Gozo, meaning “joy” in Castilian, is the second largest island of the Maltese archipelago, with a population of approximately 30,000. It is just a bit more than 13 kilometres long and 7 kilometres wide. Its coastal length is about 46 kilometres; therefore, you can hike around it in a few days. Gozo is a popular day trip from Malta both in summer and winter. I visited Gozo in winter by public transport and here are my recommendations of things to do and see in a day in Gozo in wintertime. I recommend concentrating on three areas: Victoria, Marsalforn, and Xewkija.
So here you go:
All roads in Gozo lead to Victoria. Its Citadel is visible from almost anywhere on the island, rising steeply above the surrounding countryside. In old days, Gozo was a privileged Roman municipality, independent of Malta. It hardly suffered from the raids of Turkish, Berber, and other pirates. The climax of the Turkish raids on Gozo came in 1551 when almost the entire 5,000 population of Gozo was chained and taken into slavery. It took nearly 50 years to repopulate the island. Because of that, until 1637, the Gozitan population was required by law to spend their nights within the Citadel for their safety. Later, this restriction was lifted and people settled below its walls, creating the prosperous town of Rabat, now known as Victoria. Today, Victoria is not just the geographic heart of Gozo, it is also the centre of everyday activity. Begin your visit to Victoria by visiting Citadel.
The ancient citadel is called the crown of Gozo. It was inhabited possibly since Neolithic times. The latest citadel was built in the 17th century on the site of earlier fortifications by the Knights of St. John. Its fully preserved fortifications consist of defensive walls and bastions. Inside the walls, you can also find the Cathedral Museum, the Law Courts, the Old Prison, the Gozo Museum of Archaeology, The Folklore Museum, the Citadel Armoury, and the Natural Science Museum. There is a superb view from the fortifications all around the horizon with vistas over the tiny fields surrounded by yellow stone walls, domes of village churches, and the Gordan Lighthouse.
Within the Citadel, you can find the Gozo Cathedral that is famous for its outstanding Trompe L’oeil painting depicting an illusion of dome. It is so convincing that many visitors have to be persuaded that it is indeed not a real dome. The cathedral is a fine baroque structure in the form of a Latin cross and is built entirely of the local limestone. Instead of bell towers, a tall campanile with five bells is attached to it. The interior is graceful and well-proportioned. The other attraction of the cathedral is the statue of Santa Maria, the Assumption.Visit also St George’s Basilica and Villa Rundle Gardens located in the town.
St George’s Basilica
St George’s Basilica is known as “the golden church of Gozo”. The present structure dates back to 1678. As you approach the church from St George’s Square, you notice its huge bronze portals. They were installed in 2004 to commemorate the Great Jubilee of the year 2000 that launched the third Christian millennium. Standing in front of the altar, admire the bronze canopy that evokes the famous baldachin of Bernini, the great Renaissance artist.
Villa Rundle Gardens
The gardens were created thanks to British Governor Sir Leslie Rundle in the early 20th century. They were made in place of a former experimental farm founded during British rule. The purpose of the farm was to raise the level of agricultural and breeding culture in Malta and Gozo. The Villa Rundle gardens had three years of a makeover and were reopened to the public in 2012. It incorporates a playing area, a visitors’ centre, and an area dedicated to open-air activities.
Address: Republic Street
After exploring Victoria, continue your way to Marsalforn village, famous for its saltpans. I recommend taking a bus to Marsalforn and walking out of the city in the direction of Hvejny Bay beach. When you pass it, you will reach saltpans shortly. But one of the first things you will notice when heading out of the village will be Qolla il-Bajda Battery.
Qolla il-Bajda Battery
Qolla il-Bajda Battery overlooking the creeks of Qbajjar and Xwejni was built in the early 18th century. Its main purpose was to protect Marsalforn Bay from the attacks of Barbary and Ottoman warships. The site was abandoned from the 19th century until World War II when it was used again as the observation post. After the war, it was closed and left to decay. In the 1980s, the building was renovated and converted into a nightclub named Rook. In 2003, the nightclub closed and the structure was abandoned again. Then continue to saltpans.
Saltpans are one of the most interesting features of the Gozo coastline. The ancient Romans began carving the saltpans in Marsalforn over 2,000 years ago, and the process is still being done today. Sea salt is coarser than refined salt and is a staple in Mediterranean gastronomic traditions. Salt panning involves carving shallow pools into the rock by the sea and pumping them regularly with seawater. It is gradually dried up by the sun to leave a white residue. This is then collected, cleaned, and refined to produce sea salt. There are about 300 salt pans on a shore outside the town from which eight families harvest the mineral from the sea. You can also buy their products there.Continue your way to Reqqa Point.
