Gozo, meaning “joy” in Castilian, is the second largest Island of the Maltese archipelago, with a population of approximately 30,000.
Though separated from mainland Malta by a 5km stretch of sea, Gozo is distinctly different from Malta. The Island is a third the size of Malta, more rural and simple, its culture and way of life rooted in fishing, as well as in primitive pastoral and agricultural activity.
Exuding a relaxed pace of life, Gozo is the ideal secluded safe haven and at just 25 minutes or so by ferry from Malta, the hop can easily be made for even the shortest stay.
Life in Gozo was harsh for well over two millennia, as the Islands were left exposed to any passing raiders, much more so than Malta with its natural harbours and defences.
Throughout the Middle Ages and into the rule of the Knights, Barbary corsairs and Saracens raided the island at intervals. In 1551, the Saracens carried out a devastating raid, taking almost the entire population away into slavery.
The Island never really recovered from this and remained under populated for centuries until the arrival of the Knights saw the medieval Citadel (in Victoria, or Rabat) refortified and the Gozitans began to venture down to the rest of the Island.
Gozo and its inhabitants have their own distinct character and identity, with noticeably different lifestyles, accents and dialect. Gozitans are known for their friendliness and welcome to visitors, going out of their way to indicate a direction or help a visitor find their destination.
Festas and carnival times in Gozo also have a different feel to those on Malta. The village of Nadur celebrates carnival with a black sense of humour, quite unlike its more joyful counterparts elsewhere.
The real beauty of Gozo, apart from its stunning seascape and interior, lies in the villages. Here, it seems as if time really does stand still. The locals treasure their peace and the villages are tranquil, proving to be a wonderful respite from the trials and tribulations of everyday life for visitors.
Village bars open early in order to cater for the early risers who attend the first mass of the morning and close fairly late at night, catering for the socialising needs of locals and visitors. These watering holes have stayed unchanged for decades, the only sign of time passing by being the food and drink displayed for sale on the solid shelves and the Edwardian glass cases.
All roads in Gozo lead to Victoria, also known as Rabat, which is where the fortified citadel sits atop a summit.
Victoria is not just the geographic heart of Gozo, but also the centre of everyday activity. It manages to combine the bustle of its market and shops with a relaxed and sociable atmosphere. It is a great place to watch the Islanders go about their day, especially when the main market square, It-Tokk, comes to life.
The town also has a thriving cultural life all its own, with some surprising attractions ranging from opera to horse races in the main street on festa day.
The Island is well served by restaurants, where the eating is good and varied. Apart from restaurants and cafés offering local dishes as well as continental menus, one can also enjoy themed restaurants, such as Chinese or Indian.
Restaurants abound in Rabat, Mgarr and the fishing villages of Marsalforn and Xlendi, as well as in several other places.
There is no fear in walking about at night. The sense of safety and security is tangible as the locals take pride in the absolute absence of muggings and the almost non-existence of theft.