Why Gozo is the Mediterranean’s Last Hidden Gem
Scenic coastlines, bustling cities, and sandy beaches surround the Mediterranean Sea. It’s the first area I explored when traveling Europe in 2021, and it did not disappoint.
A quick Google search for the region’s “best vacation spots” points you to destinations like Naples, Santorini, and Mallorca. These are all lovely places to visit for a short or extended stay. First, however, we must address the internet elephant in the room.
Many Mediterranean vacations are inspired by scrolling through Instagram or watching vlogs from high-profile YouTubers. Travel influencers often recommend great places, but their depictions of the destination and local life aren’t always the most accurate.
Even throughout the pandemic, some Mediterranean beaches have been overcrowded. While vloggers can find the perfect angle to hide litter or large crowds, these issues are unavoidable in real life.
If you seek a unique and authentic place to stay in the Mediterranean, consider Gozo.
Where in the world is Gozo?
Gozo is the second-largest island in the Maltese Archipelago. The group of 21 islands is (even when added together) the fourth smallest country in the world. It’s been fought over and occupied by Romans, Arabs, Sicilians, French, and British, to name a few. South of Sicily and not far from Tunisia, Malta is a distinct melting pot. More than 88% of its residents speak English. People from all over the European continent and the Middle East now call the island home.
Many visitors never leave the main island of Malta, and I can understand why. The mixture of beaches and nightlife in cities like Paceville and Sliema is undeniably fun. In addition, Valletta is full of lavish stone palaces, museums, and grand churches. It’s no wonder Game of Thrones shot scenes for multiple episodes on the island!
I love the main island of Malta and recommend spending time there. However, for travelers interested in one of the most authentic and personal experiences available on the Mediterranean today, a day trip or multiple nights in Gozo will not disappoint.
Getting to the island
After flying into the Malta International Airport and perhaps spending a couple of nights on the main island, most travelers will take the ferry to Gozo. Tickets are 12€ for a round trip if you’re able to book arrival and departure at the same time.
The “Fast Ferry” runs from Valletta to Gozo’s Mgarr Harbor from 6 AM until just after 1 AM, leaving every hour. So make sure to arrive on time, grab a window seat, and enjoy views of the archipelago’s smaller islands. Forty-five minutes of steadily swaying seas take you back in time to traditional Mediterranean life.
What can you expect in Gozo?
Gozo resembles Malta of the 1980s in the best way possible. Typically tiny European cars hum along with almost no traffic. It’s rare to find crowds outside of Mgarr Harbor and some of the island’s northern beaches. There are very few bars open late or lavish boats at the harbor. In exchange, travelers can set their path, adopt Gozo’s natural sense of ease, and experience the island’s many beautiful locations. If you can stay during the week, I highly recommend it.
Many shops close briefly at midday before opening again in the late afternoon. The heat can be quite severe during the summer, making it a great time to find some AC, take a nap, and refresh yourself for the evening. Locals often swim in the morning before opening their shops. The peacefulness of observing and participating in the authentic Maltese lifestyle, without the hustle and bustle of the main island, is something an Instagram post cannot capture.
Getting around the island
Renting a car is very affordable but not always necessary. The island’s buses are reliable, with stops roughly every 4–600 meters along main roads, and cabs are available until late in the evening. I highly recommend downloading the Bolt app before arriving at Malta International Airport. It makes your journey to the ferry and your overnight accommodations much easier. Plan when possible and choose wisely which days you want to rent a car. You can put the savings into some fresh, local cuisine discussed below.
For those able, walking is a great way to see the island and stumble into attractions that Google Maps hasn’t cataloged for all to see. Unfortunately, like many European cities, the sidewalks vary in Gozo, and the island is not particularly accessible for those using mobility aids. Some sidewalks feature intricate designs, but they are often narrow and slippery from dust.
Victoria is the ideal area for overnight stays
Centrally located on the island, Victoria has a great variety of accommodations. Travelers can choose from classic Maltese flats listed on Airbnb, small hostels with affordable shared rooms, and hotels offering the pinch of luxury some travelers crave while on vacation. The options can fit almost any budget, and I could even find a last-minute booking one night after missing the ferry back to the main island.
No matter where you stay, ensure you have access to a balcony or rooftop. Seeing the streets from above, watching the sunset against grandiose Maltese architecture, and enjoying local wine (really any food and drink) amongst friends adds to the experience of Gozo tremendously.
Victoria has many bakeries, restaurants, and grocery stores within reasonable walking distance. One of my favorites, Ta’ Saminu Bakery, offers amazing cannolis, crisp Ftira, and other bite-sized treats for just 2€.
Vini e Capricci by Abraham’s offers Gozo’s best fine dining experience. The restaurant’s interior is modern, and the wine selection is quite diverse. Locals and well-traveled foodies love their chef’s traditional meat and seafood preparations.
Hike Gozo’s Southern Coast for private swims
If you can’t stay in Gozo for multiple nights, a perfect Mediterranean day trip still awaits you.
The Fast Ferry’s drop-off at Mgarr Harbor leads many to jump right in a cab or rental car, but for those who don’t mind a hike, take a close look at Google Maps. You’ll find unnamed single-track trails etched along the coast. These footpaths lead to hidden swimming holes and scenic views that few travelers ever see.
Like any adventurous hike, the footing varies. The trail is full of fine sand and dust, loose rocks, and abrupt slopes. Flip-flops or any loose-fitting shoes will become uncomfortable very quickly.
Carrying a backpack with water, extra snacks (like these delicious chocolate cookies), a towel, and a change of clothes is a must. In addition, it’s essential to be cautious when scrambling up from or down to the sun-soaked swim spots that await.
There are two final destinations that I recommend for this day trip:
Option 1: Mġarr ix-Xini Beach — 5km one-way hike
This relatively easy trip ends at a beautiful, sheltered pebble beach. The water is a deep, welcoming shade of blue. Mġarr ix-Xini Beach is secluded and known mostly among scuba divers. If you make this trip on the weekend, you’ll have some company. After you cool off in the salty sea, there’s a restaurant and snack bar not far from the beach. From there you can catch a bus or taxi back to the harbor.
Option 2: Xlendi Beach — 12km hike one-way hike
A more extended trip to Xlendi Beach is well worth the time for surefooted endurance hikers. Multiple historic military towers, peaceful dive sites, and private swim spots await you. Google Maps highlights some of the most exciting locales along the southern coast, but it’s best to explore at your own pace.
Celebrate the completion of your hike with a dive off Xlendi’s stone diving board and a meal at one of the many outdoor restaurants along the waterfront. One of Xlendi’s best restaurants, Cima, offers traditional Maltese seafood and even a few vegetarian options. Make sure to order plenty of water after the hike, and be mindful when consuming any alcohol after the journey.
Chat with locals and reflect on your journey
Interacting with Maltese people makes the trip to Gozo more memorable and will help you understand the culture. The younger Maltese population is curious about other countries, and most are fluent English speakers. A casual conversation at beaches, bars, or the town square is received warmly. What starts as asking for directions can quickly lead to an evening with new friends.
This quiet island reminded me how small I am. Maltese tradition remains strong on Gozo, while some Mediterranean hotspots have been diluted by tourism. Exploring Gozo is a centering and serene experience, yet few travelers seek its treasures.
Gozo is undoubtedly one of the Mediterranean’s last hidden gems.