The Maltese archipelago consists of three islands–Malta (home to the UNESCO-recognized city of Valletta), Comino (location of the popular Blue Lagoon) and Gozo–a starkly beautiful island that is surrounded by a ribbon of shimmering sea. With its quiet, dusty streets and its undeveloped villages, the island of Gozo feels stuck in time. It is an unspoiled oasis of rocky landscapes, remote beaches, historical relics and goldstone villages.
Gozo is like a smaller and quieter version of Malta. While the island contains some bustling towns of its own, it escapes the heavy traffic and congestions of its larger sister. The island is virtually free of high-rises and resorts. And its tallest buildings are the domed cathedrals that crown its arid hilltops.
I began my day trip to Gozo with a visit to the citadel that lies at the heart of the island’s largest city, Victoria. The citadel sits smack in the middle of Gozo and its fortified walls provide stunning 360 degree panoramas of the surrounding countryside.
From the fortress, I admired the terraced hillsides and the narrow roads that zigzagged toward the sea. Through the haze, domed cathedrals towered over my surroundings.
I could have spent a few hours exploring the narrow lanes of the citadel and relishing the sweeping views of the Gozitan countryside. However, with only one day in Gozo and much of the morning already behind me due to a series of lengthy bus rides from St Julian’s, I continued on to Dwejra after a mere half hour of wandering the fortress grounds.
Tourism on Gozo centers around Dwejra Bay. And for good reason. The entire area is blessed with dramatic rock formations, sapphire waters and postcard-worthy views.
The Azure Window near Dwejra is one of the archipelago’s most outstanding natural features. Rising from the cobalt waters of the Mediterranean Sea, the iconic rock arch stands as a testament to the elements that have sculpted Malta’s malleable limestone landscape.
Adjacent to the Azure Window is another of Gozo’s highlights–a natural swimming pool known as the Blue Hole. The Blue Hole is a collapsed underwater cave that sits at the foot of the Azure Window. The swimming hole’s intensely blue waters are crystal clear and make for some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving in Europe. It is the perfect place for a refreshing afternoon swim.
Just a stone’s throw away from the Azure Window and Blue Hole, sits yet another of Dwejra Bay’s must-see gems–the oft-overlooked Inland Sea. This peculiar geological formation is a saltwater lagoon with a pebbled beach and calm, blue-green waters. On three sides, towering cliffs surround the lagoon. The Inland Sea has no outlet, save for a small tunnel in the rock wall that leads to the open ocean.
I had the Inland Sea virtually to myself, despite the hoards of camera-toting tourists at the nearby Azure Window. So I swam in the lagoon’s cool waters and then lay down on the warm rocks to dry off–enjoying a bit of solitude before continuing on my way.
Since I only realistically had time to fit one more destination into my Gozo itinerary after visiting Dwejra Bay, I skipped the megalithic temples of Ggantija and headed straight to Xlendi Bay instead. I’d already toured the comparable temples of Hagar Qim and Mnajdra the previous day and figured my time would be best spent relishing one of Gozo’s most picturesque towns.
Xlendi is a seaside village located on the southwestern side of Gozo. This jumble of houses surrounding a rectangular bay is a favorite among locals and tourists alike for its laid-back vibe, its picturesque setting and its plethora of eateries.
The beach at Xlendi is small, but it is one of the best spots on the island to take a dip in the aquamarine ocean, hike up a surrounding hillside or to watch life go by at one of the many outdoor cafes.
Though my day trip to Gozo was the perfect finale to my Maltese vacation, I wish I’d spent a bit more time exploring the island. Because visiting Gozo by public bus as a day trip–while convenient and cheap–can be incredibly time-consuming. In all, my day trip to Gozo required I take a total of eight buses and a roundtrip ferry. It became immediately apparent that bus travel around Malta requires patience, flexibility and a love for traveling the local way.
And yet, while many might find it inconvenient to tour Gozo using public transport, I am happy I traveled to the island without a tour. For exploring Gozo by bus allowed me to navigate Malta’s little sister at my own pace and on my own terms.
My five days in Malta and Gozo may have been brief, but they were packed to the brim with visits to ancient temples, seaside villages and geological wonders. Despite the brevity of my visit, it was easy to see why so many people I met on the island had chosen to extend their stays. And I could see why Malta consistently ranks among the world’s top off-the-beaten-path destinations. For this densely packed archipelago is so architecturally intriguing, aesthetically beautiful and culturally rich, that it would take months–if not years–to fully appreciate all it has to offer.