A hotbed of history and Mediterranean charm, the island of Gozo, north of Malta, has an outsized presence for being only 67 square kilometers. Boasting the oldest standing structure in the world, azure inlets and imposing seaside forts, Gozo is a delight for the senses.
Top photo: Berit Watkin
A recent recipient of a Vista Award for sustainable travel, Gozo has its eye on an eco-friendly future. It aims become an “eco-island” by 2020, reducing its carbon footprint and water use, and fostering more sustainable livelihoods and a better standard of living, all without sacrificing the quality of its stunning natural setting.
Perhaps Gozo knows about planning for the long-term because it's been inhabited for millennia. The island is home to one of the oldest standing structures in the world, Ġgantija. A UNESCO World Heritage site, these two Neolithic temples date back to between 3,600 and 3,200 BC. Erected from single, enormous blocks of rock, Ġgantija offers a compelling glimpse into the religious lives of ancient Gozians. Yet it's not just Stone Age structures that abound in Gozo. Each of the island's 14 towns are host to baroque churches, chapels and clusters of charming white-washing buildings, while watchtowers dot the coast. The most notable defensive structure is the Citadel, an ancient walled town resting on Roman foundations. Located in Victoria, the Citadel's massive walls and St. Mary's Cathedral were built to protect the island's citizens – body and soul – during sieges.
Photo: Atlantis Gozo
Yet it's not just enchanting architecture that define Gozo, but its natural beauty. Small inlets such as Mġarr ix-Xini and Wied il-Għasri are carved from the sheer seaside cliffs. One sea cave, in particular, is said to be the very one where the nymph Calypso held Ulysses captive. Crystal-clear water and awe-inspiring rock formations invite swimming, diving, and climbing, or just a long day stretched out in the sun.
If you're going out sunbathing, be sure to pack a meal: Gozo's cuisine is an enticing mix of Mediterranean and North African flavors, and is particularly notable for its traditional foods. Gozitan cheese, usually made from sheep's milk, is formed into small, round cheeses called Ġbejniet, and can be either served fresh, or dried, marinated or peppered. The cheese is also used to fill home-made ravioli and pastizzi. Pastizzi are Gozo’s favorite savory snack – miniature pasties filled with cheese or peas.
The festival season runs from May to September, when each of the island's hamlets celebrates its patron saint with a procession and other celebrations. For those who prefer tranquil rambles and hikes, the low season in the winter and spring is ideal. Christmastime brings the village-sized living nativity Betlehem f’ Għajnsielem, while Carnival is held in February, and the town of Victoria stages two operas in October.
Most accommodation in Gozo is self-catering, allowing visitors to enjoy the peace and solitude of a charming cottage or rustic farmhouses in the countryside. For those seeking the height of luxury, Gozo has two five-star, eco-certified options: Ta’ Cenc Hotel, and San Lawrenz Kempinsk.