Bongu! (That’s ‘hello’ in Maltese.)
My name is Mark, from Ryanair’s HR Department. I’ve been working at Ryanair for the past 6 years and my team and I are responsible for all areas of recruitment, talent and internal communications throughout the business.
Originally from Birmingham, I could quite easily have chosen to write this article about my home city, which is fantastic, however, my heart lies in a place called Gozo — Malta’s laid back sister.
Gozo is somewhat of a secret and my family and I have been holidaying there for the past 35 years.
I have fantastic memories of this place from endless summers as a child holidaying with my parents and later, my wife. We even got married on Gozo in 2010, when we introduced 150 of our friends to the island.
Gozo measures just 14km x 7km and is home to 32,000 Gozitans. There’s no airport, so, fly to Malta, where its just a 35-minute cab ride to the ferry (the terminal is in Cirkewwa) heading for Gozo. The time on the ferry is just 25 minutes over to Mgarr. Ferries run every 45 minutes, 24-hours a day in the summer, so there’s not too long a wait before reaching paradise.
Victoria (Rabat) to the locals, is the island’s capital and is a hive of activity during the day. You won’t find a better 360-degree view than on the dominating Citadel that overlooks the island. The Citadel has been inhabited since the Bronze Age, and in the Medieval era it was known as the Gran Castello. While exploring the alleyways within the walled complex, you’ll come across holy shrines, the historic Chapel of St. Joseph, Norman-style windows, arches, bronze statues and some ancient grafitti. It’s a must-not-miss spot!
After exploring everything Victoria has to offer, head to Dwejra and The Inland Sea — a 10-minute drive away.
For Game of Thrones fans, the areas (now sadly departed) ‘Azure Window’ was the backdrop to Khal Drogo and Daenerys Targaryen’s wedding. The famous window sadly succumbed to Mother Nature and crashed into the sea in 2017. You can still visit the Inland Sea Divesite and hop on a traditional Maltese Luzzu for a trip through a small cave into the open sea where you’ll see some fantastic rock formations, including a crocodile!
Locals will have you believe that Gozo has enough churches for every day of the year. This
isn’t quite true but the island does have 22 of them! You’ll see varying styles, from baroque to the more modern. They are the focal point of every village and play an important part of every day Gozitan life, coming alive during religious festivals.
The most famous church is Ta’ Pinu, a popular place of pilgrimage for people from all across Malta and Gozo, and it was visited by Pope John Paul II in 1990.
Legend has it that prayers said in this church saved the island from the plague. Numerous miracles and acts of God have been manifested here and attributed to the grace of Our Lady of The Assumption, to whom the church is dedicated.
To the north-west of the island, close to Qbajjar Bay, you’ll stumble across the remarkable salt pans — Gozo’s commercial source of fresh sea salt. Laid bare in all their glory, the salt pans are a strong testament of the Gozo of old. Pick up a fresh bag of salt while you’re there.
Gozo is home to the Ġgantija Temples, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which are found in the village of Xaghra. Ġgantija, meaning ‘giant’ in Maltese, is a Neolithic-megalithic temple complex dating back to around 3600-2500 BC, making the temples more than 5500 years old!
For an island that only measures 14km x 7km miles, Gozo offers some outstanding places to cool off from the hot summer sun. The island is dotted with beaches, inlets and secret lagoons, so, go for a dip and enjoy a lazy day. The most popular and largest beach is Ramla Bay. It’s located inbetween the villages of Xaghra and Nadur. Ramla is a beach-lovers paradise and it’s great for kids, plus there are several beach-side restaurants here for a bite to eat.
You have to get to a festa. Gozitans and the Maltese do festas better than anyone. If you visit while a village’s patron saint is being celebrated, you’re in for a treat. The villages come to life with light, food and culture. Churches glow and flags fly high while each village trys to outdo its rival. Two of the biggest festivals are held in the capital, Victoria. St George’s village celebrates it’s patron saint on the 21st July and the Feast of Santa Maria is on the 15th August every year. The capital is buzzing and you’ll even see horse racing along its streets.
