They told me that the northern island of Gozo is more rural than Malta, and they were right. Smaller by the two thirds than the main island, this one houses few settlements and coves, but also the orange-sand-beach, the great 16th-century-fort and the cave where the famous Odysseus was allegedly kept for seven years. So, here is what to see in Gozo.
Gozo is easy to reach. From Valletta the bus goes for about an hour to Cirkewwa where you are supposed to catch the ferry scheduled for departure every 45 minutes. Return ticket is 4.65 Euros, which is to be purchased on the way back. If you travel by car, the ticket is about 16 Euros. The ferry ride lasts for half an hour.
This short cruise is pleasant with beautiful views of Comino and the sea between the three islands that are part of the Maltese country. Nice breeze is to be found on the upper deck, while water and snacks are available below in the bar. And there is the wide blue sea all around you.
Marina from Leona Travel recommended that I should take the open bus tour (Gozo Sightseeing), because it stops at all the points of interest that should be visited. It goes in a circle, covering the whole island. The bus is scheduled every 45 minutes and the ticket is 20 Euros. Given that the plan was to spend only a day here, it would be pointless to waste time at bus stations as I did previously. So, this was a nice solution. You get off the ferry, take the green bus and your headphones, while the audio-guide is available in 10 languages or so – the standard hop on and off bus for tourists.
The first stop is the Ramla Bay. This is the famous beach with the orange sand that sparkles in contrast to the blue sea and the gray rocks on the shore. They say that the sand was brought here from Libya!
There are stalls next to the pathway towards the beach, two restaurant terraces, the spot where you can see quads and jeeps coming from visiting less available areas of the island. And then – the fine sand. The idea was to take a plunge or two right away, but they told me that the bus was not going to stop at the Calypso Cave as usual, because of the recent road construction, but that the cave was also accessible from the beach itself.
When I asked at one of the restaurants which way to go, an elderly gentleman “explained” in somewhat bad English that I should go “everywhere I want and can’t miss it”. Still, he said that he wouldn’t go there himself since “it will take at least 20 minutes to climb up, especially in this heat”. New plan was rushing through my head – if I want to climb up and come back down, I would have to hurry because the bus leaves in 45 minutes. Oh well, I can swim later at the Xlendi Bay, it would be my last stop before going back to the ferry.
Took a bottle of water and started to climb up the hill. All that workout back home came useful, since it wasn’t that hard to handle the dusty path, even though it was a bit slippery. Also, the heat was getting worse. There is some greenery on the way, but nothing resembling any trees or shades. Never the less, the view was getting better with every step up.
I expected the cave to be available – the same cave where nymph Calypso allured Odysseus to stay for seven years, before she allowed him to take off to Ithaca to his wife Penelope. Even though you will come across signs and the path towards the cave with the wide balcony overlooking the bay on one side and cliffs on the other, it turns out that all you can see is just a small hole into the cave which is off limits for visitors. Still, the view was worth climbing the hill… Took a glance at my watch and rushed back.
If you have enough time, stop by the Ggantija Temples – they say that this UNESCO World Heritage Site is older than the Egyptian Pyramids – or take a swim at the Marsalforn Bay. I, on the other hand, couldn’t wait to get to the main Gozo town Victoria. Unfortunately, the temples will have to wait for another Gozo visit.
Although the outskirts of the town are modern with all the contemporary amenities, the city turns into the old, medieval settlement with small squares and cobblestone curvy streets as soon as you reach its center. This becomes obvious particularly around the St. George’s Square.
From the Victoria Square that you will come across first – the vibrant and noisy square with restaurant terraces all around – you can either turn left towards the St. George basilica and the square bearing the same name, or to take the road to the right to the medieval Citadel!
Gozo was attacked by pirates in 1551 when almost all its inhabitants were taken into slavery. After the Great Siege in 1565 when the outnumbered knights of the St. John’s Order managed to defend the island from the Ottomans, they rapidly built and strengthen all the fortifications. Among others, the Victoria’s Citadel.
The entrance to the Citadel is free, but if you want to enter specific buildings there, the fee is 5 Euros. In my opinion, it’s really worth it. Not only that you will see the short multimedia show on the Citadel history, but you will also be able to visit the old prison, the court and the Grand Master’s house. The latter was my favorite given that you can go from one room to the next, up and down the slippery marble stairs and beneath the low ceilings, with the old furniture, fish nets etc.
