. Day-to-day life-rhythms are controlled by the sea, seasons, and agriculture. A church bell and a rooster crowing announce the day’s beginning.
Location, location, location
The Republic of Malta’s Mediterranean location has been coveted throughout history.
The three-island archipelago (Malta, Gozo, Comino) is 60-miles south of Italy, 176-miles east of Tunisia, and 207-miles north of Libya.
Further away, but still close are – Greece, Turkey, Syria, Israel, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Spain, France, and many more.
This tiny island nation in the center of the Mediterranean and the crossroads of history is surrounded by Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. All are a ferry ride or a short flight away.
Influence of 12
The strategic location has made it a valuable naval base. Many powers have conquered and occupied Malta, including Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Greeks, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Sicilians, Spanish, Knights of St. John, French, and British.
Each new conqueror left a mark on the country’s ancient culture. Influences from twelve conquerors have created a magnificent mélange.
The Malta Medley
Today Malta is a medley of food, music, art, architecture, language, and history. Villages built of butter-colored sandstone cubes dot the countryside. Villages have a parish church, some are domed.
Terraced fields bordered by rubble walls have been farmed for centuries. Olive, lemon, and fig groves have been in their place for a millennium.
Goat herds use trails that generations have followed. Horses and mules are used as transportation and laborers. Natural harbors shelter fishing boats, many are brilliantly painted luzzu with an Eye of Osiris.
ESP on Gozo (Eat, Sleep, Play)
Gozo Malta is known for scuba diving and snorkeling. Sailing, fishing, kayaking, off-road touring, and rock climbing fill-out the activity list for the adventurous.
If you are a lover of soft-adventure, Gozo has plenty to offer – walking tours, cycling, beaches, history, art, music, food, libations, and the warmest people you are likely to meet. In an afternoon at a sidewalk cafe with locals, you’ll learn the best of the Maltese way of life.
You must see these Gozo giants
Ggantija—is a megalithic temple complex. Over 5500 years old, the “Giantess” is the oldest standing building on the planet. This UNESCO site has intriguing ruins, an excellent museum, and a small gift shop.
A bonus is the magnificent views of the countryside and neighboring villages. Located in Xagħra, Gozo, it is a 10-minute direct bus ride from the Victoria Bus Terminal. Take a virtual tour of Ggantija here.
The Citadel—also known as the Castello, is an imposing fortress in the heart of Victoria, Gozo’s capital city.
The site has been inhabited since the Bronze Age. Inside the sandstone walls are churches, ten small museums, runes of dwellings, and small gardens. There are several eateries and plenty of shopping.
There is no entry fee into the Citadel, but some attractions, museums, and churches ask for a few Euro.
Located a 10-minute walk from the Victoria Bus Terminal, you’ll pass by the town square and a lively street market. See 360 views and a detailed map here.
Need some salt?
Sea salt has been harvested on Gozo for centuries. A simple salt farm is created by carving shallow ‘pans’ in sandstone along the shore.
Salt pans, some carved hundreds of years ago, are still in use today. The pans are filled with seawater. As the water evaporates, the salt is harvested, dried, packaged, and sold.
You can buy Maltese sea salt in any food or souvenir shop. The salt pans above are about a mile along the coast trail, heading southwest from the Gozo Ferry Terminal.
Walk, hike, ramble & discover
There are captivating sites and experiences all over Gozo. Explore the entire island.
You’ll find trails to locations only accessible on foot. Walks take you through villages, farmland, vineyards, olive groves, and windswept cliff-tops overlooking the impossibly blue Mediterranean.
Seven walks plus a coastal hike are mapped and described here. I did them all throughout 2-weeks.
Food and drink draw you closer to the land and sea in Malta. Local wine and beer beautifully complement Gozo’s produce, seafood, and dairy.
The rocky lime soil feeds your body, the sea feeds your soul. Maltese food is distinctively Mediterranean in style.
Small pubs and cafes are your best bets for authentic, fresh, and budget-friendly eats. Fish and rabbit are the most common proteins.
Dairy is from goats – no cows on Gozo. Tomatoes, potatoes, olives, peppers, eggplant, artichokes, broad beans, cabbage, and figs are widely grown and used in many traditional Maltese dishes.
Sleep on Gozo
If you go to Gozo for more than a couple of nights, consider an apartment. There are plenty of vacation rentals available through the usual booking sites.
Prices for modern, fully equipped apartments are moderate in season and very inexpensive in Winter (December—March). I love to cook with local produce and make traditional dishes. The Gozo apartment added to my experience of living like a local.
My Gozo apartment was in the village of Ghajnsielem on the southeast coast. I chose the village because it’s a ten-minute walk to the ferry.
A bus stop was steps from my front door. A block and a half away was a market with fresh and prepared foods plus local and imported wine, beer, and spirits.
Fishmongers and greengrocers drove through the village daily, following a regular route of stops with their mobile shops.
Around the town square were cafes, a bakery, a pharmacy, and the town hall where the village band often practiced.
Hotels—Prices and amenities are offered for all budgets and tastes.
There are many beautiful hotels on Gozo, but my favorite is the 5-Star Hotel ta Cenc in Sonnet.
It is a luxurious oasis for a true Gozo escape pod. The ta Cenc spa takes a holistic approach to rejuvenate the mind, body, and spirit.
Set in a 400-acre nature and archeological preserve, ta Cenc, is dotted with ancient temples, farm sites, and burial vaults.
A curated map of these sites and trails leading to them takes you on a walk through ancient history. The hotel will pick you up at the Victoria Bus Terminal (about 2 miles) if you call in advance.
If you don’t want to try the hotel overnight, there is a day-use package for the spa and pools with a marvelous lunch. Headwater Self-Guided Tours has a special package at ta Cenc that includes 7-nights and two meals per day in their outstanding restaurants. Learn more here.
Getting there/getting around
From the Malta airport, MLA, take a local bus or taxi to the Gozo Ferry. At the Gozo Ferry Terminal, take a local bus to your destination or flag a cab from the taxi stand.
Malta and Gozo are small islands. A car really isn’t needed. Public transportation on Malta is efficient and inexpensive. A monthly bus pass is $26. There is an excellent app that shows all bus lines, times, and locations of stops.
Roundtrip ferry tickets to Gozo are $6.15. Taxis, Uber, car rental, and rideshare transportation is also available.
Speaking the language Malta is a dual-language country, both English and Maltese. English is taught in schools and spoken by everyone. Maltese is a Semitic language heavily influenced by a mix of Arabic, Italian, English, and a bit of French.
Malta is the EU Mediterranean and Gozo is the escape pod. Plan a long visit. Live like a local. Slow down, recharge in the sun, and refresh in the sea. To learn more about Gozo click here.