I learned to swim in a small inlet called Mgarr Ix-Xini. It’s difficult to find but worth going to. It’s signposted from the villages of Sannat and Xewkija. There’s a small shingle beach that’s perfect for snorkelling plus a beachside restaurant/bar serving simple but amazing seafood. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie took over the place a few years ago to make the film By The Sea.
For the more adventurous, it’s worth taking a walk along the Ta' Ċenċ Cliffs especially at sunset. Go via the village of Sannat, and see the cliffs stand 120 metres above sea level, offering a commanding view of the Mediterranan Sea. Try spot the lobster pots that the local fisherman place over the cliffs here too.
Food lovers visiting Gozo will not be disappointed by the variety of food available. As you would expect, from an island surrounded by sea, fresh fish features heavily on the menu, and with close proximity to Italy, so do pizza and pasta.
Gozo’s own traditional cuisine includes rabbit stew and bragioli — a splendid beef dish. You can’t visit Gozo without tasting a ‘pastizzi’ — a pastry filled with either cheese or pea, both of which are staples of local breakfasts, and they’re cheap as chips.
The Magro Food Village and the Ta’ Mena Estate are well worth a visit. They offer fresh tastings of local delicacies like tomato pasties, antipasto, olives, sea salt and confectionary.
Ta’ Karolina, Xlendi Bay
Get a table by the water and watch the fishing boats meander in and out of Xlendi Bay. It’s an idyllic seaside village located on the south of the island. Ta’ Karolina is a favourite with both locals and tourists, so if you want to be guaranteed a table, be sure to call ahead. Favourite dishes include deep-fried calamari, followed by seafood pasta.
Ta’ Philip Restaurant, St Anthony Street, Ghajnsielem
Located in an old Gozitan townhouse, Ta’ Philip restaurant is a great place to enjoy traditional Gozitan dishes, slowly cooked in a woodfire oven. The philosophy here is ‘made in Gozo’ and the restaurant prioritises ingredients made and grown on the island. The open kitchen adds to the atmosphere too and there’s a very impressive wine menu!
Fliegu, Mgarr Road, Nadur
If you want the amazing sea and countryside views, then Fliegu is the place to visit. Perched just south of the village of Nadur, Fliegu offers a good mix of local and Mediterranean dishes. The woodfire oven pizzas are fantastic!
IL KCINA GHAWDXIJA, Xlendi Bay
The name means the ‘Gozitan Kitchen’ and it’s the only restaurant on the island that exclusively serves Gozitan food. The team really want visitors to experience the island’s rich culinary offering and the food their mothers and grandmothers used to make. If you want to experience authentic Gozo food, this is the place.
One of my favourite pastimes when I’m in Gozo is to sit outside Tapie’s Bar, a local’s bar in St Francis Square, Victoria, and watch the world go by. You’re guaranteed to strike up a conversation with a local within two minutes of sitting down!
Gleneagles Bar overlooks the harbour in Mgarr and has a fantastic terrace to enjoy a gin and tonic, or a pint of the local beer called Cisk.
Brookies Bar & Lounge in Victoria is an old converted farmhouse and has commanding views of the citadel on the terrace. There’s live music and regular DJ sessions during the summer.
Rubble Bar, Victory Square, Xaghra, located in the village square in Xaghra, is a great spot for people watching and has a cosy indoor area for cooler summer evenings. It serves very good classic pub grub too!
There’s only one place to go dancing on Gozo and that’s La Grotta! It’s a stunning cliff-edge nightclub overlooking the Xlendi Valley. It’s packed in the summer months with party-goers from all over the Maltese Islands!
Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the Island of Gozo. Writing this has made me want to book a flight to Malta this summer, and I hope it makes you feel just the same. It’s a place with amazing people, fantastic food and beautiful beaches, and I guarantee, if you go once, you’ll be hooked for life!
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