Right, one day. We want to advise you a one day trip to Gozo island when being on holidays in Malta. Not everyone knows that Malta is not only that one, biggest island but a whole archipelago of islets, out of which only three are inhabited. Gozo is second big island; it is way smaller than Malta because it has only 67 km² and all its inhabitants would easily fit in one of average european towns (approx. 30 000). Because of this compact size the island is just perfect for a day trip. And taking such trip is a must.
Right at the begininng of the expedition we are coming across the first attraction – a Gozo ferry. If you rented a car you can take it with you, park on a lower deck and go upstairs to see all the beautiful views. But hurry up, the journey takes only 20 minutes. Traveling in the lower deck is generally not advised but some situations make us do things we do not always want to. When we were going to the island with Ola she fell asleep while waiting in the queue line to the ferry. We had no heart to wake her up and mom stayed with her in the car throughout the whole cruise. Luckily dad went upstairs to see the views and take some pictures. You can take the ferry also traveling without car, you just go straight to the upper deck and admire the view over Malta’s third island Comino and its little companion Cominetto. Comino is very intimate place, it has in total 3,5 km² and all its inhabitants is one family of four. Despite it is so small it still offers some places of interest. From the passing by ferry we are noticing Saint Mary’s Tower from 17th century but its biggest attraction is located on the other side, not visible from the ferry. It’s a Blue Lagoon, a sea bay with amazing azure water, sandy bottom, quite shallow so perfect for beach fun not only with kids. The view over lagoon reminds those paradise beaches somewhere on the end of the world, of course only when it is not crowded with people.
Coming back to Gozo: it is still a part of the country of Malta but leaving the ferry we are noticing a little different character of this island. At first sight we can tell that not all the turists visiting Malta get here. Gozo is more peaceful than the main island. It seemed to be a better place to live for local people, especialy those not working in tourism industry. But in fact one out of five work places on this island is generated by tourism anyway. The network of buildings is not so thick and more areas are cultivated. Apart from other crops Gozo is also home of the vines. There are two wineries on the island Tal-Massar and Ta’ Mena. The second one is generaly involved in agriculture so you can try some of Maltese produce there. Beside sun-dried tomatoes, marinated onions and various fruit jams you can try some famous Gozo cheese there. It is a little salty cheese made of goat milk. And since we are talking about cuisine it is worth to mention that Gozo seems to be a little more Italian than the rest of the country. Maybe it’s because first Gozo settlers were the incomers from Sicily why its inhabitants feel close to Italy. Even in the period of island’s short independence Gozo turned towards Italy. Those were three years after getting out of French control and passing under British protectorate. Breaking free from the French, Gozo citizens in the number of 16 000 passes their island under the rule of the King of Sicily forming their own government managing the island.
Even today islanders enjoy some kind of independence and separateness. Despite several attempts to plan a construction of a bridge or underwater tunnel connecting Gozo with Malta nothing of such has ever been agreed and built. Gozitans do not really seek for permanent connection with Malta and regular (although not cheap) ferry connection seems to be totaly satisfying for them today.
The capital of Gozo, Rabat, is a home of one fourth out of 30 000 island’s citizens. The official name of the capital, which was given by the British for the golden jubilee of the Queen, is Victoria however most of the residents continue using Rabat, a name from the Arab times (9-12 century). But you have to be very careful to avoid misunderstanding because there is another city on Malta of the same name.
We have read somewhere that Gozo has only 5 traffic lights, although we didn’t try to count them we are ready to believe it. Small towns do not require any intervention in traffic. Even in Victoria the drivers do very well without traffic lights, especially since most of the city streets are small and narrow roads, winding among buildings, often one way, so lights seem to be completely unnecessary.
But let’s finally talk about what to see and do on Gozo
Beside trying local cuisine, what we already mentioned before, you should necessarily visit central point of Victoria – the Cittadella. You will surely not miss it, it is a huge construction rising in the center of the city and in fact a main point from which it the city spills on the slopes of the main hill. It is a defensive formation developed in the Middle Ages. Developed, because the first signs of settlement in this place are dated on 1500 before Christ and the defensive character it probably got in the Middle Ages when the settlement was transformed into Gran Castello. In 15th century formation was strengthen due to intensified attacks of pirates seeking for slaves. With time it became insufficient so the beginning of 17th century brought further development to the extend of what we can see today.
The restoration proces started in 2008 and has been continued until today. Although restoration is ongoing we can enter the Cittadella and see already open museums and exhibitions. The ubiquitous dust and construction materials spoil a little the impression of the area but after it’s finished the place will surely be impresive. Today we can take a walk on the walls, see the fields with characteristic stone fences stretching to the horizon and imagine 16th century defense of the fortress and at the end visit the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Madonna.
