The Azure Window © MalteseKnight
Malta's little sister island of Gozo invites visitors
to put on their walking shoes. Life here moves at a leisurely pace,
its rhythms dictated by the seasons, with a rugged landscape and
beautiful coastline just crying out for exploration.
Inland, flowering herbs and hardy Mediterranean crops
cover the small island, and in summer it is fragrant with oleander,
bougainvillea, and geranium. The island has some picturesque rock
formations, some fascinating caves, and lovely beaches.
Gozo has some of the Mediterranean's best snorkelling
and scuba diving sites. But it is also a place of myth and legend,
believed to be the Calypso isle of Homer's Odyssey. The
countryside is dotted with old stone farmhouses and Baroque
churches, as well as some prehistoric temples and other historic
sites of importance.
The commercial centre of the island, Victoria, has a
sleepy 17th-century feel. The town has many buildings of historical
and cultural interest, mostly situated inside the Citadel, the
ancient fortified part of the town.
In the Citadel, tourists can enjoy numerous museums
and wonderful views of the entire island. Gozo is a quiet, ancient,
and atmospheric tourist destination and is reachable from Malta's
Grand Harbour by ferry in about 20 minutes.
Azure Window © anjab1593
A marvellous Maltese treat, the Azure Window is a distinctive rock formation forming a large arch over the brilliant blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Formed when several enormous caves collapsed, it's often been a perfect location for film shoots.
Located in Gozo, near the tourist village of Dwejra, the Azure Window is a popular scuba diving site in Malta. Unfortunately, tourists aren't allowed to walk across the arch due to erosion, with the site in danger of falling apart altogether. If this happens, it will be renamed the Azure Pinnacle.
This coastline boasts many secluded pebbled bathing pools and crystal clear water. The strange formations formed in lovely little pools makes swimming exciting, providing enjoyable diving in the blue hole near the Azure Window. The area's most famous formation is Fungus Rock, found near the entrance to a black lagoon. Heavily guarded during the era of the Knights of Malta because of a special plant with healing properties which grew upon it, stealing the plant meant death penalty.
Caves © Heini Samuelsen
Caves of XaghraThe alabaster caves at Xaghra feature amazing stalactites and stalagmites. One of them, named Calypso Cave, has an important place in Greek mythology and overlooks the red sand of Gozo's best beach, Ramla Ihamra. The grotto is believed to be the one referred to in Homer's Odyssey as being where the beautiful nymph, Calypso, kept Odysseus for seven years. Visitors have fantastic views over the bay while below remains a fortification built by the Knights of St John. Two other caves worth visiting at Xaghra are Xerri's Grotto and Ninu's Grotto, both geologically magnificent. Discovered by local families whilst digging wells on their properties, visiting the caves requires knocking on their doors and descending through their houses. The families are very friendly and happily show visitors around. Children enjoy exploring the caves and are recommended attractions for those travelling in Malta with kids or to anybody interested in the geology of the region.
Ggantija Temples © Jennifer Morrow
Sometime between 4,100 BC and 2,500 BC, Pre-Phoenician Gozitans carved two massive megaliths into temples which now stand as mysterious monuments to a bygone age. Legend has it that they were transported to the island by a giantess called Sansuna, hence the site's name: Ä gantija.
Large stones balls in the area have led archaeologists to conclude that the massive blocks were rolled into place. Two temples have a common façade but each has a separate entrance. Inside the walls, animal sacrifices occurred during ritual observances.
The temples, along with other similar complexes on the main island of Malta, are documented as the oldest free-standing structures in the world. For this reason, the extremely impressive Ä gantija Temples are a famous UNESCO Word Heritage Site.
But the site is not equipped with as much information as some visitors might desire. It's best to do some research beforehand or to join a guided tour as added knowledge greatly enriches the Ä gantija experience.
Address: Temples Street, Xaghra; Website: heritagemalta.org/museums-sites/ggantija-temples
A good place to begin exploring Gozo is the Citadel, or Citadella, an historic castle right in the centre of Victoria. The area that is now the Citadel was first fortified around 1500 BC, with further developments occurring under Phoenician and Roman rule.
Up until the 18th century, it was the only fortified refuge against attack for Gozo's inhabitants. From the ramparts of this fascinating sanctuary, visitors can admire sweeping views of the whole islands. Happily, the Citadel houses a number of attractions and makes for an exciting visit.
The Gozo Museum of Archaeology, found just inside the walls of the Citadel, is a 17th-century building that was originally the town hall. It provides great insight into the history of the island, also illustrating the cultural history of Gozo from prehistoric times to the early modern era.
Presented chronologically, this collection covers the Neolithic Period, the Phoenicians, the Romans, medieval times, and the emergences of the Knights of St John. The Citadel also houses the spooky Old Prison, which is now a museum.
One of the Citadel's greatest treasures is the beautiful 17th-century Baroque cathedral. The Citadel could easily keep tourists occupied for a few hours with the views alone justifying a visit.