When you go through one small room in the middle of the house, that seems to be a tiny courtyard, and then take the stairs down, you will get to the cattle premises and the well. The bedroom is upstairs, along with the workshop, and one lovely view from an old window. It’s interesting to know that someone was always looking out of the same window for so many centuries. And now it’s my turn.
The stroll along the Citadel streets will take you back in time giving you the atmosphere of some long-gone era. Narrow streets, lanterns hanging from the huge heavy walls, arches and watchtowers. From the city walls you will enjoy the beautiful view of Gozo.
When you visit the prison, in one of the cells without windows that is not larger than a wooden wardrobe, you can even discern a long-bearded-prisoner through the small hole on the door.
The center of the Citadel is the square of the Gozo Cathedral. Its Baroque façade dates back to the 17th century. There are couple of monuments in front of the church, while it’s easy to make you believe that the church has a large dome when looking from the inside. It’s actually the eye-catching false dome painting.
The plan was to stay in Victoria for few hours and to try the legendary Maltese rabbit stew, but I did spend a lot of time in Citadel and it was already too hot.
So, I did another “reset” – it’s better to have lunch in Xlendi Bay by the sea. It’s my last bus stop before the ferry, so I can take my time there. Pastizzi came handy once again, I even found one with the Kinder Bueno filling. There were also some delicious Maltese kannoli at the pastizzeria across the street.
The bus ride from Victoria to Xlendi Bay lasts for 45 minutes. You can also hop off the bus at the Ta’Pinu Sanctuary that has new mosaics, at the Ta’Dbiegi Crafts Village, or in Dwejra where the Azure Window once stood. Unfortunately, this cliff formation collapsed in 2017. (For Game of Thrones fans: this is where Daenerys and Drogo’s wedding set on the coast of Pentos was filmed.)
My next stop was Xlendi Bay. I had another 90 minutes before leaving for the Mgarr harbor, and wanted to take a walk around the bay.
On the left side of the bay there is the concrete beach, in the middle – the small sandy cove with numerous restaurants along the waterfront with the catch of the day offers. I spotted some stairs to the right? „There has to be something to see there”, I thought. Going by few other tourists, I climbed up the small hill with great view of the entire bay. Clouds covered the sky, so the landscape got a bit greyish, but still pretty.
The path was taking me further along this side of the bay, curving down at some point. I ended up in the small cave that is splashed by the sea with such rock formations that you can see through further out into the bay. Didn’t know that this existed here, no guides I read mentioned it.
And I don’t know whether the large seagulls were more surprised to see me there or I was to see them.
Because of those clouds I have decided to skip swimming. It seemed more rational to sit in one of the restaurants and have lunch in piece. Those who are into similar line of work know what it means to find a wi-fi abroad, and this was an opportunity to at least check my email. The yellow clothed table right by the sea looked just perfect.
“What would you recommend – catch of the day or the rabbit stew?”, I asked the waitress.
“You won’t regret taking either”, she says: “But, Miss, you are in Gozo, right!”
So true! For starters, I took the Maltese bread – the bread, they say, one has to try when coming to Malta. Crunchy bark, slightly overbaked, worm and soft, it’s served with three small spreads. It’s similar to the Arabic appetizers or the meze with Turks and Greeks. Homemade bread that you dip in or is spread on, and it may come with salads, sardines, cheese etc. If you ask me, this can come as a full meal given the portion.
But, the rabbit stew awaits, served with potato and salad. I was brought the smoking hot clay pot that had to be left alone for a while. When you finally dig in, you soon lose the fork because of the small bones. By the time I finished, all of my fingers were dipped into the stew. I wanted to have fish at first given that I was by the sea, but if you want to try the traditional Gozo specialty, the rabbit stew is a must, and quite tasty. To paraphrase my waitress, “you did come to Gozo, right!”
The Maltese bread, rabbit stew, along with the big bottle of water and a coffee (that couldn’t help because I was so full that I could fall asleep right then and there), were about 23 Euros at the restaurant at the very beach. The bus was a bit late (I could see the road from the restaurant), which gave me time to check out the social media and I eventually began to yawn. (It was already 6 pm and my trip started at the St. Julian’s station in Malta at 7,30 that morning.) My little gray cells started to turn off “due to digestion”. If I were some electrical device, my screen would now probably say: “Overload. Service unavailable, please try again later.”
Oh, I should get up, what a day… Luckily, the bus goes directly to the ferry, no more stops, yaaawning…
The full MALTA series