Gozo forms part of the Maltese Archipelago, situated right in the centre of the Mediterranean Sea. Gozo’s small size is deceptive as its rich history and unique landscape catches the inexperienced traveller by surprise. Inhabited since mythical times, Gozo retains an aura of unblemished beauty, still largely unspoilt and accessible to all. The island’s history and past cultures are evident from its temples (thought to be the oldest standing structures in the world) and the many forts dotted around the countryside and along its shoreline. An old walled city, the Cittadella, dominates the centre of the island, perched high above the surrounding villages. Terraced fields, bordered by miles of old rubble walls, slope down a myriad of hills and valleys, making the countryside an irresistible lure for ramblers, especially during the winter months when the island attains a green golden hue all round. Meanwhile, the crystal clear Mediterranean water around the island’s shores, together with the rocky coves just waiting to be discovered, are inviting and safe for bathers and snorkelers alike almost all throughout the year.
Gozo covers an area of 67.1sq km and is some 50 miles off the south of Sicily. The main town is Victoria in the centre, with 14 villages spread across the island. The three main fishing bays are Mgarr, which serves also as the ferry landing port, Marsalforn and Xlendi. However, a multitude of coves and inlets abound along its coast, the best known of which is Dwejra, in the west, where the spectacular sunsets and the deep blue colour of the sea beneath is the stuff of legends and a haven for divers.
Following on the footsteps of the temple builders of the Neolithic period, the Phoenicians came from the east and populated the island making it a centre of their trading routes as they expanded westward. Though long gone, and replaced by other peoples from the European mainland, the Phoenicians left behind a distinctive Semitic influence, not least on the islands’ language, but also on the strong trading and business culture. This still exists today and is evidenced by the islands’ hardworking people and their strong self-reliance. Gozo’s population numbers around the 27000 mark making it much less dense than its sister island Malta, with large swaths of land separating villages and towns. The inhabitants are known for their hospitality and cheerful laid-back attitude to life. Still, they are very industrious and, considering the barren and limited resources, quite affluent.
The island has a mild climate with long, hot summers. Autumn and winter months transform the island into a green, undulating carpet with flowers of all types and colours scenting the countryside. Slowly, spring changes everything into golden hues until the summer scorches the island sending everyone to the beaches and the cool sea. Besides the intrinsic obvious attraction of the island, a tourist infrastructure of hotels, restaurants and night spots has sprang up, livening up the main beaches and towns during the day and night until well into the early morning hours.
For its small size Gozo’s all-year-round cultural life is amazing. Each town and village is renowned for its very own festa, with the accompanying spectacular fireworks displays and religious processions. The festas take place during the summer months with one being held every weekend, and villages compete with each other for the best put-up ‘show’. A number of musical, theatrical and literary events are organised and held throughout the year by various production groups. In Victoria, two opera houses stage two annual productions each, one in the spring and another in the autumn. Meanwhile, sport events take place at the island’s two main football grounds as well as at the Gozo aquatic and Sports Centre. For the younger set, the main night spot, Il-Grotta, a naturally hewn cave on the rocky edge overlooking a deep valley in Xlendi, is an all-night venue where young people from all over the world meet and mingle and have a generally good time in a safe environment. Bars also abound in the main towns and bays. These remain open well into the night and with their outdoor seating area lend a bohemian ambience to the place. The island’s culinary practices have improved considerably over the years. Starting off from a few dining places offering local basic dishes, which still survive today, a number of innovative restaurants have since opened their doors to welcome an ever-increasing clientele who enjoy international cuisine and themed fare, besides the local specialities. Nowadays, patrons are having to book a table way in advance in order to dine at the favourite restaurants which are well reputed for their excellent service and cuisine, especially during the peak season.
Gozo is reached by either a half hour ferry trip from Malta’s northern tip, Cirkewwa, or by taking the fast-ferry service between Valletta Harbour and Mgarr Harbour. The island itself boasts an efficient network of public bus routes, linking all the villages to the city centre at Victoria.