Having already experienced a thrilling speedboating journey to Comino, we were slowing it down a notch by taking a much more leisurely pace in our approach to Gozo.
There are a number of ways to get to Gozo; you can organise a day tour with a trip operator, you can hire your own boat or, if you’re trying to save money like we were, you can catch a ferry there.
The ferries to Gozo operate regularly (about every 45 minutes during daylight hours at the time of writing) but do take note of the time of the last departing ferry of the day – unless you want to be stranded on Gozo, of course!
We woke up ridiculously early to catch the bus all the way to Malta‘s northern tip of Cirkewwa. From there, it was a relatively quick (30 minutes) ferry over to Gozo. Even though we were still officially in the process of waking up, we couldn’t help but be excited when we spotted the coast of the island on which we’d be spending our day.
|Gozo’s port of Mgarr.|
Considering the fact that Gozo is only one-third of the size of Malta, you might assume that there is not that much to see. But this could not be further from the truth – from honey-coloured citadels to ancient temples to fantastic sights – both manmade and natural – you’ll have a full day ahead of you when on a trip to Gozo.
Top tip: If you’re going to rely on Gozo’s bus network to get around, be sure to check (and double-check) bus times. Some buses only arrive hourly and some routes may end early, so make sure that you won’t be stranded or lose valuable day trip hours due to a missed bus.
|Arriving in Victoria.|
|With the Cathedral of the Assumption taking centrestage in the Cittadella.|
Gozo may be on the small side, but it does have a capital city (and a great deal of pride, as islanders call themselves Gozitans). With a population of almost 7000, Victoria, formerly known as Rabat, was renamed for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee back in 1897.
While there are quite a few things to see in Victoria, the city’s centrepiece has to be Cittadella (the Citadel). This hill was first fortified back in the Bronze Age but the current walls, displaying warm hues of gold, were built in the 15th Century.
Victoria was our first stop, and we headed straight to Cittadella to take in the sights. With trucks, scaffolding and stacks of building material all around, there was plenty of construction activity on the go when we visited, but – luckily for us – we could still pop into some of the main buildings in the citadel.
|The charming alleyways of the citadel.|
|Still beautiful when under scaffolding!|
One of these was the Cathedral of the Assumption. Outside and in, you’ll find gorgeous architecture here, as well as one of the smartest build ‘cheats’ I’ve seen. Completed in the 18th Century, the cathedral was built to replace another religious building that had been damaged in an earthquake.
And a visit here shouldn’t be missed. There are altars and walls adorned with decoration, there are the colorful marble funereal slabs covering the floor and, if you look upwards to the ceiling, you may just spot that trick I mentioned. When the cathedral was being built, the planned dome couldn’t be completed as, quite simply, the builders ran out of money. Instead, what you can now see is a visual trick, or trompe l’oeil, which makes the cathedral appear to have a domed ceiling when it in fact doesn’t!
|Inside Victoria’s cathedral.|
|These colourful marble slabs can be found in churches all over Malta.|
|A visual trick – this painting gives the illusion that the cathedral has a domed ceiling when it doesn’t.|
Aside from the cathedral, there are a few other worthy stops within the Cittadella, such as the museums of archaeology or folkore as well as the Cathedral Museum. Since we were short on time, though, we were satisfied with climbing to the citadel’s highest point to admire the views, which stretch out far over Gozo.
Our introduction to Gozo’s capital was all too short, but I look forward to someday seeing the results of that renovation work.
|A view over the capital.|
|And another of the countryside.|
There were many, many (many) reasons why I wanted to visit Malta in the first place but the islands’ rich array of archaeological sites hovered near the top of that list.
One of the most fascinating – and oldest – of these can be found near the village of Xaghra. With the temperature getting steadily warmer, we arrived at the Ggantija compound and, thanks to the strict bus times, had only an hour to explore.
|Outside Ggantija Temples.|
|On the walkway out to the site.|
There’s a small information centre to discover just before heading out to the site itself, which gives some context to the structures you’re about to see. Built between 3600 and 3000 BC, there’s still much that’s unknown about the two Ggantija Temples. What looks clear, though, is that these temples are the second-oldest remaining man-made religious structures that can be found on earth – a good reason to visit if you struggle to think of anything else.
Walking out along the walkways in direct sunlight, we could spot something in the distance: a mass of rocks that blended in flawlessly with the arid surroundings.
|A first sighting of the temples.|
|Chris outside one of the Ggantija temples.|
It’s as we faced the other side of this that we realised that this wasn’t any old stack of rocks. Each temple contains a series of ‘niches’ or chambers, in which rituals or sacrifices could be performed. Although no one is entirely sure what the exact function of these temples were, it is likely that these may have been the site of a fertility cult.
