The Blue Lagoon, Popeye Village and Gozo Island | Our stopover in Malta

It’s rare that we fly to a place without a plan but as we landed in Barcelona we did exactly that. Well, we had a rough idea, we wanted to visit Jordan and we found a cheap route via Malta so with very heavy eyes in Barcelona airport after a red eye flight we booked a ticket to Malta where we could take a little beach break in between. The flight wasn’t for 13 hours so we lived like Tom Hanks in Terminal, making the airport our temporary home. We found a bench to nap on but a strange man was walking around in a towel as a skirt and appeared to have handwashed his clothes and laid them on the chairs to dry – enough to make us relocate and find a new area to nap.

Our flight was delayed which meant we had missed the last bus in Malta and would have to get a taxi. As we walked around in a daze a very annoying man kept asking us if we needed a cheap taxi. He was as pestery as the touts in Asia and I really hadn’t expected that in Malta. A couple also tried to catch a bus so we asked if they wanted to share a taxi with us. They were Americans and the man looked exactly like Paul Hollywood which was quite amusing. We booked our hotel last minute and found a deal at a fancy place, with spa in its name and four stars! Never have we stayed in a place with so many stars. We must’ve been the first backpackers to arrive at the hotel but we were still treated like everyone else. The receptionist clearly knew we were budget travellers though as when I asked if the tap water was drinkable she said it tastes awful and whispered that the bottles are €1.50 in the room fridge but we should go to the vending machine up the road where it’s much cheaper.

For $50 a night we felt like kings. Our room even had a wide marble staircase leading down to the bedroom! The bed was so big we could stretch out and not even realise someone else was in the bed and we had six pillows to choose from.

It was the best I’d slept in months and the following morning we paid an extra $5 for a buffet breakfast. I’d noticed some reviews where people had complained about the breakfast but they obviously weren’t budget backpackers – we were in heaven. There was baked beans (probably due to the fact that everyone staying there seemed to be British) bacon, sausages, eggs cooked in every possible way, cereal, granola, fruits and pastries. Then I found a bowl labelled ‘Grandmas coffee cake’ and it was 90% coffee flavoured cream. My biggest regret in life (slight exaggeration) is not getting a second portion of that cake as they didn’t have it the following day.

Anyway – Malta. I actually visited this small country off the south western coast of Italy on a family holiday about 20 years ago (wowee that makes me feel old). We stayed in a nice villa on the island of Gozo and under my parents rules coffee cake was not allowed for breakfast. On the plus side we had a rental car and dad organised a boat trip to explore the hidden coves. Craig and I were seeing the island in a completely different way, walking or catching the public buses. We were staying in Mellieha in the northern area of Malta. It had a pretty church and a beige theme to every property. We wandered down to the popular Mellieha Bay and were very unimpressed. It was lined with sunbeds and looked so tacky and unappealing that we left straight away. Instead we followed some trails on my map to reach Popeye Village. The path wasn’t exactly a designated route and we somehow ended up on private property, walking beside giant cacti plants. Popeye Village was a film set from the musical production which featured Robin Williams back in the 80’s and now it’s an open museum and fun park. The view of the village is very impressive though as it’s set in a calm bay with turquoise patches of water and the buildings were so unique. They were designed to look vintage so had wooden facades and slanted roofs with little square tiles across them.

The following day we caught two buses and a ferry to reach Gozo where the accommodation was cheaper and the towns more authentic. We arrived in the tiny village of Qala which had plenty of charm and a grand church in the central square. Nice on first impressions but the church bells dung every 15 minutes…throughout the entire night. It was actually more intrusive than a mosque with the 4am call to prayer as this was a relentless wake up call all night long. We stayed in a traditional stone townhouse with a courtyard and pool (not clean enough to use) with four rooms rented out to guests.

We had some time in the afternoon so we enjoyed a stroll to the nearest beach, passing cacti and local farmers on route. The beach was small with clear water and when the sun popped out it was delightful, but as it vanished behind a cloud and the wind picked up we felt like Brits desperately trying to enjoy a pathetic English summer.

