How to put this politely? Gozitans (as they are called) are not an attractive bunch. Perhaps it’s all those pastizzi (pastry stuffed with cheese) and a reluctance to take much exercise (obesity is on the rise, and the number of people with diabetes is proportionately higher here than almost anywhere in Europe). Or it might just be the way the genes are dealt.
Certainly, they are well-schooled in accepting their lot. ‘The rest of Malta thinks we still live in caves,’ a grandmother in the capital Victoria (so named after our former queen, who, unlike her great-great-granddaughter, never actually made it here) tells me.
In fact, they live mainly in two or three-storey houses (nothing higher is allowed) in villages that, over the years, have competed to build bigger and better churches, and those churches remain places of worship rather than reminders of a spiritual hinterland.
Perfect mooring: Pictures is the car-less island of Comino, between Gozo and Malta
You might not know this about Gozo…
1. Gozo is the second largest of 21 islands that make up the Maltese archipelago.
2. Its nickname is Isle of Calypso because of its association with Calypso, the nymph from Homer’s Odyssey who held Odysseus captive for many years.
3. The island’s population is 37,000 (out of Malta’s total of 475,000) and the capital has two opera houses.
4. You can catch a 20-minute ferry from Mgarr harbour on Gozo to the car-less island of Comino, between Gozo and Malta. The white sand beaches and famous Blue Lagoon are great for a day trip.
5. The Ggantija temples are older than Egypt’s pyramids. They date from as far back as 5,500 years ago and are a UNESCO World Heritage Site; entrance costs £7.75 (heritagemalta.org).
6. The island is almost nine miles long and four-and-a-half miles wide with many excellent walking paths. See islandofgozo.org for details of routes.
Some 90 per cent of Gozitans go to church on a Sunday and each community has its own patron saint.
Families live close to each other to help with looking after their young children, and in three days we don’t see one policeman or encounter any unpleasantness apart from some gesticulation when I momentarily forget that they drive on the same side of the road as us.
Oh, and a glass of good local wine costs £3.50. Now, that is attractive.
Throw in almost year-round sunshine, two or three decent beaches, plenty of unpretentious restaurants, an arresting history, superb diving, rock-climbing and a pace of life that makes mainland Malta seem fast and furious and it’s no wonder people like Valerie have decamped here from Liverpool. ‘I came for a day and fell in love with the place,’ says Valerie, who now works in the gift shop at Ta Cenc hotel near Sannat.
Mind you, coming just for the day is one of the big issues. Some locals would like another 10,000 people to be living here permanently as a means of encouraging the young to stay and set up businesses.
They also say the central Maltese government is not doing nearly enough to bolster the Gozo economy.
Ta Cenc is listed as one of two five-star hotels on Gozo (the other is the Kempinski), but it’s nothing of the kind.
Water sight: The deep blue hole at the world famous Azure Window on Gozo island
A-list visitor: Angelina Jolie, who made her 2015 film By The Sea on the island
Instead, it’s a quiet place to stay in cottage-like rooms dotted around two swimming pools (one of which is just for grown-ups), with a spa that won’t win awards — but ask for a strong massage and that’s exactly what you get.
It’s worth hiring a guide for half a day, not least to learn how proud Gozitans are of their island.
Certainly, they have a right to be proud of the Citadel in Victoria, which is like a mini Mdina (Malta’s ancient capital), with massive fortifications (dating back to the Bronze Age or even earlier) enclosing the splendid cathedral built between 1697 and 1711.
And no one can sniff at the Ggantija Temples (3600-3200 BC), which put Stonehenge in its place when it comes to longevity.
They aren’t the prettiest archaeological discovery, but their existence is explained both succinctly and romantically in the visitors’ centre, not least the legend that they were built by a giantess who ate broad beans that made her so strong she could carry her baby in one arm and a megalith in the other.
Gozo is like Malta was 30 years ago is the refrain we hear half a dozen times.
The people are friendly, it’s easy to get around, and what it lacks in sophistication is made up for by its authenticity. But, my goodness, some of the apartment buildings at the two main seaside villages — Xlendi and Marsalforn — are ugly.
Even so, Xlendi has a certain charm and the place to eat is Ic-Cima, a family-run establishment with a huge roof terrace overlooking the bay.
Another excellent restaurant at the other end of the island is Ta’ Philip in Mgarr, where impresario Philip Spiteri offers wonderfully fresh nosh and wines from his own vineyard.
Our favourite spot on the island by some distance is the little cove of Mgarr Ix Xini, where Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt filmed By The Sea.
It’s perfect for swimming and the lane leading to it is so narrow that it deters buses.
There’s talk of building a tunnel between Gozo and Malta. It might make commercial sense, but it could also change Gozo irrevocably.
For us tourists who shy away from the hoards, that would be a shame.
Double rooms at Hotel Ta’Cenc & Spa (tacenc.com) from £188 B&B. BA (britishairways.com) has flights to Malta from London Gatwick from £88 return. More information about Gozo, visit maltauk.com.