Before last year, I had never heard of Gozo before, and I would venture to guess that there are millions out there like me. Gozo is one of the islands of Malta, a small nation in the Mediterranean south of Italy. While a trip to Malta had long been on my imaginary, non-bucket bucket list, Gozo was new to me and I honestly didn’t know what to expect before first setting foot on the second largest island of the archipelago. After a few days of calling the island home though, I got to know it and after much reflection, I think I can offer some reasons why you should add this somewhat unlikely location to your own non-bucket, bucket list.
Malta is an archipelago, which means it’s a series of islands. The largest is, predictably, Malta, but coming in at a close second is Gozo. I know, the name sounds made up – like a Muppets character gone awry – but you’ll get used to that on Malta, the language is a strange amalgam of Arabic, Italian, English and who knows what else. Within the country and even around Europe, Gozo is known as a quiet place, a destination designed for not doing much of anything. In fact, many Maltese have vacation homes on Gozo, to escape the hustle and bustle of Valletta I guess.
It’s also easy to reach, most get there by taking the short ferry ride from Malta, the terminal for which is about 45 minutes from the capital city of Valletta. If you’re traveling on your own, you’ll need to do your own research to figure out the somewhat confusing public transportation system, or you can just hire one of the very expensive cabs found on the island. While it is ideal to rent a car in my opinion, especially if you want to explore Gozo, you’ll have to learn how to deal with Maltese traffic and drivers, which fall on the driving spectrum somewhere between Crazy and Absolutely Manic. Once you get there though you won’t regret some of the small hassles, because Gozo delivers on all of its travel promises and then some.
Things to keep in mind
Pace of life – Since we’re talking about a group of islands, Mediterranean ones at that, I should’ve realized that the pace of things was going to be a little slower than I am used to. But even I couldn’t have been prepared for just how laid back the Maltese are. As a Type A American, I met my match with a culture that places emphasis on not worrying very much and tackling things when they need to. Sounds logical I know, but it took me a few days to fall into this slower pace of life. The best thing to do is to just accept it and go with the flow. Understand that some things may take a little longer than normal and learn to be ok with that.
Eat everything and talk to everyone – This is great advice no matter where you go, but it was especially beneficial to me on Malta. The history of the islands is honestly a fascinating one, and the various waves of migration and colonization have created a culture that is without parallel in the world; from its language down to the food. Most of the food you’ll find around Malta won’t seem that strange. Lots of Italian influence means some of those classic meals you enjoy in Italy can be found on the islands as well. But there is a rich tradition of farming and agriculture, especially on Gozo, so also expect to find lots of delicious, locally prepared dishes. My favorite Maltese food was homemade ravioli stuffed with goat cheese prepared earlier in the day. It doesn’t get any fresher than that and the reward was a sumptuous meal prepared with care and finesse. The Maltese are proud, especially of their food, so don’t forget to learn more about the culture through your stomach.
Swimming in the crystal blue waters – More than anything else, Gozo is probably best known for the beautiful waters that surround it. The most popular attraction is actually on the nearby and smaller island of Comino – the Blue Lagoon. Not to be confused with its Icelandic namesake, this lagoon is actually a real lagoon and the azure blue waters are some of the most inviting you’ll ever see. The best way to explore the grottoes and swimming holes around Gozo itself is by hiring a local captain to take you out on a boat. From hidden beaches tucked away in caves, to gorgeous swimming spots, they’ll know the best places to visit. One of my favorite moments was sitting back on the boat under the warm Maltese sun, dipping my feet in the tepid water and feeling all of my stress melt away. There really is nothing quite like it.
Beautiful landscapes – Standing on top of the ancient walls of the Citadel is when it first hit me. Gozo is not your typical island getaway. Sure, the beaches are great but the interior is typically Mediterranean, which means scrubby landscapes that are honestly beautiful in their own way. I couldn’t tear my eyes from the hills and towns surrounding us and I couldn’t have known it at the time, but that was just the first of many such beautiful encounters. I fell deeper and deeper in love with Gozo’s landscapes as I saw more of this small island. From vineyards to the coastal bluffs, there’s a lot of variety and all of it is absolutely stunning. The best way to experience it for yourself is to hop in a car or on a bus and just see as much of it as you can. Luckily, Gozo isn’t very big and so experiencing the best of its unusual geology can easily be done in a single day.
Exploring Victoria – Sitting in a cafe, slowly drinking an expertly prepared espresso and watching the island walk by. Without a doubt, that simple moment was my favorite spent in Victoria, the capital city of Gozo. Also known by the local name Rabat, tourists often travel through Victoria but far too few spend time really exploring it. Reflective of the island it calls home, Victoria is not large but it doesn’t have to be, you’ll see right away what makes this city so very special. Whether it’s the views from the imposing Citadel and Basilica or just wandering along the curvy roads that reveal beautiful architecture and private moments of perfection, you’ll quickly see what makes this city and island so much fun to explore. If you’re looking for a quick bite or a cup of coffee, stop by Jubilee off the main square. Although it’s a Maltese chain of three restaurants, the food is local and delicious and the atmosphere can’t be beat.
Prehistoric past – The Maltese islands have been a popular place for a long time, and Gozo is no exception. While most visitors know about its more recent history, it’s the prehistoric past that has put the island on the global map. Seven megalithic temples found both on Malta and Gozo are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and in my personal opinion they are not to be missed. More than 5,500 years old, the temples are some of the oldest surviving religious buildings in the world and just standing there in front of the entrance to these Bronze Age marvels is an experience almost like none other. My brain struggled to grapple with the crushing weight of history that this site has witnessed, from important ceremonies at the dawn of Western Civilization to events we will never fully comprehend. More than just an important historical site, the temple complex has a certain beauty in its own right. Looking around and gazing across the nearby valleys, you can immediately see why this spot was so important to our ancient cousins and you feel like the latest iteration in a remarkable chain of continuous reverence.
Do nothing – As an active traveler I admittedly struggled when I first arrived on Gozo. I looked for activities, places to go and things to see. While the island does offer all that, it’s not why it’s so popular. As one of the most beautiful and relatively untouched islands in the Mediterranean, the best thing to do on Gozo is nothing at all. I stayed in a rented condo, locally referred to as a farmhouse stay, which is how most people visit the island. With friends or family, they rent a house or similar space, relax by the pool, cook amazing Maltese meals, drive down to the beach and that’s about it. Pace of life on Gozo is slow, and instead of fighting it, the most policy is to just give in and go with the flow. Spend a week there but act like a Gozitan, enjoy yourself, enjoy life and enjoy the experience for what it is.
Have you been to Malta or even Gozo? What did you think?