Go further in Malta: 7 reasons to explore the island of Gozo

Many travellers visit Malta without exploring its northerly islands, Gozo and Comino. They’re missing out. From underwater caves to megalithic wonders, here’s seven reasons to visit these Maltese islands

Gareth Clark
14 June 2021
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Discover Malta

1. Head to the cliffs

Dwejra Bay (Visit Malta)

Quiet Gozo has a geological secret. Like the mainland, it tilts to the north-east, forming huge limestone cliffs that skim the west coast. These yield spectacular walks, with trails south of Xlendi Bay edging past old salt pans to the white clifftops of Sanap and Ta Cenc beyond, each footstep accompanied by sprouting garrigue and purple mallow flowering at your feet.

One enticing detour slips into the beautiful Mgarr ix-Xini gorge, fording tall grasses and the twisting roots of old fig trees. The rocks here are popular with climbers, and further in you’ll find an abandoned 19th-century pumping station built by the British, its entrance overgrown with scrub. A wild find. 

Alternatively, head further west to San Lawrenz and Dwerja for Gozo’s most iconic walk. Here, the coast winds down to where the Azure Window once stood and where an inland sea still cuts through the cliff. Gaze out to spy Fungus Rock, a gnarled outcrop of limestone that once grew a herb that was jealously guarded by the island’s medieval rulers. 

2. Trot into the wild

Tas Salvatur Hill (Visit Malta)

There is a longstanding horse culture on the island. Ta Xhajma racetrack, near Nadur, still hosts regular meets, with riders pulled in traditional chariot-style traps that you often see rattling the roads around the stadium.  

But to experience Gozo from the saddle yourself is a different story. Most horse-riding tours are based on the eastern side of the island, trekking quiet rural routes from the villages of Qala and Xaghra out to the soft red-sand sands speckling the coast.

It’s another gear entirely, as you hack into silent valleys along old donkey tracks, taking in sights such as Tas-Salvatur Hill, atop which stands a six-metre-high Christ statue. This dates back to 1901 (albeit it is one of many incarnations) and is shrouded in local folk tales. Hacks finish out on the coast, typically trotting pretty Marsalforn beach or shores overlooking Comino to the south as the sun either rises or sets in the distance.

St Nicholas Bay (Visit Malta)

3. Explore the coast

View of the Citadella (Visit Malta)

The fringes of Gozo are ideal for kayaking and sailing. Between here and the mainland lies the treeless isle of Comino, barely a kilometre off Hondoq Bay. It was once a smuggler’s hideout, but these days its coves and famed ‘Blue Lagoon’ hold more appeal for tourists. So the chance to paddle or sail its rocky nooks and hidden caves away from the others, tumbling into the water to snorkel the shallows at will, is a rare and cherished thing.

Alternatively, offshore tours of the north-east coast show an older side to island life. Bob past the salt pans of Qbajjar, hewn into the rock to allow the seawater to collect and evaporate, then head up the coast to Dahlet Qorrot, its colourful boathouses carved from the shore. As you veer north, past Mars-like shores and fishermen in brightly painted luzzu boats, hidden bays yield isolated coves to paddle. 

Scuba diving in Gozo (Visit Malta)

4. Get your culture fix

The Duke Boutique Hotel

One of Gozo’s most iconic locations is capital Victoria’s Citadella. You can almost see it from everywhere on the island. This hill has been settled since neolithic times but was refortified in the early 16th century to protect against raids from pirates and Ottoman Turks. It’s a joy to wander, with narrow alleys hiding lace shops and museums and sweeping views from atop the ramparts.

The best-known historic site on the island is undoubtedly Xaghra’s UNESCO-listed Ggjantia Temples, reputedly the oldest free-standing monument in the world. It dates from 3,600 BC but remains in impressive condition, thanks to the tough corraline limestone from which it was built. Just exploring these stone foundations is an evocative experience.

Elsewhere, there’s no shortage of institutions narrating the island’s history, from Nadur’s eclectic Maritime Museum, which has some usual British relics including timber from Lord Nelson’s ship, to the Heart of Gozo in Victoria, showing restored artworks from the town’s impressive basilica.

5. Take a dive

Ta’ Frenc

Malta is famed among divers. Waters here are warmest between July and October, but it rarely gets too chilly. Gentle, sloping shores make it ideal for beginners, and an abundance of sheltered inlets mean the weather is never an issue. It has something for everyone, yet the outer islands are unique.

The mainland might boast more historic wrecks but what’s special about Gozo comes naturally. Its shifting tectonics has created a wealth of interesting dive sites, from the vast grouper shoals of Reqqa Reef to the double arches off Xwejni Bay and the dazzling Blue Hole of Dwerja, a seemingly bottomless sinkhole that drops down to reveal a wild underwater world.   

The geology offshore kicks up endless surprises. Head to Comino, for example, to explore the shallow caves of Santa Marija, a picturesque dive lit by sunbeams bouncing off its vertical walls to reveal swaying nudibranches, moray eels and bolting octopi. Wherever you go, you’ll find wonders.

6. Great places to stay

For most Maltese, Gozo is the place they escape to. It’s rural valleys hide myriad stone-built farmhouses, some over 400 years old. Many have been converted into plush poolside stays, making for the perfect weeklong retreat devouring ftira (a Gozitan take on pizza) fresh from the bakery and wandering old countryside trails in peace.

A historic town alternative is the Duke Boutique Hotel in capital Victoria. It lies on the site of another old stay, originally built in 1880, and has fine views of the medieval Citadella and over to the coast.

For a taste of village life, Quaint hotels and apartments are scattered across the island’s hamlets, yielding plenty of pleasant surprises. Their Xewkija stay, for example, overlooks the village church’s huge rotunda, said to be one of the largest domes in Europe.

However, the finest setting surely belongs to the Kempinski Hotel San Lawrenz, a five-star cocktail of luxury set in the rugged west. Its spa, gardens and pools make an indulgent base for exploring the coastal wilds.

7. Fine food

Meals here are typically preceded by a mezze of chopped tomatoes, capers, olives, local gbejniet (cheeselets), tapenade and Gozitan sausage. After that, all the flavours of the mediterranean palate are catered for.

Head to Ta’ Philip in Mgarr for an upmarket taste of local cooking. Everything here is made in a wood-burning oven, slow-roasting local pork, lamb and kid to perfection. It also does a rather fine take on Malta’s classic stuffat tal-fenek (stewed rabbit) dish – a legacy of the old rural roots of the islands.

For a more countryside setting, head west of Xaghrato Ta’ Frenc, in the garden of a converted farmhouse. Its founder sadly passed away recently, but a bold new chef, a superb wine list and inventive takes on Mediterranean staples ensure his culinary legacy lives on.

Lastly, for a surprise, Gozo Picnic are one of the more ’grammable options on the island – especially in socially distanced times. They simply send you a location; you then turn up to a fully prepared, locally sourced picnic (breakfast, lunch or dinner), typically with finely curated views. A true delight.   

Save! Over £400 per couple on a seven day holiday to Gozo

Enjoy a 7 night’s holiday in October at the five star Kempinski San Lawrenz hotel, including direct flights from London, breakfast and boat transfers. You will also get a booking discount and a free room upgrader. 

Book now by calling: 020 7368 1200

Feeling inspired? 

For more information and inspiration on travel to Gozo, visit the official Malta website. 

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