It is a small pointed headland lying beneath the village of Żebbug, west of the famous Xwejni salt pans. This rocky cape is the most northerly point of Gozo. Surrounded by deep water, its vertical walls are cut by several fissures and crevices. Around the point of the reef, large boulders lying against the wall are an excellent refuge for groupers, octopuses, and large scorpionfish. Reqqa Point is probably the most popular dive on Gozo’s north coast due to its spectacular underwater topography and abundance of marine life.
World record plate
Keep an eye out for the World record plate while walking. For almost 35 years, Nicky Farrugia was the only person in the world who could say he had swum from Sicily to Malta. On 28 July 1985, Farrugia completed the long-distance swim, reaching Gozo after 30 hours and 17 minutes, as you can read on the memorial plate. In 2020, ultra-swimmer Neil Agius became the second person ever to swim from Sicily to Malta, after Nicky Farrugia. Neil Agius has swum into the world’s record books with the longest open water non-stop swim from Italian island Linosa to Gozo, a record of 125.6 km completed in just over 52 hours.
I hope you noticed prickly pears during your walk.
When travelling down on a country lane around Gozo, it is hard to miss the abundant cacti that flow over stone walls lining the roads. In the past, farmers used cacti to set boundaries between fields. These flat cacti are the source of one of Malta’s most unusual products, the prickly pear. When peeled, the colour inside can be green, yellow, red, or purple. In Malta, they are usually served either raw or as the traditional liqueur Bajtra. Prickly pears were used against stomach aches, bone pain, inflammations, and insect stings. In fact, the prickly pear fruit was so popular in Malta that the 1975-1988 version of Malta’s coat of arms featured a prickly pear plant, along with a traditional Maltese fishing boat and the sun.
On your way back, stop for lunch at Qbajjar Restaurant.
It’s considered by many as one of the best restaurants in Gozo. It’s located at Qbajjar, next to Marsalforn, where you can enjoy sea views, together with great food and professional service creating a perfect atmosphere. The restaurant specialises in traditional Maltese and Mediterranean cuisine. Fresh fish is also available according to the daily catch. The mouth-watering dishes are prepared by chefs using the finest fresh local ingredients. I was not so hungry and just had a soup and it was delicious.
Address: Triq ix-Xwejni, Qbajjar, Marsalforn
After returning to Marsalforn, take a bus to Xewkija village.
Xewkija or Ix-Xewkija village has a long and distinguished history. It became the first parish outside Victoria in 1678 and was the first to get the official village status. Its name derives from Arabic and means “an area of the thorny wasteland”.
Entering the village from the Mġarr Road, you will see the refurbished Knights-period windmill erected in the early 18th century. Windmills played an integral part in Maltese history. It is said that there were about 70 of them around the islands, dating as far as the 17th century. This oldest surviving windmill in Gozo is unique because its ground floor is built in an octagon shape showing the eight principal directions of the wind. Abandoned for more than 50 years, the building was restored using mostly the EU funds and opened to the public in 2021. There is a museum inside free of charge for visitors. Then continue your way to Rotunda Church.
Rotunda Church is the biggest church in Gozo and boasts the third largest unsupported dome in the world. The first parish church, dedicated to St. John the Baptist, was erected in Ix-Xewkija in 1755. After the 2nd World War, the parishioners wanted to build a new church to accommodate more people. Architect Joseph D’Amato drew up the plans inspired by the famous Basilica of Santa Maria Della Salute in Venice. The new church was consecrated in 1978. This monumental building is an enormous circular structure made of local white limestone. The interior is decorated with fine sculptures and modern paintings.
Just before the Rotunda was completed, the old church was carefully dismantled, and the best parts of it delicately rebuilt next to the new church now serving as a Sculpture Museum.
From the Sculpture Museum, visitors can take a lift up to the dome to enjoy spectacular views of the island of Gozo and as far afield as Malta. Also, keep an eye out for the red telephone and post box in the centre of the village.
Telephone and post box
Many towns and villages in the Maltese Islands have at least one red British style phone box and a post box. They are usually located in the main square, which is also the case with Ix-Xewkija.
There are two ways of reaching Gozo from Malta: either by speed boat from Valletta or by bus to Cirkewwa Ferry Terminal and then take a ferry. If you choose the first option, head to the Upper Barraka Gardens in Valetta and find the elevator taking you down to waterfront level. There you will find the Lascaris terminal, where you can board a fast ferry to bring you to your destination. The other option is to go by bus to Cirkewwa Ferry Terminal and then board a ferry to Mgarr Harbour in Gozo. Then take a bus to Victoria. After visiting Victoria, hop on a bus to Marsalforn and then continue to Xewkija. Xewkija has a direct bus connection back to Mgarr Harbour for your return trip to Malta.
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Author: Anita Sāne
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