When I have decided to travel to Malta this summer, I was certainly looking forward to spending time by the sea. One just has to be allured by the surreal colors of the see-through water, cozy coves and interesting rock formations. I am not really into lying on sunbeds all day long, but one of my must-dos was of course to plunge few times and see all those famous beaches.
The photo I found online (and put on my desktop before my trip) was full of colorful boats with beige buildings along the small harbor and a dominant church. After I came to Malta, I discovered that it was actually taken in Marsaxlokk, the fishermen’s village to the south. Well, I can proudly say that I took one of my own photos there, from the same spot!
This is the biggest fishermen’s village in Malta. The whole settlement of Marsaxlokk turns into one large fish market on Sundays with big stalls and fresh catch. Along the same quay, stalls that sell souvenirs and different traditional goods are to be found every day, and one can always come across local fishermen mending their nets.
Almost all the various colorful fishing boats sport the talismanic eye of Osiris for good luck. The tradition may date back to the Phoenicians who must have had an important settlement here.
I couldn’t wait to come here, so I was going to take my time and spend few hours in Marsaxlokk. Although there are no important historical landmarks, my idea was to walk down the quay, have lunch (where else would you have a fresh fish if not in the fishermen’s village, right!), and to take a bunch of photos of those colorful vessels. They are called luzzu. Being extremely recognizable, they are to be found throughout the whole island.
Marsaxlokk is only 12 km away from Valletta and there are buses that will take you there (less than half an hour ride). You are not really sure that you are going the right way until you reach the settlement. But, as soon as the bus takes the road down towards the sea and then stops at the beginning of the small harbor, it’s clear that this is it. The first glimpse of the luzzu-boats floating on the surface is enough.
I walked towards the church (that was on my desktop) with the small square in front of it, few shops and the statue of Our Lady riding on a luzzu that can be seen of the church’s frontispiece, between the two towers. People here have also set up a stone statue of St. Andrew, the patron saint of fishermen. Everything gets so consistent here. Stopped by the small flee market and bought few luzzu and Osiris eye souvenirs. (One is just “winking” at me from the tiny luzzu souvenir on my desk.)
If you go further along the waterfront, it will seem as curving giving you one great view of the small harbor. And this was the spot – the same scene I have on my desktop! This was like a mission-accomplished-moment for me, making me realize that I have actually come to Malta after all.
Wondering what to eat in Marsaxlokk? Catch of the day, of course! Take a walk along the quay and choose among numerous densely aligned restaurants that offer their specialties. I was drawn by the swordfish, big bottle of water and a small table in the shade (trying to catch the wi-fi signal as well). This was about 18 Euros. Would definitely recommend spending few hours here, it’s worth it.
Anyway, my plan was to go from Marsaxlokk to the Blue Grotto which is a bit more to the west of the island. Even though it’s only 11 km away, you have to change buses at the airport. So, I waited for the first bus in Marsaxlokk for 40 minutes, took the 15-minutes ride to the airport, waited for another hour there and then it took about 15 minutes more to get to the Blue Grotto…
THE BLUE GROTTO
The south-western coast of Malta is specific with its high cliffs, while the sea gets deeper and darker blue. The cliffs contain a number of caves created by the rushing waves over the millennia. In the Zurrieq area lies the famous Blue Grotto, that can be entered by boat.
Still a bit worn out by the bus stops and remembering how few Maltese I met at the station joked that “the bus might come faster if I keep checking the time more frequently” (and we were there for the whole hour), I reached the cove around 4.30 pm. It seemed as though the concrete and the rocks were melting in the heat, and there was no proper shade anywhere. As you go down towards the sea, there is the terrace on your left with the view of the Filfla island. They say that fishermen once built a small church inside one of its caves.
It surprised me that the last boat tour was at 5 pm (I almost missed it because of the public transport!). The ticket is 8 Euros and you will wait at the small cove for more tourists to come. There’s also an improvised beach here made of concrete and bear rocks.
The ride goes next to the cliffs that seem like being pierced. The boat enters one of the “holes”. You will be amazed by the sea color here that ranges from the light blue to some turquoise shade, while the ceiling gets lower. There are also sea corals on the rock walls. Other boats go by. The only thing that gets a bit annoying is the noise they all create, being louder than the waves.
Never the less, just as you begin to enjoy the ride and the sea breeze (that totally messed up my hair), and you even stop noticing the orange life jacket you had to put on, the ride was – over. This short cruise takes less than 20 minutes.
