Explore the unbelievably pristine island of Gozo
Just hiding in plain sight
You’d be forgiven for not knowing much about Gozo. Malta, no problem; the limestone edifice at the heart of the Med with its UNESCO protected capital city, Valetta, familiar to many from protracted Eurovision Song Contest scoring sessions. Gozo: not so much.
The basics: Gozo is Malta’s feisty little sister, nestling to the north of its better-known relative, home to under 33,000 residents and spanning just 62 square kilometres. Known as the Island Of Three Hills, it’s also a place of staggering natural beauty, some of the best food and wine in the Med and, just like Malta, familiar after all from a host of TV and film productions, including earlier seasons of Game Of Thrones.
WHAT TO DO
Something for everyone
Gozo certainly has all the bars and restaurants you could wish for and, in season, world-famous clubs like La Grotta are there to pack an Ibiza vibe if that’s what you’re after, although there’s an impressively highbrow art scene courtesy of no less than two opera houses, too.
More than that, though, with beautiful green hills, pale blonde limestone buildings and deep red coves, Gozo is a place that just demands to be explored.
Hit the road
Boasting its own UNESCO World Heritage site in the form of the Ggantija temples, which date back to 3,600 BC (older than the pyramids, no less), Gozo is steeped in a myriad of histories and cultures that make Game Of Thrones look like Hollyoaks. There are churches on top of practically every hill (and pride-filled religious festivals at the drop of a hat from March onwards), a towering Citadel with views of the whole island, and polished, winding streets a-plenty. If walking them feels like too much effort then the friendly chaps at Yippee Malta will happily take you on a tour by tuk-tuk, although word to the wise, check any loose fillings before you set off.
Hit the beach
Gozo really comes into its own when you explore on foot, though. The streets leading out of the hill towns are light on traffic and peppered with fellow hikers and it doesn’t take long before you’re struck by the island’s rural charm. Standing on top of Calypso’s Cave (rumoured to be the cave referred to in Homer’s Odyssey), the red sandy beach of Ramla Bay practically beckons and you’re left questioning why it’s taken you so long to visit. Seriously, it’s that gorgeous.
Visit Comino – non-negotiable
Comino, the even tinier island sandwiched between Malta and Gozo, is also a must-visit. Home to just three permanent residents and the location for much of Guy Pearce’s take on The Count Of Monte Cristo, you can circumnavigate the whole place in three or so hours. A patchwork of aquamarine dive sites and home to the natural miracle that is the Blue Lagoon, Comino feels like your secret world in spring, undoubtedly less so later in the year, but utterly essential either way.
You deserve this…
If all of that walking has left you exhausted, Gozo also offers plenty of opportunities to get thoroughly pampered. Among those, the high-end experience comes from the sea of tranquillity otherwise known as the Kempinski, complete with a wellness spa to die for. The James Villas properties we stayed in all had incredible terrace views too, so you could always opt for a visit from an island yoga teacher and flex your downward dog before heading out one morning. Or you could just indulge in a ricotta-filled pastizzi for breakfast, which leads us to…
FOOD AND DRINK
Gozetan wine is BRILLIANT
Local wineries like Ta’Mena will gladly give you a tour and let you sample fantastic whites and delicious reds and, to break up some of that walking you could do far worse than neck some of them during a frankly brilliant Gozo Picnic and push the boat out with a very special al fresco celebration of the best of Gozetan food.
For a bit of theatre from presumably one of the biggest personalities on the island, a visit to Ta’ Philip (find him on Facebook) is essential. With wines from Ta’ Mena (his mum’s vineyard, no less), Philip serves the best the island has to offer and bursts with infectious pride while he’s doing it, with salt-baked bass and nutella pancakes staying in the memory long after the booze has started to dull it.
The best fish on the island
Likewise, Il Kartell in the seaside town of Xlendi offers unrivalled seafood in an unbelievable location, just down the road from the salt beds recently made famous on The Apprentice.
Of course, with your villa base and a surprising selection of well-stocked shops in every town, staying in is an option too – and if a charismatic fireball of a chef preparing you the most incredible pasta finished inside a melting wheel of Parmesan cheese is on your bucket list, let us introduce you to Chef Dario.
PLACES TO STAY
Home from home
James Villas operate a selection of properties on the island, ranging from a super swanky £5,000 a week rock star villa (complete with outdoor and underground heated pool, cinema room, wine cellar dining room and a seriously impressive kitchen) through to more accessible options that still pack a Love Island punch thanks to dramatically lit outside pools and terraces.
By Mike Hird