Relaxing Holidays

Compared to some 'lively' European holiday destinations, Malta is pretty laid back. There is a bustling night scene if you want it but you have to go looking for it so most visitors enjoy a quiet and relaxing stay. Malta's prevailing peace, however, is nothing compared to sister island Gozo ... because if Malta is laid-back, then this place is positively flat out!

Over the years that's why a number of celebrities have chosen the island of Gozo as a get-away-from-it-all holiday destination. Such is the relaxed nature of the island and its local population that even if they did recognise you, chances are they wouldn't care - and certainly not enough to hound you!

Gozo is the place where the Maltese go for a change of scene, somewhere to sit on a quieter beach, kick back and relax. The pace of life here is slow. And while to the untrained eye it might look pretty similar to the main island, there is something decidedly different about it. Gozo is Malta ... only less so - even more relaxed, even quieter - if they canned it and sold it they'd call it Malta Light!

Hollywood star Peter O'Toole was known to be a regular visitor to Gozo, along with England cricket hero Ian Botham and music legend David Bowie. Scottish comedian Billy Connolly so loved the life and people here that he now owns his own house here - a perfect retreat to come and write new material, or escape the harsh Highland winters.

Gozo is also famous for its scenic hill-strewn landscape. It's far more rural and less built-up than the larger sibling. The lifestyle here is slow and steady and visitors cannot help but be lulled by this quaint island's peaceful atmosphere.

Go to Gozo: Malta's little sister

Fancy a laid-back beach holiday on a tranquil Mediterranean island? Fly to Malta's little sister, says Rob Crossan

By: Rob Crossan

Published: Sat, August 10, 2013

You wouldn't expect an island with only five sets of trafic lights to be a haven of hedonism. And you wouldn't expect too much trendy innovation from a population that has steadfastly refused to countenance the idea of there ever being a bridge to connect it to the mainland.

So it proved on my trip to Gozo, Malta's litle sister and one of the most tranquil destinations in the Mediterranean. There are no real nightclubs to speak of, most beaches are free of crowds and as the sun descends late in the afternoon, there's little noise other than the distant peal of church bells and the crash of spume against the rocky headlands. Gozo is small (it's eight miles long and four miles wide). The reliable and comprehensive bus network means that a day trip from the capital Rabat (also known as Victoria) to some of the island's famed beaches is cheap and hassle-free.

Afer my first night among the Baroque townhouses, winding alleyways and sleepy cafes of Rabat, I headed to the sandy stretch of Ramla Bay. A mainstay on any list of the best beaches in the Med, Ramla doesn't disappoint with its craggy clifs that bookend the vast and incredibly soft sands. In typical Gozo style, this is beach life stripped back to the essentials. There's no DJ bars or high rises in sight; just a couple of locals selling prickly pears and a handful of tiny shacks serving up Gozo's speciality - - the "ftiras".

The local version of a pizza, tradition dictates (despite experiments by a few restaurants in Rabat) that the dish should come in only two styles - either topped with onions, tomatoes, potatoes and anchovies, or folded with eggs and sheep's cheese as the filler. Either variety is delicious and it made for the perfect beach lunch before I took a bus back to Rabat.

The ancient capital's crowning glory is its Citadel, built by the Romans and destroyed twice before taking its present form in the 17th Century as a fortress against Turkish invasion. This is the second highest point on the island and there are seamless views from the summit all the way to Sicily. Hours slipped by effortlessly simply strolling around the well preserved remnants including a battery, grain silo and prison from the days when the Knights of Malta reigned supreme.

Modernity may have bypassed most of this bijou island, but nowhere is the sense of history more pronounced than at the Ggantija Temples. Modernity may have bypassed most of this bijou island, but nowhere is the sense of history more pronounced than at the Ggantija Temples. Older than the Egyptian pyramids and Stonehenge, these are the oldest free-standing structures on the planet. Standing on a hilltop near the village of Xaghra, the megalithic walls are so vast that for centuries locals believed that their ancient ancestors must have enlisted the help of giants to build the two temples, complete with remains of altars and purifcation bowls built in the rock that can still be seen. The vast majority of visitors to Gozo are day trippers from Malta, so staying on the island means that it's possible to savour the island's natural beauty in the early hours before the ferries moor with any tourists.

On my final morning, I took a taxi just afer sunrise to the Azure Window on the west coast of the island. A monumental natural rock arch built into the clifs, which rises to a height of 100 metres, the cobalt waters lapped against its worn grooves as the sun began to inch higher. My only companions were a pair of snorkellers wading into the sea to meander through a tunnel that leads into an expanse of landlocked seawater known as the Inland Sea.

And that's the beauty of Gozo - it offers natural beauty and a lack of crowds, meaning a trip here needn't be a ritual of box ticking historical monuments or fighting for a sun lounger. It's an island where you should remove your watch, linger over late lunches then stroll across the evening sands, as the light drains away on a perfect Gozitan day.