Bob and Maggie Baldwin expected sun, sea and history when they visited Malta and Gozo. What they didn’t expect was to encounter Popeye, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie! Here’s their travel diary:
A hot and sunny day as we took the minibuses out to the Red Tower, also known as St Agatha’s Tower near Mellieha, which was built in 1647-48 to guard and protect the straits between Malta and Gozo.
Fantastic views in all directions from the top. We walked along the coast to Anchor Bay and Popeye village, which was built for the Popeye film starring Robin Williams and Shelley Duvaal; the set is now a popular tourist attraction. Our walk ended at Mgarr, where some of us visited the underground shelters used by the village people during World War 2. The shelter is 225m long and took two years to carve from the rock. The patron of the local café was born there! As we drove back the Mellieha, the sky changed colour incredibly, like as a bruise would spread across the skin.
Another warm, sunny day to start our walk at Buskett Gardens. We visited some nearby caves where, up until the 1800s, up to 200 people lived. We also saw cart ruts in the limestone at Ghar Kubir, thought to date from the Iron Age. One area where there is a profusion of these ruts is named Clapham Junction! The walk continued to the Mnajdra temples, constructed between 3,600 and 3,200 BC. The temples seem to confirm the theory that Malta was a sacred island, a centre of worship and mystic practices in Neolithic times.
A few of us decided to forgo the walk today and travel to Valetta. The bus ambled through villages and along the coast, enabling us to see more of Malta.
It was another hot and sunny day and we set off down Republic Street to St Elmo’s Fort. We had hoped to visit the Knights of St John Hospital but it was closed; however, we enjoyed a pleasant lunch on the terrace and later visited the Grand Masters Palace in the heart of the city. Valetta is full of sights and interest and our day trip wasn’t nearly long enough.
Today we walked along the Victoria Lines; named after Queen Victoria, these are defences built along a natural fault line. We walked through farmland to Rabat and then on to Mdina, known as the ‘Silent City’.
We walked through the old town and visited St Paul’s Cathedral, which had spectacular paintings, and on to a church in Mosta, where a 500lb bomb fell through the dome in 1942 whilst 300 people were worshipping. The dome was left reasonably intact and no-one was injured, so this was taken to be a miracle. There is a replica of the bomb on view.
Today we travelled by ferry to Gozo, with views of Comino and Cominotto, two other small islands, as we sailed past. We then set off to a hill topped by ‘Il Salvator’, an exact replica of the statue of Christ which looks over Rio de Janeiro. We stopped for lunch in the shade of some olive trees and a few of us scrambled to the top. The 360-degree views were marvellous.
Our planned day today was slightly changed due to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie filming in the very bay we were headed for! We started our walk in Xlendi, a delightful fishing village, and headed along the coast to Sannat and Xewkija, where there is a beautiful domed church rivalling the one in Mosta. We followed the coast path overlooking salt pans to Fort Chambray and up to Mgarr. The views over the sea were spectacular.
We set off from the hotel in glorious sunshine to walk to Victoria, the capital of Gozo, walking through fertile valleys and farmland, and then up the hill to the citadel, which is undergoing extensive restoration at present, but one could still enjoy the wonderful sense of history in the place.
We visited Dwerja tower on the coast, which was built to protect the nearby ‘Fungus Rock’, where a supposedly magical and therefore valuable herb grew in bygone times. We walked down to the inland sea and went on a boat trip through a narrow fissure in the cliffs and out to sea to enjoy views of caves and the ‘Azure Window’, an archway in the rock.
The sea was a fantastic iridescent colour here and there is also a ‘face’ in the rock resembling Edward Munch’s painting ‘The Scream’. We followed the north coast path, passing lots of salt pans, some man-made, and some making the most of the natural erosion of the rocks creating hollows.
We started our walk today from Qala and walked along the coast to Ramla Bay via Dahlet Bay and San Blas bay and on to ‘Calypso’s Cave’, where the nymph Calypso was supposed to have kept Odysseus captive for seven years!
After supper we headed to the bar for a last night quiz (or ‘exam’ as our leader Ian referred to it!). There were prizes for the winning team and everyone joined in the challenge. Great fun, and a holiday to be recommended.