There is plenty to do-- from touring historical sites, visiting movie sets or relaxing around your lushly landscaped hotel.
You know Crete, Mykonos and even Malta, but a little-known island that is just as gorgeous, has some of the best the Mediterranean Sea has to offer—without all the crowds.
Gozo, which means “joy,” is part of the country of Malta and one of three islands, along Malta and Comino, that make up the Maltese Archipelago. Located about 50 miles from Sicily and about 120 miles north of Africa, Gozo is accessible via a 25-minute ferry ride from the shores of Malta.
Surrounded by cliffs and deep blue seas, and known for its colorful fishing boats, sleepy sunning cats and mild weather year round, Gozo is a welcome respite from the busier pace of Malta and a popular spot for many a filmmaker. The island appears in movies like “The Count of Monte Cristo,” “Troy” and “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.” Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie even set up shop on the island for several months while filming Jolie’s movie “By the Sea.”
A Natural Wonder
There are many gorgeous natural phenomenon to see on this jewel of the Mediterranean. Also called the Island of Calypso, Gozo is supposed to be a location in Homer’s “Odyssey.” The nymph Calypso is said to have kept Ulysses as a “prisoner of love” for seven years at Calypso’s Cave, a real spot overlooking the island’s beautiful beach of Ramla. Gazing downward, you can also see the ruins of a fortification built by the Knights of Malta in the mid-18th century.
One of the most fantastic sites on the island is the Azure Window. Seen in “The Count of Monte Cristo,” “Clash of the Titans” and Season 1 of “Game of Thrones,” this stone structure is a naturally formed arch that creates a “window” framing the blue sky and stunning blue Mediterranean waters. Hire a local skiff to take you through the window for a view of Gozo from the water and into the Inland Sea, where a shallow saltwater pool has formed.
Comino is an even smaller island than Gozo that is also part of the archipelago and just a few minutes by boat. The island is a hot spot for diving and snorkeling with underwater caves and reefs and home to the spectacular Blue Lagoon filled with the crystal clear waters. Look for the Knight’s Watchtower, which served as the castle in “The Count of Monte Cristo.”
With a history predating the ancient Egyptians, there’s no shortage of amazing artifacts and attractions to see on Gozo. The Ggantija megalithic temples are a UNESCO World Heritage site and the oldest freestanding temples in the world. They were built around 3500 B.C., making them 1000 years older than the first Egyptian pyramids. Built from limestone blocks, some weighing more than 50 tons, Gozitans once believed the temples were built by giants.
Another must-do in Gozo is the Citadel located in the main city of Victoria (or as locals prefer to call it, Rabat) that dates to 1800 B.C. At 460 feet above sea level, it offers an amazing 360-degree view of the island. The Citadel, which includes structures from the Romans, Byzantines, Arabs and the Knights of St. John, today houses shops, several museums, a cathedral and old prisons.
Churches fill the island and several stand apart as worth a visit. The Rotunda of St. John the Baptist is the tallest on Gozo and has the third largest unsupported dome in the world. Also of note is the beautiful Ta’ Pinu Sanctuary, built upon a spot where a villager heard the voice of the Virgin Mary. Many miracles are said to have happened to those who visited and prayed at the shrine to Our Lady of Ta’ Pinu.
Where to Stay
For well-appointed accommodations with a local feel, the Hotel Ta Cenc & Spa is a perfect choice. Located not far from the ferry landing at Mgarr Harbour, the hotel offers ocean views, verdant greenery and unusual stone-built bungalows.
Situated high above a valley with fantastic island and sea views is the Cornucopia Hotel near the city of Xaghra. Family-run, it has the feel of a bed and breakfast, though offers 48 rooms and bungalows, as well as two swimming pools, sun terraces and a garden.
The Kempinski Hotel San Lawrenz is perhaps the most luxurious and American in style. It offers large rooms, indoor and outdoor pools, nearly 100 square feet of garden and several restaurants featuring local ingredients. The hotel is where the cast of “Troy,” including Brad Pitt, stayed during filming on nearby Malta.
Odds and Ends
Whatever you do, don’t leave the island without sampling some amazing local creations. Tops on the list should be a limoncello, pastizza (a wonderful hot, croissant-like pastry filled with cheese) and capers. You can also take home as souvenirs locally-made blown glass and lace, two speciality crafts created by Gozitans.
If you can, tag on an extra day or two to visit Malta on your way to or from Gozo, and visit the ancient walled city of Mdina, the fortifications of Valletta and the naturally formed Blue Grotto.
Lyn Mettler is an Indianapolis, Ind.-based travel writer. She is the author of The Step-by-Step Guide to Earning Your Southwest Companion Pass. You can find her at www.GotoTravelGal.com or on Twitter at @GotoTravelGal.