Aside from the promise of September sunshine, what drew me to Malta was the impossibly turquoise waters of the so-called Blue Lagoon. Now, I went to a ‘Blue Lagoon’ in Iceland, but that turned out to be a geothermal power plant’s waste water. I was terrified I might be disappointed by Malta’s Blue Lagoon, and that my heart would sink at yet another body of water pretending to be something it’s not. But, I was here now. I hopped on an already-busy bus bright and early, heading over to the tiny island of Comino to see the legendary lagoon for myself.
Nobody warned me that Maltese traffic is dismal, particularly in the Northern towns and villages. So bad that two bus drivers, approaching from opposite directions, stalled their engines and stopped to chat to each other. But, it was refreshing – in the UK, you’re lucky if you see two drivers coyly wave at one another.
Clear of traffic and speeding towards the ferry port at Cirkewwa, panoramic views of the gorgeous Mediterranean sea whizzed past the bus windows. Occasionally, the blue horizon where the sky meets the sea was interrupted by a golden tower. These fortifications were built in the medieval era to help Malta’s crusading occupants, the Knights Hospitaller, repel any other opportunistic invaders – Ottomans, I’m looking at you. With such a fantastic view and brilliant weather, it’s clear to see why the Crusaders retreated to Malta after their defeat in Palestine (and after being unceremoniously kicked out of Greek lands by those pesky Ottomans). Who wouldn’t?
This particular tower, near Ghajn Tuffieha, was built in 1637.
Upon arrival at Cirkewwa ferry port, I raced off the bus, shoved past the ticket touts, and got on the speedboat to Comino with a few seconds to spare. I think they only let me on because there was only one of me, and I’m quite small, so can squeeze on the end of a seat easily. I also think the boat guy felt sorry for me.
On the 25-minute journey over to Comino, we skimmed across the tops of waves, and had a couple of close shaves with other tourist boats on their way to the Blue Lagoon. The trip also took us to some dramatic caves, which Malta is famous for. Admittedly, these were more like big hollows in the rock rather than spelunkable (not a word) grottos, but it was still nice to get a better look at some of Malta’s rugged coastline.
One day, this’ll look like Durdle Door, only warmer and more inviting.
The boat docked into the Blue Lagoon, and I clambered up the hill to get a better view.
Yep, looks blue to me.
The Blue Lagoon is located between Comino and its even smaller neighbour, Cominotto. There’s aquamarine water all around you, and no big waves to stop you from swimming. There is, however, one problem – there’s no beach to speak of. The 3 square feet of sand that do exist are occupied from the crack of dawn, so you have to find a rocky perch – ideally, close to the metal ladders that take you into the waters of the lagoon.
Herein lies my problem. I’m a solo traveller with a love of swimming, but I can’t well take all my stuff snorkelling with me. I also didn’t want to pay 5 Euros for a locker. The solution? Throw my bag into a bush next to some trustworthy-looking people, and hope no criminal spies it from the path. It worked.
The lagoon is brilliantly clear, and it’s only a few metres deep, so it’s the perfect place to learn to snorkel. Kids with full face masks splashed past me, and we all dipped our heads below the surface to get a peek at the shoals of white, gold and orange fish that passed by. You can swim between Comino and Cominotto if you’re brave enough – but there are some dark-looking rocks that might host scary sea life, such as crabs and spiky anemones. I’m the snorkeller who’s terrified of sea creatures, so it was a big fat no from me. More courageous folk than I seemed to find interesting things to look at, though.
After about an hour doing my best Jaws impression, I got bored, and headed back to the Malta boat. The same boat guy was stood on the dock. “Only one”? he asked, cocking his head curiously. “Yep”. I don’t think there are very many solo female travellers in Malta – I guess it’s more of a family and couples’ holiday destination. But by this point, I was too hungry to care that I was the only solo traveller about. I’d forgotten my trusty Mars bars, so I was all out of snacks.
Luckily for me, Malta is well prepared for peckish punters. The ferry terminal had a cafe stationed on its concrete forecourt. Normally, I avoid these places like the plague, as they’re usually overpriced and poor quality. That said, this place seemed different, because it served traditional Maltese snacks. I opted for the pea qassata – a Maltese pasty, if you like, and took a chocolate muffin for the road.
