Legend has it that Malta’s neighbouring island of Gozo is actually the tip
of the lost city of Atlantis.
People have been living on this small, barren rock since 5000BC, when tribes
migrated here from Sicily.
While it would be facetious to say that things haven’t changed much, it is
part of Gozo’s charm that the island retains much of its mystery.
The Gozitans live in squat stone-built houses, as they have for centuries.
They grow potatoes and other cash crops the same way they have always done. They
harvest salt from salt pans as they did during Roman times. And they worship at
churches nearly all of them the size of cathedrals as they have since the
Their language is also an accident of history, part Arabic, part Italian
with a smattering of English.
Gozo has something of a Greek island feel to it. With a wild terrain of
rocks, gnarled trees and sheer cliffs, it is windswept in winter and, apart from
a few very good hotels, has no pretensions to be anything that it isn’t.
Quite simply it’s a place you come to for a step back in time, some
relaxation, a spot of scuba diving and warm sunshine from April until October.
Luckily, modern-day temple builders (otherwise known as hotel developers)
have not been quite so prolific here, and Gozo remains relatively unscathed by
the excesses of tourism.
Gozo is where Malta goes to relax and get back in touch with its roots
literally. It is an island of farmers and fishermen and life here is simple but
The island is reached by a very cheap and regular ferry service which takes
40 minutes, or a 10-minute helicopter ride from Malta’s Luqqa Airport if you’re
in a hurry.
In the centre of the island the capital, Victoria, has everything a busy
tourist could ask for. It is dominated by a magnificent ancient Citadel, and
from the battlements you can see just about everywhere on this 10 by five-mile
The first thing that strikes you about the view is the size of its churches.
They’re huge, their domes and spires reaching above the tiny stone walls into
the azure sky.
The 29,000 Gozitans are God-fearing people 80 per cent of them go to Mass
every Sunday and you can’t bathe topless on the island’s beaches but quite how
they manage to fill these enormous aisles is a mystery.
The Citadel was founded on an old Roman temple and then developed by the
Moors and finally the Knights of St John in 1600. It’s a remarkable building
which is gradually being restored to its former glory. Inside the Citadel is the
cathedral, and it’s worth popping your head around its huge wooden doors.
Just a few people now live within the Citadel’s narrow alleyways, but it
does have a delightful little bar-cum-souvenir shop called Ta’ Rikardu in a
cellar cut into the walls. Rikardu makes his own wine which he sells for ё1 a
The rest of Victoria or Rabat, as it is known to the locals is a dusty
maze of a town. However, St George’s parish church, just off the main square, is
worth seeing for its marble interior.
Outside Victoria, at Xaghra, the neolithic temples of Ggantija are Gozo’s
answer to Stonehenge. Dating from 3600BC, they are huge, round stone-built
structures set on a barren hillside overlooking the Gozo Channel. A visit here
at dusk gives you a spooky feeling of just how timeless this island is.
Also in Xaghra is the Ta’ Kola windmill, built in 1725, which played an
important part in feeding the island during the German blockade in the Second
World War. Now a museum, the windmill is stacked with rustic antique furniture.
Enough of history, it is the bays and coves that Gozo does best.
Top activities on this island include relaxing, swimming, relaxing,
snorkelling, relaxing and diving. And relaxing.
One of the nicest spots is Xlendi, a fishing village on the west of the
island. The beach here is tiny, but you can swim off the rocks and there are
plenty of little cafes and bars, which get crowded during the day when coach
trips arrive from Malta.
At Dwerja there is the Inland Sea a grand title for what is little more
than a small bay. However, the only way out of it is through caves cut into the
rocks. For a couple of pounds, a small boat will take you through the caves,
lined with pink coral, and out into the open sea.
Also at Dwerja is a cliff used for abseiling, a scuba diving centre and an
old watchtower built by one of the Grand Knights of St John to guard a rocky
outcrop known as Fungus Island. The herbs and fungi on the rock were believed to
cure dysentery and other ailments.
Mgarr, Gozo’s main harbour, is also worth a morning’s stroll. Dozens of
fishing boats, in blue and yellow and with an eye painted on each side of the
prow, bob peacefully here, under the watchful gaze of the huge Church of Our
Lady above the town. The Gleneagles pub is a good spot for a drink on its
balcony overlooking the harbour.
At dusk in summer, local farmers bring their horses and ponies to cool off
in the water by the harbour’s edge.
RESTAURANTS..Fish is the order of the day at both the excellent restaurants
of Il Kartell in Marsalforn Bay and Paradise in Xlendi. The traditional delicacy
BEACH..The seven-storey hotels, which frame the little cove of Xlendi, haven
‘t detracted from this inlet’s natural beauty. Have lunch on the terrace and a
dip with the locals in the pale green water.
VIEW..From the top of the Citadel you can see across the entire island. Try
and imagine the terror of its 5,000 citizens back in 1551 as they watched the
hordes of Turks come to carry them all off into slavery.
HOTEL..The Ta Cenc is a splendid five-star hotel on a clifftop on the west
of the island.
The Mirror, January 22, 2005, Saturday