Every local I met said “you’ll like Gozo better than Malta.” Yep, you read that correctly: they refer to Gozo as being separate from the country of Malta which took me a while to figure out. But Gozo is different from the main island of Malta and the lifestyle much more simple and uncomplicated and relaxed. I met a lovely couple on my last day in Gozo who said that they’ve been coming for 18 years and I think that is wherein the charm of Gozo lies: in its tranquility and still off-the-beaten-path feel that the island possesses. It’s a place to relax, and lounge, and recharge.
There are some really lovely options in Gozo but I needed something more of a resort where I could just relax by a pool and not figure out how to get to the ocean, so I chose the Kempinski San Lawrenz (https://www.kempinski.com/en/gozo/hotel-san-lawrenz/). The hotel is beautiful but I must admit that I felt that it was resting on its position as the only 5 star on the island. It really is a 4-star, except the high nightly rate. The breakfast is amazing and the pool is lovely, especially in the scorching Maltese sun, but the rooms are rather tired and feel late 80s in design. I also noticed a large tour bus arrive to pick up a tour so they apparently cater to the tour operator crowd which isn’t something that I appreciate myself. So as most travelers to Gozo have to do, figure out what it is that you need. A number of folks that I met during my stay said that they opt for vacation rentals with pools and eat at home while others look for places closer to the larger towns. The Kempsinski is well outside of any major town so you’ll spend a small fortune on car hires for dinner, just so you know. But needing to relax and unwind, this was a wonderful option and will be impeccable when they update the rooms.
This is where Gozo excelled. It wasn’t so much inventive food or anything over the top and grandiose, but just good quality food using local ingredients and outstanding customer service.
If I only had one night in Gozo (which may be enough to be honest), I would go to Ta’ Philip (https://taphiliprestaurant.com/). Located close to the main harbor of Gozo, the food was outstanding but what won me over was the ambiance of the hotel – very modern and inviting – and the kindness of the owner, Philip. He’s got over 30 years of experience in the restaurant industry and it shows in his attention to detail and flavour. There were so many things that I wanted to try – having had them at other restaurants and wondering if they could have been better – but there was just no room left in the belly! (Insider’s tip: if you have the chance, ask Philip to try his family’s recipe for the sun-dried tomato paste with a hint of salt and sugar. It’s stunning stuff and I so wanted to ask to bring some home. But I didn’t.)
The other find that I really enjoyed was Maldonado’s Bistro (https://www.maldonado.com.mt/). The food was outstanding and the options for vegetarian and vegan food were impressive. If they have the bigilia flitters, get them! I wasn’t sure what to expect as they were described as something like falafel but they were so much better than that and the homemade dips were mouth-wateringly good. It’s a little off the beaten path but with a good driver and gps, you’ll find it and be happy that you did.
(An Insider’s tip: I always try to have local wine whenever I can, just to understand what folks expect. Although I wouldn’t say that Maltese wines are bad, I will tell you that they run on the sweet side. Even when requesting dry wines, at every restaurants, they were always more on the sweet side. But… if you go to Maldonado, and maybe others, where they have non-Maltese wines, order a bottle and take home what you don’t drink. That was the saving grace for an evening after dinner drink.)
Most of the sites in Gozo require a car to reach as they are well spread out. So, instead, I opted for one of the all-day tours: Barbaroso Excursions (https://www.barbarossaexcursions.com/). The problem with the tour, which I was aware of based on other comments I had read, is that the driver trying to explain what you’re seeing is virtually impossible to hear. I was sitting right behind the driver and had trouble hearing: folks sitting at the back of the jeep heard nothing. But if you go in knowing this, I think it makes riding around in Gozo that much more enjoyable. The other part of the excursion – as I chose to do the combi tour – was a boat trip to the Crystal Lagoon (a marketing approach to be frank) and the Blue Lagoon (another marketing pitch as I believe the real and original Blue Lagoon is in Turkey but I could be wrong). So why did I opt for the combi tour you ask? Who doesn’t enjoy the chance to jump in the ocean off the side of a boat?! There are two important things to be aware of before booking this tour: the lunch is basic, at best, but no one books these tours thinking they’ll have a divine meal. And secondly, their website says “unlimited wine and water” but when I asked for a water on the first half, which was the jeep tour, the driver looked at me stunned and told me where I could go to buy a water. I told him what the website said and he kindly offered to give me one of his waters that he brought along. But given how hot it was, even driving around, that wouldn’t have been an option so I just bought my own. On the boat, there were large jugs of water and wine, so that you didn’t pass out from dehydration. So, be sure to bring water.
There was another tour group called Gozo Pride Tours that appeared to do the same style tour that Barbarosa does.
And yes, even in Gozo, there is a hop on/hop off tour group. To be honest, they appeared to go most places that the jeep tour went, and it was probably cheaper, so have a think about what you want to do and then decide which option appears more greatly to you.