We drove along the clifftop at Ta Cenc, an arid scrubland like much of Gozo. Our friend pulled over and parked at the roadside, instructing us to get out of the car. In the middle of nowhere, with no notable landmarks in sight, we wondered why we had stopped. It was reminiscent of landscapes we'd seen in movies and we suddenly felt apprehensive. How well did we know our friend? We fully expected to be led away from the sandy track and shot, our bodies left where they fell. In this desolate place, no one was likely to find them.
Thankfully our overactive imaginations were wrong on this occasion. We followed our friend towards the edge and peered over. A rugged limestone wall plunged over 100 metres to the slate grey sea below. Pearly waves fringed the rocks, gently eroding the base of the cliff and carving the way for the next big collapse. Further along the clifftop, we came across deep parallel grooves in the rock underfoot. These were supposedly hewn by the frequent passing of carts in ancient times. The landscape of Gozo is defined by these coastal cliffs along with the bizarre flat-topped hills further inland.
Although less than 9 miles long, Gozo is the second largest island in the Maltese Archipelago. Best known for its natural beauty, scuba diving opportunities and excessive number of churches, Gozo makes an interesting stop for a long weekend.
Ta Cenc Cliffs
Victoria, the Capital of Gozo
All roads lead to Victoria, Gozo's capital, in the centre of the island. We got hopelessly lost in the warren of narrow streets leading to the Citadel. Heavily fortified and as far from the coast as it could be, this was the best place to hide from the pirates who repeatedly raided the island during the Ottoman period. Now it's an interesting place to explore and offers panoramic views across the island.
Dwejra Bay and the Inland Sea
As we worked our way around the hairpin bends descending down to Dwejra Bay, we spotted the aptly named Crocodile Rock jutting out of the sea. Next to the crocodile is a larger limestone outcrop known as Fungus Rock. This islet has been designated as a nature reserve as it's home to Maltese Fungus, a rare, foul-smelling plant that's not actually a fungus at all. The Knights of St. John prized the plant for its medicinal properties, something which is still studied today.
The Azure Window
Fans of Game of Thrones may recognise Dwejra Bay as it featured in the TV series (the Dothraki wedding in the first episode). The Azure Window, the iconic arch that was visible in the background, collapsed during a storm in early 2017. Divers now inspect the remains below the surface. The broken chunks of arch have spiced up the underwater topography creating new swim-throughs ripe for exploration.
Scuba Diving in Gozo
Many of Gozo's dive shops are based in Xlendi, a small seaside town with a well-sheltered pebble beach and a selection of accommodation options. You can arrange a trip to Dwejra Bay with any of the dive operations in Xlendi.
The adjacent Inland Sea is a shallow, clear lagoon well supplied with tiny motorised boats, known locally as luzzu. They chug slowly through a narrow tunnel in the lagoon's rocky wall taking passengers on short cruises to the open sea beyond. There they get close up views of the cliffs and caves and sometimes Fungus Rock.
Ir Ramla Beach
Ir Ramla Beach
We walked along a beautiful stretch of pristine orange sand at Ir Ramla. After some experimentation, our friend had concluded that this beach was the best place to swim on Gozo. Especially in the heat of summer, she visits nearly every day. High on a hillside to the east of the beach we could see a cave, which was mentioned in Homer's Odyssey. According to the story, a nymph named Calypso lived in the cave. Sadly we did not encounter any nymphs on our visit.
Gozo's Salt Pans
Mooching around on the shore before we dived the MV Karwela, we came across several salt pans, a common feature of Gozo's shoreline. They were full of seawater, which under the hot sun had reduced to a thick, salty soup. Most of these shallow depressions were cut into the rock centuries ago. In summer, local families harvest the sea salt, a tradition that has been passed down through generations.
Diving The MV Karwela
The Azure Window was one of Gozo's most famous landmarks and its loss was mourned across the island. Tourists still visit Dwejra Bay expecting to see the arch. They are instead confronted with souvenir stalls trying to sell off the now obsolete stock of Azure Window keyrings and fridge magnets. This disappointment has led to the Azure Window receiving 1 star reviews on TripAdvisor. Perhaps a little unfair when it's no longer there.
There are however plenty of other reasons to visit Gozo, and Dwejra Bay itself. Even without the Azure Window, the dramatic coastline, beautiful scenery and rustic charm continue to make Gozo a delightful place to spend a few days.
Where to Eat on Gozo
The Hondoq Bay Cafe in Qala was our favourite place to eat on Gozo. Sitting by the waters edge, we indulged in tuna ftira, huge filled rolls garnished with onions and olives. We enjoyed clear views across to the tiny island of Comino and its famous Blue Lagoon. Even on a rainy day, it remained a vibrant shade of turquoise.
Gozo Travel Tips
The rocks at Dwejra Bay are sharp and the sun-scorched sand at Ir Ramla can burn your feet. Wear proper shoes for protection.
The most convenient way to see Gozo is by car but as distances are short, cycling is also a good option. You can rent a car or bike in Victoria.
Malta Public Transport operates an extensive bus network across both Malta and Gozo. Buy a ticket from the driver. Each ticket is valid for 2 hours, even if you change buses en route. This is an economical way to see the major sights of Gozo.
Flowers In Victoria
How to Get to Gozo
Fly to Malta Airport (MLA), which is around 10km from the capital city of Valletta.
Take a bus from Malta Airport to the ferry terminal at Cirkewwa. From there you can take one of the regular ferries to Gozo, which take around 20 minutes.