Cottage loaf meets Cornish pasty meets mushy peas.
Qassata are always served hotter than the Maltese sun, so don’t bite into it straight away. The thick pastry flakes off to reveal a fairly dry filling of peas, mint and herbs. You don’t need a knife and fork to eat this, but make sure you have a handful of napkins on standby, otherwise you’ll have peas all over your nice summer outfit.
I sat and watched the ferries to Gozo come and go, and the seagulls cruise above my head. Boat guy, meanwhile, was on his lunch break. He sat on another bench, drinking a shandy, continuing to herd customers onto the Comino speedboat. After I’d finished my qassata, boat guy paced up and down a couple of times, before asking me if I wanted an ice cream. I thanked him, but declined. I’m sure he was being nice, but if you’re a solo woman, you can never be too careful. Stranger danger is still very much a concern.
Besides, I had places to be. Some Greek girls from the hostel had told me about a beach called Ghajn Tuffieha, which Game of Thrones had used as a filming location. I didn’t care much for that particular tidbit of information, but the hostel staff said it was their favourite beach, so I headed to Malta’s more tranquil southern side to have a look. It’s not too far from the tourist town of Mellieha, so it’s quite easy to get to.
As its TV casting would suggest, Ghajn Tuffieha was very dramatic indeed. There are actually three bays, separated only by small headlands. These are some of Malta’s only sandy beaches, so as you might expect, they’re packed with tourists. If you go to the headland where the aforementioned Ghajn Tuffieha tower is, and look to your left, you’ll see a massive 1960s hotel development by the beach. If you look to the right, you’ll see a much more unspoiled view:
Good for both snorkelling and surfers, Ghajn Tuffieha is perennially popular.
I headed down the steps in search of a seat. There was no space on the sand, and tightwad that I am, I didn’t want to pay for a sunbed I was only going to use for about half an hour. Glancing around me, I took the most comfortable perch I saw – a knee-high rock.
Reaching into my bag for that chocolate muffin, a middle aged Italian man in Speedos came bounding up to me. He spoke only in Italian, which although beautiful, is not a language I speak with any confidence. I got “Buon appetito… dolce”, which I figured meant enjoy your dessert. Then, “bagno?” meaning swim. ‘No, mate, I’m not going for a swim with you’, my cautious mind screamed.
Eventually, my new friend worked out I couldn’t speak his language, and said a few words in English. He said he was from Sicily, and that because I was alone, he thought I might like some company. “Ah! Commissario Montalbano!” said I, the Italian TV show set in Sicily my family are obsessed with. The Italian man smiled and nodded exuberantly, before animatedly chatting in Italian again. He said he was going for a swim, but he’d be back to join me later. He skipped off into the sea, leaving me rather dazed and confused.
Now, I don’t know if he was just being friendly, but I can’t afford to take any chances with my safety. I dashed back up the hill, in case he was sinister/pervy/just a plain weirdo in Speedos.
Safe from marauding Italians, I breathed in some more of that glorious Maltese air. Out here in the countryside, it’s different to the scent of St. Julian’s – it’s that intoxicating mix of pine resin and sea air. It’s one of the things I adore about Greece, and to find it here in Malta brought a smile to my face.
I returned to the hostel for sundown, when they were laying on a free yoga class by the swimming pool. If this isn’t the most hipster, Instagrammy place you’ve ever seen, I’ll eat my (vegan) fedora.
I’m here for it, though. Youth hostels are no longer the bedbug-ridden dives of a few decades ago.
Selecting a mat a little away from the pool, what followed was an hour of intense stretching, but not in an ordinary vinyasa flow kind of way; the teacher had us holding our positions for up to 5 minutes. Sounds easy enough, but when you’re putting your entire weight on your hands with only a thin layer of padding between you and solid stone, it gets very difficult very quickly.
Still, it was free, and I was supposed to be doing mindful self-care on this trip. My aching limbs rather regretted that high-minded notion the next morning, however.