Spring Hiking in Gozo
The Azure Window, Gozo’s famous natural bridge shown below, collapsed on March 8, 2017. Read on for more info.
While many might scream hysterically at the concept of visiting any Mediterranean island before temperatures make swimming comfortable, we beg to disagree. Spring brings waves of colorful flowers to many of the arid islands, and cooler temperatures are perfect for long coastal hikes. Gozo, Malta’s smaller neighbor, is a perfect example.
Most people know Gozo as a nicer alternative to Malta’s discount package tourism. Niche historians and architecture buffs know it as the location of monumental Ggantija, the most ancient surviving Neolithic temple complex in the Mediterranean. But every spring, another select group is drawn to the island.
For a few weeks each year, little Gozo blossoms into a key destination for naturalists. Mother Nature puts on an unsurpassed show of wild flowers. As far as the eye can see, a rainbow of blossoms carpets the normally brown, arid island. They flow across the terraced landscape and spill over the white cliffs, dozens of colorful species, some of them quite rare. In fact, the yellow flowers in the first panel below, known as Maltese Everlasting, is quite endangered and only survives on parts of Gozo and tiny Comino.
Spring is THE time for hikers. Blue skies and cool breezes make exploring Gozo’s steep coastal scenery much more enjoyable than the hot summer temperatures that most visitors experience during peak season. The most spectacular walk leads along the dramatic, plunging cliffs north of Xlendi past the now-collapsed stone arch towards the Inland Sea.
Sadly, the collapsed Azure Window was a major highlight of the hike and could be seen from quite a distance (see photo from 2005 below). “Game of Thrones” fans will recognize the arch as the location where Daenerys Targaryen became the Khaleesi when she married Khal Drogo. It’s not just a blow to fantasy fans but to nature lovers as well. While the missing Azure Window may put a little dent in the experience, there’s still plenty to see along the way.
The entire hike is scenic overload as the path twists and winds its way through a sea of flowers past a series of crystal bays. High up on the cliffs, the views out over the Mediterranean and back towards Malta are magnificent. You usually have to work much harder for this kind of scenery.
Another very enjoyable hike leads south of Ramla l-Hamra, Gozo’s famous orange-red beach, along a similarly colored coast of massive boulders and tide pools. It’s entirely different from the cliffs of Xlendi and allows for a quick dip and maybe some snorkeling if you dare the chilly spring waters.
Considering the abundance of flowers, rocky coastline, crystal waters and the fact that the Maltese islands lie along a main migration route between Africa and Europe, you would think that Gozo would be a birder’s paradise. Unfortunately, the Maltese have a long tradition of bird hunting and they love their guns almost as much as Americans. This translates into what is often referred to as a “bird massacre.” For years, environmentalists and bird lovers have been trying to bring the hunters into compliance with Maltese and European law. That’s no easy task. (Read more about the bird situation at Birdlife Malta.)
If the Maltese government and the E.U. can get the hunting problem under control, Gozo will one day add birding to its long list of attractions. For the time being, hikers who don’t mind dodging a few bullets can still enjoy the spectacular trails, the Neolithic ruins, the beaches, and the historical villages. And seriously consider visiting during the phenomenal spring bloom. It’s really worth it. I’m already eyeing additional Mediterranean options like Sardinia, Sicily and Crete for future springtime adventures.
Tips on Visiting Gozo
Because Malta is a major destination for discount package tourists, this is one of the few times we are going to recommend considering an all-inclusive package. We priced discount flights to Malta and the cheapest flight we could find was more expensive than an all-inclusive trip including round-trip airfare and ten nights accommodation in Valletta (on Malta) with breakfast. We bought the package, stayed a week in Malta, just threw away three of the nights, and then booked a guest house for the remaining three days on Gozo. It ended up being a great vacation.
Despite the fact that Malta often markets itself as a cheap beach destination, we’re huge fans of the tiny nation because it boasts a rich cultural and natural heritage including multiple UNESCO World Heritage sites. We highly recommend visiting both islands! Check out our Malta and Gozo Pictorial to see some of the incredible treasures.