Big Variety in Little Victoria, Gozo

Wandering an immaculate medieval hilltop citadel once conquered by Napoleon. Watching Tosca at the opera. Catching the latest movies in modern auditoriums. Shopping for designer names in sleek, multi-storied shopping malls. Enjoying a picnic beside a tinkling fountain in a cobbled, tree-lined park. Like London, Rome and Paris, Gozo’s capital Victoria (Ir-Rabat) has it all. But, as Mark Pearson relates, the big difference is that everything’s within easy walking distance, as this feature on the 7 Best Things to Do in Victoria, Gozo, reveals.

#1. Stroll to a Football Match

With a total area of 1.1 miles (in contrast to London’s 607 miles) Victoria’s many attractions are just a saunter away. At the southern end, I can grab a few spring rolls from a Chinese, buy a noisy bike horn at a hardware shop, nip into Lidl for some tin and be merrily tooting away (on the bike horn that is) for Victoria FC, in the compact and welcoming Gozo Stadium—all in under 10 minutes walking time.

#2. Eat Med fresh

Around the central parking area, you’ll find independent vendors selling sea-fresh catch of the day, in addition to fruit and vegetable stalls with the crispest, sweetest Mediterranean sun-ripened produce you could wish for.

My wife always goes to Carmen for her greens, Sicilian watermelons, artichokes and cherry tomatoes, and Carmen always throws in something free and gives the little kids something tasty from her counter. Inside Duke’s Mall is Greens, an upscale, family-run supermarket that features a deli counter with everything from fresh Gozo cheeselets and cured Sicilian hams, to lobsters you can select from a tank and freshly baked bread and rolls.

#3. Wander the Cittadella

Among Victoria’s many attractions, you just can’t miss the vast sandstone walls and imposing medieval bastions of the Cittadella. Like Valletta’s Grand Harbour does in Malta, the Cittadella totally dominates Gozo’s skyline from its perch atop a promontory overlooking Maltese archipelago. Since 2008, €14 million has been spent on renovating this spectacular Unesco World Heritage site so synonymous with the Knights of St John, with the fascinating and spectacular Visitor Centre winning numerous international awards.

It’s also a pleasure to simply saunter around the labyrinthine cobbled streets within the old town, take in the great views of the sea, coast and surrounding scenery, and contemplate in the cool of the 13th-century Cathedral of the Assumption.

The cathedral is said to have been built upon the foundations of a temple to Juno, which dates back to when the Cittadella was a Roman settlement named Gaulos. Overall, it’s an archaeological marvel and a must for any hop-on hop-off day trip to Gozo.

#4. Dodge the Devil

Although a decidedly non-saintly Catholic, I attend Maltese mass every now and then, even though I only understand a handful of Maltese words, half being profanities. The singing is enchanting (think traditional hymns sung in Arabic) and the churches awesome. My best masses are by Father Daniel at the Rotunda of St John the Baptist, the Xewkija parish church with the dome you can see from Malta, and at the Basilica of Saint George in Victoria.

Known as the marble church, the latter is completely covered in marble. Along with gold and bronze gilt, the ancient wooden statue of Saint George and the painted scenes on the ceiling and dome, it’s a real spirit lifter. Plus, there’s a great little piazza outside for a quick post-mass cappuccino and delicious pastry with friends and family.

#5. Take the Square Route to Entertainment

Independence Square, locally referred to as it-Tokk (meeting place), is where you can enjoy events such as cultural dance groups from around the world, brass band ensembles, fancy dress fandangoes and New Year’s eve celebrations, with the renowned DJ Jonas Blue helping Victoria welcome-in 2019. The square is also where the yearly February Carnival comes to life, with carefully choreographed dance groups of all ages throwing shapes and dazzling the eye.

And if you’re after something a bit more classical, 100 metres downhill is the classy Astra, a wonderfully intimate old-world theatre that hosts operas studded with world-class stars.

#6. Shop without the Drop

‘My feet are killing me,’ or ‘I’ve been on my feet all day’ are phrases you just don’t hear from Victoria’s shoppers. Whether it’s a casual weekend spree or a last-minute Christmas shop, Victoria beats the world’s top cities hands down as it has everything and it’s all close by, which is why many mainlanders hop on the ferry boat and visit Victoria for a shopping trip.

Dukes has a George, Adidas, Original Marines, Artigli and Bata among others. Walk down the hill past a Celio, Mothercare, New Look and Emporio and you’ll find the multi-story Arkadia mall, complete with a Waitrose, McDonalds, Urban Jungle, Next, Orsay, Peacocks, Piazza Italia, Dolce e Gabbana, Tommy Hilfiger and many other high street names.

If you’re after designer chic boutiques and craft shops, the cobbled alleyways behind Independence Square are crammed with treasures, from traditional lace and glassware, to hand-made knits and eclectic gems such as Spoonman, where the turntable spins classical tunes on vinyl while you browse genuine and enchanting crafts, including rings, earrings, wooden spoons and little houses.

#7. Café Hop & Garden chill

Being so close to Italy and Sicily, it’s no surprise café culture rules in Victoria. Even though its small, the city is crammed with many excellent bars, restaurants and cafes, which is great for shoppers needing a caffeine boost—try an espresso laced with grappa if you need an extra jolt on a cold winter’s evening.

Always good for value and variety is Café Jubilee in Independence Square. Outside Arkadia is the amazing Mojos, which catered for Brad and Angelina while at their filming location for By the Sea. Inside Dukes is The Hog, where my kids swear the burgers taste better than McDonalds.

Right next to that, is the lovely Villa Rundle Gardens, a free Wi-Fi oasis, with a little wooden bridge, fountains and a beautiful collection of native and imported trees, including jacarandas and mulberry trees, which my kids all gorge on when in season.

During Christmas, the park is lit up and lavishly decorated with handmade crafts by Gozitan schoolchildren, making it a winter wonderland with a magical, Mediterranean twist.

#7. Site Hop by Bus

When searching for a hotel in Gozo, visitors not looking to hire a car will do very well staying in Victoria.

Along with all the supermarkets and shops closeby, you also have the central bus terminus on your doorstep, taking you direct to all the island’s best beaches, bays filled with turquoise waters, ancient buildings and temples, fishing villages, impressive cliffs, scuba diving spots and much more.