While Gozo’s world-famous landmarks are definitely worth a visit, it’s its lesser-known sites that encapsulate the true spirit of the Island. For that reason, we went off the beaten track to find out where these sites are and why you should visit them.
Gozo may be geographically tiny but its landscape is peppered with an astonishing number of well-known landmarks, including the celebrated Azure Window and the medieval Cittadella. Yet these are only a fragment of what Gozo has to offer, and the back alleys and country lanes of this island actually shelter many hidden sites that are well-worth visiting.
A history worth discovering
Archeology has revealed that man first arrived on Gozo more than 7,000 years ago, back when Ggantija Temples – the oldest, freestanding stone structures in the world – were built. Since then, the Gozitans, along with many of their conquerors (which have included the Romans, the Phoenicians, the Knights of St John, and the British) have left behind reminders of a time gone by.
One of the oldest examples of these can be found on the Ta’ Cenc plateau in Sannat, where deep groves can be seen lining the natural rock. These are believed to be over 4,000 years old and show the exact routes ancient man took to move large boulders from one place to another – a feat which still inspires awe in many.
Moving forward on the historical timeline by some 3,500 years, you’ll notice that Gozo’s coast is dotted with watchtowers, which were mostly built during the time of the Knights of St John. You can read more about these here, and we really do suggest you visit at least one of them because the views are as spectacular as the towers themselves.
For the past 2,000 years, the Christian faith has also played a very important role in the Gozitan way of life, and the statue of the Salvatur (Chris the Saviour), found on a clearly-marked path on the left hand side of the main road that leads from Victoria to Marsalforn, is definitely worth a visit.
“This statue’s story dates back to the beginning of the 20th century and it is absolutely fascinating,” says Cornil Wambergue, the Operations Director at Gozo Adventures. “As legend has it, the locals at the time started to worry about the strange-looking rocky hill, which they thought was a volcano. So an expert was called in, and he pronounced the hill perfectly safe. So, naturally, the relieved locals commissioned a statue to go on its peak. The first one was placed there in 1904, but the current one is from the 1960s.”
Every corner has a story
Anyone who has been to Gozo will tell you that the Gozitan way of life is very different in pace to that of Malta or of any of its other Mediterranean neighbours. Yet, what’s even more special about Gozo, is its old-world charm, which the locals safeguard through their commitment to age-old crafts and practices.
“When one walks through the backstreets of Victoria, he or she will always spot three women sitting in their doorways making lace,” says Cornil. “In the same area you will also find two tailors, a statue restorer and a shop called Prickly Pear, which stocks high-quality crafts in silver, ceramic, wood and metal created by nine different craftspeople based in Gozo and Malta.”
In fact, the backstreets of the capital and the streets of Gozo’s smaller villages are amazing places to discover new things about the island. With every twist and turn you will unfold a new page in Gozo’s history, culture and people.
“The Gozitan way of life is incredibly fascinating; even to us,” continues Cornil. “In fact, as Gozo Adventures, we run an eco tour for small groups that ditches the main sites and, instead, introduces you to a number of Gozitans going through their day-to-day business. The aim of this is to allow visitors to ask their questions directly to them so they can understand Gozo better.”
Step into something wonderful
Most of Gozo’s lesser-known sites are not located at the heart of its capital, however, but in secluded areas, far away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. They may not be easy to find, and a GPS won’t always prove helpful. But, if you’re willing to take the leap of faith and venture out of your comfort zone, we can assure you that you will be handsomely rewarded by the discovery of some of Gozo’s best-kept secrets.
“Walking is by far the best way to really explore Gozo as this gives you time to stop and meet the locals, who can point you to some wonderful sites,” explains Cornil. “Moreover, while the bus can take you from one village to another, the best tracks are not accessible to vehicles, including the narrow alleyways full of beautiful, old houses that can be found in most villages.
“What I’d recommend is that you pick a village (there are plenty for you to choose from!), take a bus to reach it, and then continue to explore on foot or by mountain bike – which is also a great way to explore the surrounding countryside.
“In fact, you’ll be surprised by what you’ll discover in the countryside, too! The saltpans at Qbajjar and Xlendi never cease to impress me, and there is even a second Azure Window (minus the tourists!) if you’re willing to walk or cycle to it. There are also some amazing caves to explore around Gozo, which aren’t visited by the large tourist boats, but which are accessible by kayak,” he concludes.
As you can see, there is a lot to discover on the island of Gozo – more, in fact, than first meets the eye! So ditch the modern means of transportation and let yourself wander through all that Gozo has to offer.