It’s a Roman Catholic church from the turn of 17th century built in Baroque style of the same limestone as the rest of the Cittadella. The interesting thing is the fact that previously designed dome of the church has never been built but instead the ceiling painting, an illusion of the dome, was created. Seeing on one of the weekdays a bunch of smiling happy children coming out of the church you can figure out how important religion is for Maltans. Immediately, seeing all the children, Ola tried to make new friends but the kids were significantly older than her so we went straight to the walls. After a short walk around, although it wasn’t possible, Ola looked as if she had wiped all the dust from Citadella.
Following this sacral trail we direct our next steps to the town of Xewkija, located right before Victoria, with the population of 3000 people. Main point of the town is Xewkija Church, which has one of the most impresive domes in the world. That built in 19th century shrine can hold all the townspeople at one service. Of course there is a lift taking all interested in to the dome to see from the above even the northern edges of Malta. The other name of the temple is Xewkija Rotunda.
Staying in the religious mood we can move back in time, namely more than 5500 years ago when first megailthic religious monuments were created. Megalithic character of formation means that they were built of large unworked stones. They had nothing in common with Christian religion as such did not even exist at that time. Probably the deity of fertility was worshipped in those temples. Those two objects located in Ggantija are today second oldest human-built religious objects (after Göbekli Tepe in Turkey).
Those still not satisfied with religious objects we advise just to look around. There are reportedly 46 of churches on Gozo, so each one is for around 700 people and if you take into consideration the fact that Xewkija Church is able to hold 3000 people then what attendance can the others count on? We are wondering if there is any other place in the world with so many sacral objects per person!
Churches, churches but it is the nature that mostly attracts tourists to Gozo. We mean here the biggest attraction of the island – the famous Azure Window. The name tells us all that we should expect. As a result of two sea caves collapse a limestone formation making a kind of a window over azure waters of Mediterranean Sea was created. Until recently one could have had easily got on the top of the window but today the coast is full of signs forbidding climbing the rock because over the years the structure weakened and some underneath rocks began to fall. The window keeps getting bigger and there are fears for collapsing it totally. So if you want to see that beautiful landscape and the scenery of many movies such as “Odyssey”, “Count of Monte Christo” or “Game of thrones” you should rather to hurry up because it might collapse within few years. To get there we can come by car or take a bus, both will take us almost to the window and we especialy advise doing it while the rock is beautifully lit by setting sun. For those who will not confine themselves to admiring the window from a distance boat rides around the rock are available. You can also try diving in the waters surrounding the window.
Out of this breathtaking surrounding our daughter liked the most a huge dog passing by. It was at least as big as Ola and seemed to be interested in her as much as she was in him. We ended up spending a good while with the dog before we could do anything.
We almost forgot but there is a one more attraction in the same place. This is nothing spectacular as for the view but it represents an interesting story. This is Fungus Rock, a sea rock covered with one type of plant (Cynomorium coccineum), which used to be thought to be fungus. The Knights of Malta guarded it like a hawk because of its healing properties. They used it for all ailments and as a wound dressing. It was so valuable at the times of the Order that was even used in trade and guarded round the clock by security guards stationed in the nearby tower. Everyone who wanted to get close to the rock risked severe punishment. Today some plant’s medical features are confirmed and a rock itself is also protected – Maltese created a nature reserve there. Neighboring beaches are just perfect for scuba diving and attract many people, luckily even those swimming right around the rock are not any threat to the nature.
Apart from above mentioned, Gozo offers many others perfect for water sports places. Scuba diving fans should be particularily happy. Underwater landscapes are said to be amazing, water crystal and of temperature allowing diving all year round. If Gozo was able to convince you to spend there some more time than just one day, it will be a good idea to look around for a local farmhouse to stay in. Those are typical Maltese houses, country cottages renovated to provide really high standard for the visitors. Most of them offer at least a small swimming pool. Supposedly it is a great way to stay on Gozo. We haven’t tried this time but might consider next time. That would surely be a good place for Ola.
If you chose to spend one day on Gozo, on your way back to the ferry you can take a ride through Marsalforn coast in order to see how Maltese used to (some of them do today) acquire sea salt. The seashore is like a chessboard covered with square shallow “pools” full of water. After its evaporation, quite fast in this climate, Maltans will collect the salt and store in the caves carved in the rock accross the street.
And so the trip to Gozo comes to an end. Operating round the clock ferry takes us back to loud and full of people Malta, but we have to admitt that it was worth to come here.