Adventures On Gozo
“Will you walk up around the bend to see how it looks… and tell me if you think we can make it?”
My husband, reluctant to let go the steering wheel on a bend in the middle of a one-car-wide gravel hill, handed it over to me to decide our fate—and that of our four restless children in the back seats.
We were on a quest to reach the Azure Window—one of Gozo’s main visitor attractions… and one that, it seems, has a severe lack of signage. In fact, it was our SatNav (with the most up-to-date maps) that led us along this route of bush and scrub and dust to where we now sat, tilted backward.
After surveying the road ahead, I waved the driver on. The wheels moved a couple of feet then kicked up the dirt. Bad call. Two of the kids hopped out to lighten the load/save their skins before my husband rolled the car back down the winding hill and 50-point-turned us back the way we’d come.
Gozo’s bad roads are worse than the worst on Malta. The track we found ourselves on that day was best suited for quad-bikes—as one teenage boy demonstrated that noon, zipping past while we stood at the bottom of the hill admiring a local lizard and recovering from the reverse descent.
On the upside, Gozo has a far more romantic feel to it than densely-populated Malta where each town spills into the next and there is little in the way of landscape. Here there’s more of a sense of adventure… where you can go off the grid… and enjoy some of the best views of the sparkling Med. Yet, in less than 15 minutes, you can be in a lively town, people-watching from an outdoor table at a trendy bar or café.
We gave up the hunt for the Azure Window this particular day, and, after a restorative lunch on the water’s edge, went in search of a beach where the kids could paddle. Ramla Bay (or Ir-Ramla il-Hamra) in Gozo’s north is one of the island’s (and country’s) best beaches with fine, red sand—not the cat-litter texture you find in parts of Malta. Visiting Ramla on a hot day in May, the beach was busy—with both local and tourist families—but not overcrowded. The water is safe and inviting, though you do need to watch the rocky floor on entry.
Though far less populated than the main island of Malta, Gozo, with a population of around 37,000, is no outpost. Its main town Victoria (also known as Rabat) was buzzing when we drove through this sunny May day. Three days later, under gray skies and patchy rain, all but a handful of tourists in ponchos made their way up the steps to the impressive citadella. We decided to take refuge in Café Jubilee…
“Are you with them… or are they with you?” the barman greeted us, smiling as we traipsed in behind the kids who had hauled themselves onto bar stools.
“Because they are entirely different things,” he continued, pouring out four tall glasses of homemade strawberry lemonade.
The Italian-style lunch we enjoyed here—including glasses of Pinot Grigio and lemonade—cost just 56 euros, making Gozo (and Malta) one of the cheapest places in Europe I’ve experienced.
Victoria is a self-sufficient town with car dealerships, fast-food joints (yes, the Golden Arches have made it here), and stores that reveal its former British hold, including Marks & Spencer and Monsoon. Around both Malta and Gozo you’ll also spot the occasional iconic British red telephone box.
As with everywhere in Malta, even the smallest of villages on Gozo has a church to beat all churches. The typical parish church more closely resembles a cathedral anywhere else in the world. The streets are elegant lines of sandstone buildings, decorated with brightly-painted shutters and ornate (and often quirky) door-knockers.
One of the things that impressed me most about Malta is the Gozo Channel Ferry. Three ferries work to carry 3.3 million passengers a year between the islands. The service runs 24 hours a day, roughly every 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the time of day. The crossing takes just 25 minutes, and cost depends on the type of vehicle, as well as the number of passengers. You only pay on the Gozo (return) side. Cost for our MPV plus six passengers was 15 euros. The efficiency of the ferry means that you could live on either Malta or Gozo and easily commute to the other.
It was the efficiency of the ferry that brought us back to Gozo three days later on the hunt for the Azure Window. For the record, some of the first season of Game of Thrones was filmed around Malta and Gozo, until cast and crew got in trouble with the local authorities—for alleged damage to the Azure Window—and relocated filming to Croatia. The Azure Window itself was the scene for Daenerys’ marriage to Khal Drogo. “Thronie” or not, this natural sea arch and the dramatic cliffs and salt flats that surround it are well worth a stop. The site is popular with divers and snorkelers, and you can take a boat ride (4 euros per person for a 15-minute ride) around the window and into caves where you’ll spot bright orange coral below the clear water. For this family, the Azure Window turned out to be the unanimous favorite attraction of the entire trip. (The “Knights of Malta Experience” in Mdina, Malta’s former capital city, was the uncontested worst.)
On our first day in Gozo, I almost regretted that we hadn’t skipped the island of Malta altogether and based ourselves here. But that was before I’d seen Valletta—the city that redeemed Malta for me. Both islands have their merits. But Gozo stands out as offering the best opportunity for adventure… the best beaches… and the best value in this part of the Med.