Xaghra (pronounced Shara) is the second largest town on Gozo. It is located inland, to the north east of Victoria, halfway to Ramla Bay. Typically Gozitan, Xaghra is a very pleasant place, built around a fine town square, dominated by the 19th century Basilica of the Nativity of Our Lady, with a fine marble interior, including a statue of the Madonna, which gives the church its nickname of Il-Bambina.
The main attractions of Xaghra are much older however. They include the Ggantija Temples, which date back over 5500 years, the Xaghra Hypogeum (underground burial chamber) and at least two prehistoric caves. Other sites of interest include the Ta' Kola windmill, one of the few survivors of a series of windmills built by the Knights, Xerri's Grotto, a small natural cave with stalactites and stalagmites accessed via some ones house and the Pomskizillious museum of toys.
Just outside of Xaghra to the north east, is Ramla Bay. This is probably the best beach in the Maltese archipelago, and definitely the best on Gozo. It is a lovely red sandy bay, with gently sloping red sands into a clear blue sea. At the ends of the bay are rocks suitable for snorkeling around. There are various snack bars available and a parking area for cars. There are flags to warn bathers of unsuitable conditions.
Such an obvious landing site was protected from invasion by the Knights of St John. The defenses included an artificial reef out to sea, fougasses (an early kind of claymore mine) drilled out of boulders and a battery (actually built on top of a Roman Villa).
Above the beach is Calypso's cave, where legend has it, Odysseus dwelt seven years under the spell of Calypso. This can be reached either from Xaghra or from the beach. It is worth the walk, if only for the spectacular views over the beach and the deep blue Mediterranean.
Mgarr being the ferry port provides most visitors with their first experience of Gozo. Even with a modern ferry entering and leaving every 45 minutes, Mgarr still has its charms: traditional luzzu fishing boats bob in the harbour, the road to the rest of the island sweeps out of the town leading to the hills dotted with bell towers all silhouetted against an azure sky.
Perched on a rock above the town is the Gothic-style Church of Our Lady of Lourdes. This was built in the 19th century, prompted by a traveller who remarked how similar the rocks resembled the Grotto at Massabielle where St Bernadette had her visions. The anniversary of the first of these, 11th of February, sees the church crowded with Gozitan worshippers.
Above the town, in the village of Ghajnsielem, stands Fort Chambray. This was built by the Knights to replace Rabat as the capital of Gozo and to defend both the harbour and the Gozo Straits as a kind of Gozitan Valletta. Funded by the French Knight, Lieutenant General of the Ships and Governor of Gozo, Jacques François de Chambray, it was completed in 1760, as the strongest fortifications on Gozo. As there had been no Turkish attack for over 50 years there was no enthusiasm to settle in its precincts, and the city never materialised.
It saw combat in the Napoleonic Wars, where, after a brief siege in 1798, it was taken by the French. They were themselves ousted with help from the Royal Navy less than a year later. It then formed part of the British garrison, before being turned into a mental hospital. It is now being turned into a luxury property development, and unfortunately, currently there is no access.
Xlendi (pronounced Shlendi) is a quiet village on the south western coast of Gozo. It is situated at the end of a small bay. Xlendi is made more pleasant in summer by traffic being banned from the seafront, allowing customers of the various restaurants and cafés to spread out across the promenade. The bay itself is very popular with swimmers, having a small gently shelving pebbled beach and towards the western end, and rocky beaches, popular with both swimmers and sunbathers. It is also a great place for snorkelers and divers. At the mouth of the bay stands a coastal watch tower from the time of the Knights. Although the tower is currently closed, there are some great views from next to it.
There are plenty of good restaurants, cafés, take-aways, and even an internet café in Xlendi. Other services such as tour agents, a bank and ATM are well represented. Far enough outside the village to not disturb the quiet, is the La Grotto Disco, popular with young Gozitans on a Saturday night.
Marsalforn is Gozo's largest resort, with plenty of modern development. It has a stretch of sand and pebbles beach plus plenty of rocks, suitable for both sunbathing and swimming from. In the town there are several dive companies + Xlendi cruises for both boat trips and hire. There is a local legend that although St Paul was shipwrecked on Malta, he sailed to Rome from Gozo. To commemorate this, the local church is dedicated to St Paul Shipwrecked.
Overlooking the town, on top of the hill known locally as Tas-Salvatur, there is a statue of Christ the Redeemer, very similar to the one in Rio de Janeiro. Following the coast to the west, another great place for swimming, Qbajjar Bay is reached, followed by yet another ideal swimming spot, Xwejni Bay (pronounced Shwaynee). As well as the swimming this has Qolla L-Bajda, a remarkable rock formation and cave. Further along the coast west, there are 2 km of salt pans which are still in use.
San Lawrenz/St Lawrence
This is a traditional Gozitan village with a domed church, village square, tiny police station, red phone and letter boxes, a restaurant, and for variety, a blacksmiths.
San Lawrenz is very handy for two attractions: Dwejra and the the Ta' Dbiegi Craft Village.
Dwejra has a collection of the most famous geological wonders on Gozo. These include the Inland Sea, the Fungus Rock and the world famous Azure Window. It is only about 15 minutes walk from San Lawrenz.
The Ta' Dbiegi Craft Village is a collection of small workshops where local products are manufactured and sold, including: lace, gold and silver work, stone, onyx, alabaster, woolens, leather work and Gozo glass. This is about 10 minutes walk away from the San Lawrenz.