A short 25-minute ferry ride from Malta, where GSN spent days exploring the architectual and gastronomic wonders of the island, lies the more rural and secluded island of this Mediterranean archipelago: Gozo.
For travelers looking for an experience off the beaten path that is still resplendent with Maltese flavor, Gozo offers the impressiveness of Malta's architecture with a more intimate country feel. Whether your goal is to mingle with locals, experience pre-Roman history or sun-seek on a secluded beach, Gozo packs enough charm and adventure to last a year-long summer.
Gozo, Malta's little sister island, is a paradise equally familiar and out of this world. Most may not realize they're already familiar with the small island's rugged landscape and brilliant beaches that are the stuff of legend.
A part of Homer's The Odyssey was inspired by one of the largest beaches on the island, and photos of Gozo's natural wonders are recognized the world over. With a name like Gozo, which means 'joy' in Castillian, a brief one-day trip to this island between Malta and Sicily can easily turn into an extended stay.
With impressive churches, festive carnivals and, yes, the unspoilt sandy beaches that dreams are made of, here is why GSN thinks that Gozo is the island getaway to beat.
During the last days in February, the entire island of Gozo comes together to celebrate Carnival. The festivities take place in the days before the religious period of Lent that precedes Easter. The main events are held in the island's administrative capital of Victoria and the square in Nadur, where neighboring villages unite over five days for jubilant dances and parties.
Most locals will dress up in an array of outfits, from wacky to religious, and visitors can partake as much as they want with jumping in on dances or joining kids who are painting their faces. The custom of painting faces is so people are not recognized, which lends the event an air of mystery and the floats and costumes a degree of extravagance that spares no expense.
According to Greek legend, the temptress nymph Calypso lured Odysseus to Gozo, keeping him prisoner there for seven years.
Calypso's cave from where she called to Odysseus is carved into the mountainside overlooking the red sands of Ramla Bay, a placid and concealed sandy beach that perfectly embodies the definition of a paradise. Accessible by car, the scenery of surrounding hills gives a taste of the Gozitan countryside.
Perhaps the most iconic of Gozo's landmarks is Dwerja, also known as the Azure window. The naturally-occuring arch formed a table-top high above the crashing ocean when an internal cave collapsed. The resulting structure is an impressive formation that stands high above the surrounding cliffs and looks out into sea.
The cliffs and pools offer an archeological sampling of how the island's landscape has been shaped by sun and sea over thousands of years. The arch is expected to disappear in a couple of years, and there are signs forbidding passage onto the top of the arch. The formation itself, however, is not to be missed while it still survives.
Taking its name from the Maltese word for 'giant', Ggantija is an ancient stone structure older than the pyramids. These impressive Neolithic temples are considered to be one of the oldest free-standing structures in the world and are today a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The circular 'rooms' suggest humanity's earliest attempts at religious practices. Fossilized seashells in the eroded stone point to the enormous rocks' origins: Gozo's coastline. Archeologists speculate that the huge stones were placed on smaller, wheel-like stones and dragged up to this now-iconic hill-top.
Sitting on the shore of Xlendi Bay's crystal waters is what every shoreside experience should be like: ocean waves spraying a cool breeze around your face while the warm sun encourages you to take a dip. Zeffiro Restaurant, with its daily fish specials and traditional Maltese dishes, desserts and drinks is the perfect place to indulge oneself in great meals and even more amazing views of the water.
Xlendi Bay is an isolated cove of shallow reefs that makes it ideal for divers to stretch their swimming legs before taking on any of the diving spots around the island. The area is now home to a several first-class hotels, and a water-front promenade makes for amazing sunrise and sunset strolls.