Going up to the bus station again, I realized that I didn’t even take enough break from the previous public transportation experience, and here I was again – had to wait for another 40 minutes (the 74 bus goes once every hour). So, to come here from Marsaxlokk and then go to Valletta, I spent two hours and 20 minutes in waiting!
Luckily, there was the pastry shop across the street with few shaded tables and some great Kinder Bueno ice cream scoops.
Lying between the two larger islands of Malta and Gozo, Comino is renowned for its natural state and the clear blue sea. It can be reached by small ferries or by day trip tours. There is the small fort on the island, along with one hotel. The most popular beach here is the Blue Lagoon.
It was mentioned in the previous post that I was supposed to take the speedboat ride to Comino. So, Marina, the owner of Leona Travel agency who helped me a lot with touring the island, recommended the tour. At the Oki-Ko-Ki Banis they say that “it all started 41 years ago with Tony Muscat also known as Banis or Mr Crazy”. He was among the first to organize visits to the Blue Lagoon by small vessels at first, which now grew into speedboats. Not only that you reach Comino faster, but you will also be able to enjoy the sunset when most of the tourists leave the beach.
We sat at the café in Spinola Bay, having a mix of fresh fruit juice and waiting for other tourists to arrive. Tony’s wide smile is easily noticeable. He jokes all the time, making cutting the waves towards Comino pleasant and fun. He shared with us that he will be 70 this year and that he spent 46 years at the sea.
Our mostly British group was fun, so besides with our host Colin, I had a nice chat with Tracy who was in Malta for holidays with her husband. We were trying to hold on to our bench tightly, since the boat was rashly jumping making us laugh and squeak at times. Tony was playing loud music, having fun at the wheel.
When we reached Comino, he took us to few coves with rock holes “resembling the shape of the upside-down Australia” and Brazil. Showing us the fascinating sea color, Tony said that Malta was declared the second place in the world for its water transparency, right after the Maldives. By the time we arrived to the beach, tourists were already embarking their boats to go back to Malta while fast food and water-sports stalls were closing. The Blue Lagoon went quiet, which is not to be witnessed that often nowadays.
Take a walk along the island. You will be able to discern the fortress which, besides the hotel on the other side of the island, is the only building in Comino. If you have enough time, stop by the hotel beach as well. For us though the best thing to do with the time we got was to plunge into the sea couple of times before the sun sets. The sand was almost white and the sea turquoise blue. No wonder that this is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Malta.
On the way back Tony stopped the boat for a few minutes, giving us time to enjoy the perfect sunset. By the time we came back to Spinola Bay, the street lights were already on and Malta seemed so vibrant and romantic.
(By the way, the bus that I was supposed to take to St. Gwann decided not to show up, and it was the last one for the day. I took off on foot, even got lost at some point… Oh well, none of you is really surprised any more, right!)
Being built as the set for the Popeye movie in 1980 starring Robin Williams, the Popeye Village remains the tourist attraction even today. Although the movie wasn’t a blockbuster, the complex is still visited, being equipped by various facilities, souvenir shop, swimming pool, beach, restaurants, along with visitors being able to become stars of a specific movie scene.
Malta is mostly rocky, there is not much greenery nor sand. There are numerous stone coves and the sea is deep, making the island perfect for docking large cruisers. Never the less, there are few places that are very popular among tourists and locals alike. There are the Golden and the Paradise Bay on the north with recognizable greenish waters and the sea being so crystal clear that you can see the boat shade on the shallow bottom. The longest sandy beach in Malta is Melliha, 25 km from Valletta. It will take an hour to come by bus, a bit more than 30 minutes by car.
The Popeye Village lies at the opposite side from Melliha. I have seen few photographs of the village before my trip, not being sure what the place was. This probably wouldn’t be on my usual Malta bucket list, if I haven’t decided to keep it slow the last day, not rushing to see another landmark, but to relax somewhere before I go to the airport in the evening.
As it turned out, my AirBnB hosts planned something similar for the day, so the seven-year-old Leona and I had a blast at the swimming pool. They even bought some traditional ‘honey rings’ biscuits that I didn’t get the chance to try yet. I took a plunge at the beach, a boat ride around the surrounding cliffs, clapped when Popeye and Olive were dancing with kids, and took few nice photos. This is the theme park (entrance fee is 16 Euros for adults), and it can be interesting to spend a day here, especially if you travel with kids.
There’s another nice beach one should visit – the brightly orange one on Gozo. There will be more about it in the next post when we visit this northern island. I’ll also tell you where the sand was brought from!
Next: WHAT TO SEE IN GOZO
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