This morning I heard birds instead of the backfiring of busses when I woke up. And I smelled wildflowers later that day instead of car fumes. Something told me I wasn’t in Malta (Malta) anymore.
And I wasn’t. I was on Gozo–the sister island of Malta, south of Sicily. I had gone for a weekend of (cautious) hiking along the spectacular cliffs of Xlendi, Gozo, the southern most tip of this island which is about the size of Manhattan. Gozo is not as crowded as Malta; it has only about 31,000 inhabitants. And you do notice the feeling of a lot more space, less traffic and less noise in general.
If you’re already familiar with the larger island of Malta, then you might want to stay in Gozo for a few nights just to see the difference. The first thing you’ll notice is that Gozo is a lot greener, literally. For whatever reason, this island actually has grass and more trees–which many people say they miss on Malta itself which mostly sprouts cacti, small shrubs and a lot of bare rock. As you walk along the roads from one village to the next, you’ll see many terraced farming plots against the background of tremendous cliffs. You’ll actually see crops growing and farmers attending them.
And the residents in Gozo keep the island a lot cleaner and are much more environmentally aware and active. This is a major problem with the larger island of Malta. Unfortunately, you will see a lot of trash in the streets left by tourists and residents alike. But if you have been disturbed by this in Malta, the difference will strike you immediately in Gozo. You’re greeted by wildflowers along the sides of the roads–not bottles and plastic bags.
The last major thing that greets you in Gozo is the lack of development. One of the biggest complaints about the larger island of Malta is the overdevelopment with apartment buildings, many of which remain unoccupied. There’s much less of this in Gozo. Even the high-rise hotels are restrained and fit more esthetically into the landscape.
So in Gozo your eyes will be drawn to the exquisite villas (often converted farmhouses) made out of the original limestone of hundreds of years ago. These are known as houses of character which retain much of the old-style Maltese elements of courtyards and stone balconies. On some streets, you can actually walk on some of the original Maltese tiles that were placed there centuries ago.
During this trip to Gozo, I discovered one village called Munxar which was close to the cliffs of Xlendi. I loved the very open village square which looked over the countryside and how, within a 10 minute walk from the church in the square, you could see the most spectacular view of the cliffs and the Mediterranean below.
I found out later that Munxar has no pharmacies, no restaurants or cafes. This village and the others like it in Gozo (with the exception of the larger town of Victoria–the capital of Gozo), does not promise you a lot of the action, food and shopping you get in Sliema and St. Julians in Malta. But Gozo does offer you the solitude and quiet beauty you may really be looking for.
Gozo is not hard to get to. There are some Gozitan residents who commute every day back and forth from Malta for work. Once you drive to Malta’s harbor (about 40 minutes from the airport), Gozo is a pleasant 20-minute ride by ferry. You can take your car which is a good idea because it’s easier to drive in Gozo and parking is not the problem it is in Malta itself. There is bus service in Malta if you don’t have a car.
For further information:
The Island of Gozo Official Tourist Site
Facts about Munxar