The name ‘Ggantija’ means ‘giantess’, which refers to the colossal limestone rocks used to make this temple; some of these weigh a staggering (literally) 50 tonnes. Inside the temples you’ll find the remains of altars, doorways and carved rocks; many of the site’s more elaborate pieces can be found in Victoria’s Archaeology Museum.
|Inside the Ggantija Temples.|
|Where flowers are slowly taking over the walls.|
While we may not know why these temples were built or the functions of each feature found within, I thought this was one of the most photogenic megalithic sites I’ve yet visited. With the large rocks, which appear to be thoroughly unmovable, the surrounding landscape and the subtle way in which nature is slowly taking over the structures, I couldn’t recommend an excursion out to Ggantija enough.
This is one for the nature lovers and, incidentally, Game of Thrones fans.
Another bus caught, we arrived at the designated parking lot for all of those visiting the various delights of Dwerja Bay. After a quick lunch, we were ready to discover these too, although we could already spot one of the main sights from where we were sitting.
|Look familiar? The Azure Window.|
|And the equally stunning surrounds.|
Recently made famous as the location for GoT’s wedding between Daenerys and Khal Drogo, this was the most crowded spot we saw during our day on Gozo. This shouldn’t be the only reason you come to see the Azure Window, though, as this is easily one of the most photogenic natural wonders you’ll ever see.
Formed when two sea caves collapsed, the Azure Window is a perfect archway framing the brilliant-blue sea behind it. Even when we were taking photos there, it felt like someone was sticking up a cardboard backdrop – the Azure Window was just that beautiful and the colours just that bright.
|Divers emerge from the Blue Hole.|
|More sights along Dwerja Bay.|
There are a few different vantage points from which to see the Azure Window, with some ignoring the warning signs by climbing onto the archway itself. It’s thought that, due to erosion, the window may collapse. Before that moment happens, though, it seemed like everyone was determined to get their best shot of this landmark.
One thing you shouldn’t miss, however, is spotting another natural phenomenon here: the Blue Hole. Unfortunately for us up on land, this one’s underwater. The Blue Hole is a 25-metre deep ‘chimney’, which also features an archway. Unsurprisingly, it’s one of Malta’s most popular diving spots and, visually announced by a copious amount of bubbles, we spotted some divers surface from their underwater adventures.
While the aforementioned sites usually get all of the attention, the surrounding area is worth exploring too. The rocky shelves in front of the Azure Window are dotted with rockpools, pits and even the surface of the rock seems to be punctuated with shards of bone.
|The surface of the rocks.|
|A place where ‘mind the gap’ becomes a real concern.|
|One last look at the Azure Window.|
If you fancy a lengthy stroll, you could spend hours taking in the sights of nearby Dwerja Bay, with features carrying eccentric names like Crocodile Rock and Fungus Rock.
Chris and I sometimes differ on how we’d like to spend our days travelling – he’s happy to spend an entire day lying on the beach while I – sorry, Chris – feel like I need to see and do as much as possible for the entirety of the trip. But, thankfully, this dynamic has worked thus far, as Chris will be the one who forces me to slow down by asking, ‘so when do we actually start the relaxing part?’
So, after scurrying around Gozo, chasing buses and exploring capital cities, archaeological sites and natural wonders, it was time to head over to what is considered to be the island’s very best sandy beach: Ramla Bay.
|Not a bad place to relax – Ramla Bay.|
It’s a ridiculously pretty beach, with reddish sands interrupted by a white statue of the Virgin Mary. Even though it was summer and there were the usual souvenir stalls nearby, Ramla Bay didn’t feel crowded at all. For a few hours, we plonked ourselves on our towels and just sat there, with me optimistically thinking that I was improving on my so-far non-existent tan.
We ended off with a tasty dinner at one of the beachside cafes before rushing all the way back to catch the ferry from Mgarr back to Cirkewwa. But, thanks to Chris, we had the opportunity to simply sit, relax and think back on all of the amazing spots we’d encountered in that single day.
We managed to see a lot in that one day and we also proved that solely relying on the island’s bus network is completely feasible, which some other guides suggested wouldn’t work at all. But, like with any guide, there are many places that we didn’t manage to see: Ta’Pinu Basilica, all of Dwerja Bay’s sights, the salt pans near Marsalforn, San Blas Bay… I could go on and on. That said, though, the four spots listed above are some of the island’s best and are all doable in a day.
Next time, though, I vow to be in Gozo for longer than a day – and with my own car at the ready so that I can see the sights without worrying when the next bus will be appearing!
For now, if you’re keen to retrace our route on Gozo, take a look at the map below.
Have you been to Gozo? Would you recommend exploring the island via bus or car (or something else)? Let me know in the comments below.