The Mediterranean: Malta and Gozo

Rugged cliffs, scenic villages and cultural sights

Postcard: Gozo: The Maltese Island to Know
Sixty miles south of Sicily, Malta and Gozo, the two main islands of the Maltese archipelago, rise from the Mediterranean majestically and suddenly, like the resurfacing of an ancient shipwreck. Dating back to 800 b.c., these islands have been ruled by the Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, Normans, French, and, most recently, the British, who colonized Malta until 1964, leaving behind English as the official second language. While Malta may be the famous one, it's also the most overdeveloped, and, quite frankly, nowhere we want to spend more than a day. But tiny Gozo, about the size of Martha's Vineyard, is a hidden gem of rugged cliffs and scenic villages with some very good hotels and restaurants.

To get to Gozo, take the ferry from Malta's Cirkewwa harbor. Or better yet, hire a helicopter from Malta Air Charter for about $90. It drops you at Xewkija heliport, a short taxi ride from the island's two best hotels. In the rolling western hills, The Kempinski San Lawrenz Resort & Spa has 106 rooms done in beiges, dark wood, and terra cotta, with private terraces and big bathrooms (a luxury on the island). The 17,000-square-foot spa specializes in serious pampering, with an authentic Ayurveda center offering treatments like warm Kerala oil therapies ($40-$170). The Junior Suite with mountain views is the one you want to get. Farther south, Hotel Ta' Cenc hotel sits on 400 acres of gardens with paths that lead straight into the ocean. The 83 bungalows scattered across the property have stone floors, wood beams, and blue-and-yellow fabrics. Ask for the Trullo Suites, which have high ceilings and skylights.

Gozo's top restaurant, Jeffrey's, is in a converted farmhouse that serves traditional dishes, such as fenek (a type of local rabbit) cooked in red wine and garlic. Reservations are essential, especially for a table in the restaurant's unbeatable garden. Also good is It-Tmun, where the simple Mediterranean menu includes a wonderful fish chowder and fresh oysters. For excellent fresh seafood, head to Paradise, an unassuming but quirky local favorite (the owner has an affinity for Elvis and The King's image is everywhere). Be sure to try the dentici, an intensely flavorful white fish.

Gozo is also one of the top diving destinations in the Med, with underwater grottos, 160-foot visibility, and warm water. For experienced divers, there's the Blue Hole, a spectacular rock formation off the Western coast. Beginners should head to Xlendi Harbor, to St. Andrew's Divers Cove, for the scoop on the best scuba sites and beaches, such as the red-sand Ramla Bay.

Malta Air Charter 356-22-999-138;
Kempinski San Lawrenz Resort & Spa Rooms, $200. 356-21-558-640.
Hotel Ta' Cenc Rooms, $210-$370. 356-21-556-819.
Jeffrey's Dinner, $50. At 10 Gharb Road; 356-21-561-006.
It-Tmun Dinner, $50. At Mount Carmel St., Xlendi; 356-21-551-571.
Paradise Dinner, $45. $ At Mount Carmel St., Xlendi; 356-21-556-878.
St. Andrew's Divers Cove At St. Simon St., Xlendi; 356-21-551-301.

Quick Trip: How To Do Malta
Well-trodden Malta is worth a day for its cultural sights. The Baroque St. John's Cathedral (on St. John's Square), in the old fortified capital of Valetta, has two luminous Caravaggios, including Beheading of St. John the Baptist. The National Museum of Archeology (On Republic Street, Valetta; 356-21-239-545) displays many of the island's antiquities, including the 5,000-year-old Sleeping Lady statuette. Farther inland, in Paola, don't miss the Hypogeum Temple (356-21-825-579; reservations required), a 50-foot underground religious site carved from solid rock more than 4,000 years ago. In the center of the island, in Malta's old capital of Mdina, is the only place worth laying your head: The Xara Palace (rooms, $220-$1,175; 12 Mdina; 356-21-450-560). In a restored 17th-century mansion, the rooms are lavishly decorated and have sweeping island views.

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