What happened in Gozo?
A ferry ride from the island of Malta to Gozo will be about a twenty-minute crossing. You don’t pay for the ferry ride back to Malta until you leave Gozo, so if you decide to stay permanently on Gozo you’ve had a free ferry ride! Buses are available right at the marina where you disembark from the ferry and where you can go on to the central bus station in Victoria, the capital of Gozo. It’s about a 10-minute ride. From the central bus station you can reach all the major tourist sites on the island and a week’s bus travel will cost you $10 Cdn. One day, while on my way to the beautiful Azure Window I asked the bus driver how long the journey was. He replied, “Any bus ride on Gozo is no longer than about 20 minutes, otherwise you’d end up in the ocean.” That indicates how small the island and also points to the charming and understated sense of humour you will encounter from the locals.
Why Gone in Gozo? I stayed at the Hotel San Andrea, at the beginning of November for seven days. It’s a lovely, three-star, family-run hotel on beautiful Xlendi Bay in the southwest part of the island. Here’s what happened when“Gone in Gozo.” When I had made my booking at the San Andrea Hotel, I understood that I had booked for seven nights. So, on what I thought was my last and seventh day at the hotel, I left early in the morning to explore the salt pans on the other side of the island.
When I got back to the hotel in the late afternoon, I went to my room to find that my key would not work! When I knocked on the door, a stranger opened it. To my surprise and dismay, none of my belongings were in the room! The woman, who was in the room, told me to go to reception. Confused and concerned, I went there immediately. According to their hotel reservation records I was supposed to have left the hotel that morning! The owners of the hotel were even more mystified and concerned when they went to my room that morning to find my belongings still there. The first thing that came to their minds was that I had disappeared, that I was “Gone in Gozo,” perhaps falling over one of the steep cliffs that border the island! Luckily this was not the case. They had very kindly moved all my belongings to another room for my last night on Gozo.
I recommend the Hotel San Andrea highly for many reasons, the views on the bay are phenomenal (pay a few more Euros for a room that overlooks the bay), the owners are lovely and helpful, the included breakfast is scrumptious, and very important, just behind the hotel is a bus stop where buses run regularly, taking you, in a few minutes, to the main bus station in Victoria. From Victoria you can get to the major sites on the island.
Some History of Gozo
Part of the Maltese archipelago, Gozo is the second-largest of the seven-island chain. It is more rural than its sister island Malta and Gozo’s inhabitants are known as Gozitans.The island has been inhabited since about 5200 BC when it is believed that farmers from Sicily crossed the sea to Gozo.
One of its most important historic locations are the Ġgantija temples, which go back to 3600 BC , and along with the Megalithic Temples of Malta, are amongst some of the world’s oldest free-standing structures. The day I arrived on Gozo, is the same day that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie left the island after filming “By the Sea.”
What to see and do on Gozo
Gozo’s coastline is extraordinary and it has many hiking trails. For those interested in its fascinating temple culture, a visit to the Ggantija Temple should not be missed — it is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its stone walls have stood for over five and half centuries. For me, it was a thrill to walk where people had walked centuries ago and ponder the reasons for this structure. There is no written testimony that relates to the temple structures of Malta and Gozo, so the speculation is that their construction had to do with religious reasons, or, they were possibly the site of a fertility cult. Archeologists believe that the numerous figurines and statues found on site are connected with that cult.
Not-to-miss sites in Victoria are the The Citadel ( a fortress). St George’s Basilica, built between 1627 and 1678 is situated in the middle of Victoria. The Aurora Opera House is where I attended a performance by the Maltese Philharmonic Orchestra. What a treat that was! Upstairs is a beautiful concert hall and downstairs you find a sports bar complete with pool tables and beer—a compelling example of where high and low culture meet! In Victoria, visit the Glory of England Bar, a most quaint bar with photos of Queen Elizabeth.
Interesting sites on the island of Gozo: The Azure Window, a limestone natural arch and the cliffs at Dwerja Bay; take a ferry to Comino Island and its breathtaking Blue Lagoon, explore this small island on foot; discover Ramla Bay (a sandy beach) and Calypso’s Cave; Ta’ Kola Windmill in Xagħra, dating back to 1725 and the Knights of St. John, is one of the few surviving windmills on the Maltese Islands.
On the north coast of Gozo, west of Marsalforn, are a chequerboard of hundreds of rock-cut saltpans along the coast for about three kilometres. They exemplify the centuries-old Gozitan tradition of Sea-Salt production that has been passed down from generation to generation.Visiting the salt pans was a highlight for me where you could walk along the coast, interspersed with salt pans, taking in the surrounding cliffs with their fascinating rock formations (some so smooth they look like they’ve been carved from butter), caves, ocean front and fisherman fishing off the cliffs.
If you enjoy churches, Gozo has 46! A particularly interesing one is Ta’ Pinu where it is reputed that many people have been healed by Our Lady of Ta’Pinu. In 1883, Karmni Grima was walking past what was then a much smaller church and heard a voice asking her to recite three Hail Marys. Over the following years miracles were attributed to the grace of Our Lady of The Assumption to whom the church was dedicated. Evidence to these miracles is in the huge assortment of crutches, testimonials and thanks that have been left at the church. The Church of St. John the Baptist, the largest church in Gozo, boasts the third largest unsupported dome in the world. Ix-Xewkija is one of the oldest villages of Gozo and took the status of a parish as early as 1678. Years later the parish church, dedicated to St. John the Baptist, was erected, and consecrated in 1755.
Għarb was created as a parish in 1679. This resulted in the baroque parish church, the Basilica of the Visitation, being built between 1699 and 1729. It has an elegant façade which has been compared with Francesco Borromini’s Church of Saint Agnes in Piazza Navona, Rome.
A bit about the ancient and intriguing town of Gharb which started out as a small hamlet centuries ago with its winding streets, stone walls, decorated stone balconies and spiritual feel: The word Gharb is Arabic for West, so it is no surprise that it is the most westerly place on Gozo. A Folklore Museum in Garb has an intriguing collection of memorabilia which tells the Islands’ history. Surrounding Għarb is some of Gozo’s most scenic countryside. Ta’ Dbiegi Craft Village is located near Gharb where several individual shops offer hand-made pottery, Gozo lace, glass blowing and leather, all items are made in the crafts village.