With much better weather coming up the next day we opted to visit the Blue Lagoon on Comino Island – considered to be the main highlight of Malta. A return boat trip was €10 and we took the first one of the day at 9am. It was a great time to arrive as we were some of the first people to arrive on the island. It’s a protected area so the only development is one hotel and a bunch of deck chairs on any piece of flat land the locals could find. We didn’t want to pay for a deck chair crammed amongst people so we took a stroll, searching for a quiet spot. The trail offered incredible views of the blue lagoon which was a vast area of sand on the sea bed so the water was sparkling with aqua blue water. There were rocky islands with naturally carved caves and arches and beautiful coves with pristine turquoise water amongst the dark rocky areas.

We ended up returning to the edge of the main blue lagoon and found a rocky area where we could just about lay down. It wasn’t the comfiest spot but the good thing was everything around us was riddled with sharp rocks so we had the area to ourselves. There was an ideal ledge to jump into the sea from so we stayed put all day, enjoying the clear water. We borrowed a snorkel from our host but were sceptical about what was to be seen underwater and as soon as we heard an English couple get excited when they saw ‘a fish’ we knew it would be shit. There was hardly any life in the water but the visibility was impressive at least.

By 11am the place was heaving, particularly in the centre of the lagoon – but still we remained in a peaceful spot the entire day. It was strange jumping into the sea and swimming away from the shore as the hills became visible and were scattered with tourists. This was the shoulder season, it was late October and I can’t imagine how horrendous the crowds would be in summer. I realised it was the first time I’d swam in the sea since jumping in the Arctic last winter. The sea was still nice and warm in Malta after all the summer sun so I found it hilarious when three large men crouched down beside the water, dipped their hands in and began splashing their necks before lowering their bodies in. We did that technique in Norway because it prevents the body from going into shock from the °1 water – what the heck were these lads doing it here for?!

That night the bell chimes were interrupted by thunder rumbles and the storm continued for hours. Luckily we needed a day to plan the next part of our trip in Jordan so it was a good excuse to stay inside. The following day we managed to get out and see a little of Gozo Island. We stopped off at Victoria, the capital of the island where we enjoyed a wander around the alleyways before catching another bus to the north western corner of the island.

We walked to Weid il-Ghasri, an inlet of the sea which funnels down a pretty little gorge and leads to a pebble beach. The weather was overcast so we didn’t fancy a swim and continued onto a cliff-edge walk and some natural rock arches where a family with two tiny toddlers were rock climbing high above the azure sea. We then followed some trails along the coastline where a wave formation of beige rock curved up like a tsunami turned to stone. Some people had built cave style houses into the rock walls and on their doorsteps were lots of salt pans, carved out of the rock floor.

By the time we got to the bus stop the sky had filled with menacing clouds. It was black and apocalyptic but thankfully the heavens didn’t open until we stepped on the bus. That night we headed back to Malta for the airport and our flight to Jordan at 6am. We opted to just sleep in the airport as checkin would be around 3am so it was pointless paying for a hotel. Sadly Malta airport was one of the strictest we’ve ever been to. We found a quiet corner on the second floor but a security guard said we couldn’t sleep there and sent us to some metal chairs with arm rests where you couldn’t lie down or even rest your head. We were shattered and after some more investigating Craig found many people sleeping on burger kings sofas so we joined the hoards. The check in counter opened late so we sat on the floor with our luggage in front of the tv screen to show what number desk we needed and the staff said we couldn’t sit there! Eughhhh. We were so fed up. But finally it was time to board the flight and head to the Middle East.

Honestly I wouldn’t recommend a visit to Malta. Yes the blue lagoon was stunning but it was so crowded, the restaurants were expensive, the bus system was ineffective for the amount of people (and that was in the shoulder season!) and it just felt overdeveloped in areas. There was still charm in the small villages though and some nice spots to visit if you had a rental car but there were too many British people there. My idea of a holiday is escaping home and experiencing culture, so being surrounded by a variety of English accents is pretty much our worst nightmare. For us it was just a stopover where we grabbed some bargain €20 flights to Jordan so no harm was done.

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