“Pomskizillious and gromphiberous,” was how Edward Lear described the little Maltese island of Gozo, “because no other words can describe its magnificence”. Malta’s little sister, just a few kilometres away across glittering blue waters, Gozo is 14x7km, dotted with flat topped hills and surrounded by impressive cliffs and pretty bays. It packs a lot into its tiny terrain, from the world’s oldest stone architecture to some of the best diving in Europe. There is no shortage of activities, as well as sun, sea and excellent eateries.
Things to do
Number one: chill, relax, de-stress. The busy main island is the place for crowded bars and tick-it-off sightseeing. Gozo is for R&R, but there’s still plenty to serenely see and do.
Let’s start at the beginning with the 5500-year-old plateau-top Ggantija temples. Built of massive stones – by giants, obviously – they are older than Stonehenge. Through monumental doorways discover curved rooms, now roofless but once plastered and painted, and ‘meet’ the temple builders in the informative visitors’ centre.
The views from the temples are almost as panoramic as from the top of the recently-restored bastion walls of the Citadel that can now be circumnavigated high above Gozo’s little capital, Victoria (Rabat to locals). Inside, the maze of tiny streets embraces small museums and Gozo’s baroque cathedral, with its convincing trompe l’oeil dome. Back at street level, Victoria is a charming town full of narrow alleys, oversized churches and congenial cafes.
To explore the rural landscape, roll along with local guide Kevin on a Segway or e-bike tour. You cover more ground than walking (and it’s much more fun) but still have time to absorb expansive views over Gozo’s tiny terraced fields and sparkling seas, and stop to forage in winter (wild asparagus anyone?) or in summer, to swim.
Or you might fancy yoga at sunrise or sunset, tucked beneath the sea-sculpted rocks of the stunning north coast. Once suitably stretched, finish off with a stroll along the scenic chequer-board of salt pans that produce Gozo’s popular sea salt (a nice left-field souvenir).
The water is endlessly inviting here, warm at least five months of the year and some of the clearest in the Mediterranean. It’s ideal for diving, immersing yourself in spectacular sub-aqua landscapes – caves, tunnels, holes – or examining scuppered wrecks. If you prefer to stay on the surface, paddling a sea kayak is one of the coolest (literally) ways to explore the coast that Lear loved to paint.
This little island doesn’t lack culture either. There’s an opera and music festival each autumn as well as regular concerts. And each village or parish has a summer festa to which visitors are always welcome, complete with parades, street food, bands, and skies lit up with fireworks.
And of course…
The best beaches
Gozo has some of the best beaches in Malta – Ramla il-Hamra (literally ‘The Red Sand’) is a beautiful dune-backed bay overlooked by the legendary Calypso’s Cave where Homer’s Ulysses is said to have – quite understandably – spent seven years. Close by is smaller, equally rouged, San Blas, kept less busy by a very steep path. Two resort villages, pretty little Xlendi to the south and busier, more built-up Marsalforn in the north, each have a tiny sandy beach and plenty of rocks from which to swim.
There are mini-gorges too, picturesque away-from-it-all hideaways for summer swimming and snorkelling. Or you can have it all (or most of it) by joining a boat tour for a bay craw, also taking in Comino’s Blue Lagoon, Malta’s favourite (and most crowded) swimming spot.
The best restaurants and bars
Gozo is Malta’s kitchen garden and at Ta’ Rikardu (Triq il-Fossus, the Citadel; 00-356-21555953) you can eat a truly Gozitan lunch of produce from Rikardu’s own farm. He makes his delicious gbejna (local cheeses) daily, and serves it fresh, dried or peppered, or stuffed in scrumptious ravioli. Gozo even has its own little wineries and a visit to Tal Massar offers vine-surrounded insight and an al fresco tasting.
The island isn’t short of good restaurants: Order fish fresh from the sea, or succulent steak at Ic-Cima overlooking Xlendi Bay, or savour delicately smooth raw fish, specialism of Country Terrace, amid panoramic views of the Gozo Channel. If you are after fine dining, head to the tucked-away treasure that is Ta’ Frenc, recently listed in the first Michelin guide to Malta.
Getting to Gozo
It’s around twenty-minutes’ drive from Malta International Airport to the capital Valletta, and about 45 minutes to the port of Cirkewwa (longer by bus). Each offers a ferry route to Gozo. From Valletta the recently-launched fast catamaran whisks you there in 45 minutes, costing €12 return (or €9.99 if you book online). The ferry from Cirkewwa is larger, slower, smoother, and takes cars and more enjoyable. You sit out on deck and take in the view for the 25-minute crossing. It costs just €4.65, and you only need a ticket on the return journey.
Staying in Gozo
Gozo has the full range of accommodation – from resort hotels to little guesthouses, urban smart to village farmhouse.
The two largest hotels, both designated five-star, with indoor and outdoor pools and spas, are set in attractive landscape. The local-stone Kempinski lies on the fringes of the traditional village of San Lawrenz, while the Ta’ Cenc sits atop dramatic cliffs of the same name. Service at the Ta’ Cenc is at best mixed, which is not something you would say of smart Duke Boutique. A Tardis of a hotel with unexpected hot-tub terraces, Duke is hidden in the heart of Victoria. For seaside stays, try Xlendi’s San Andrea, basic but right by the water, or San Antonio Guesthouse with its own pool. Alternatively, go really Gozo and book yourself a ‘farmhouse’ (try abrahamgozofarmhouses.com or baronholidayhomes.com) – old or new, with pool or without – in one of Gozo’s attractive little villages.
For more suggestions of the best hotels on the island, see our guide.
When to go to Gozo
Anytime. Summers are hot and dry and beaches are busy. Spring is fresher and greener with colourful wild flower and some rain. Autumn remains warm – including the sea – though there’s a risk of occasional storms. Winter is often still sunny but with daily highs in the mid-to-low teens centigrade rather than the twenties or thirties, it isn’t quite beach weather, but the sights are all open and accommodation is much cheaper.