Massive swells were coming from Africa. We started tacking timidly. The weather was becoming worse. The rib was tuned in the rhythm of the waves, put our thoughts aside and carried us away in its voyage! Now, our bow was taking over. The throttle was pointing ahead. Now, there is no return…
After two hours of dynamic cruising, we approached the northeastern side of Malta where there is the capital city, Valletta. It is ortified on a peninsula which enters a manifold bay dividing it into two big bays: The east one called Grand Harder, 35 km long, where mainly cargo ships tie up and offers any service you may need, and the west one, 2km long, which we chose.
Entering slowly the impressive walls of the old city, visitors cannot avoid admiring them. A true fortress where we discerned the Empire buildings and the tops of the huge cathedrals that reach the sky. Impressed by the very first glance, we let our eyes be carried away by the really magical atmosphere of the place. One can imagine that inside the walls an old civilization is still kept alive and that the Knights of St. John still live and wander there.
On the right, there are three big bays. We arrived at the last one, which is the deepest one and where MSIDA marina is. It is an exemplary marina, with floating platforms side by side offering all amenities. It has a capacity of 1000 places for boats up to 65ft and it is by far the best marina we have ever tied. In the middle of the west port and just outside Msida marina entrance, there is an old iron ship, permanently anchored, playing the role of a floating refueling station for fuels and ice. One refill is enough since the coastline of Malta is no more than 80Nm.
In order to really get to know Valletta, wander around the wonderful and scenic alleys, where whole Malta is reflected. Alleys down and across, all ending up in the sea, constitute a town-planning masterpiece. Big buildings, all ochre colored, with green windows, beautiful squares and tidy gardens. Here we meet some of the best works of art unharmed over time. The whole city is a lively museum, a witness of a different era. A city which seems to be sleeping deep in its history. Valletta owns a lot of titles which give prominence to its admirable history. “European city of arts”, “global historic city”, “baroque masterpiece” are some of them. But also, a city “from gentlemen to gentlemen” since the knights came from wealthy families and offered the best in order the city to be built. The best engineers and artists worked for that. Of course, what you should definitely visit, with the help of the “taxi” buses, in order to have complete view of the city, are the following:
- The three cities: Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua which are opposite Valletta, in the northeast edge of Grand Harbour. Vittoriosa is the first city of the knights which was called Birgu in the past. After the great victory against Suleiman the Magnificent, Jean de la Vallette transferred it in Valletta and due to the victory, he renamed it Vittoriosa. The three cities constitute Cattonera and represent three different eras.
- Mdina or Medina or otherwise called “the silent city”. It is a few kilometers away from Valletta and it is the old capital city of Malta. It is a city away from the modern pace of life which insists on preserving its magic through its medieval atmosphere. In Arabic, Mdina means “the city with the walls”. Only a few families live here while the absolute quiet in its narrow alleys, among the big yellowy walls, offers to it a fairytale view. Defy fatigue and walk around it. Walk in the city that was built by the Phoenicians. Eat in the renovated restaurants with shields and knights keeping you company. Move to another era. Many scenes from the film “Gladiator” were filmed there. Arriving at Basti Square on the northern side, you have a panoramic view of whole Malta.
- Hagar: 15km southwestern of Valletta, there is a magnificent complex of temples dating back in 3800 BC. The Hagar Qim temples, as well as other ones, are considered as the oldest human constructions that have been preserved throughout the world.
If we carefully observe the map of the Mediterranean Sea, we will find it in the middle of this historic sea. A small dot of land, 55nm south of Sicily and 150nm from the northern coasts of Africa, is in the heart of the Mediterranean. In Malta archipelago there is the island complex of 316 square kilometers area which consists of three main islands: the homonymous Malta, Gozo and Comino. Malta is identified with the Knights of St. John (Knights Hospitaller) which gave a lot of power to the island when they settled there in 1522 after they were chased away from Rhodes. They fortified every strategic part of the island in a unique way. They built wonderful buildings and magnificent temples using the local ochre stone as their main construction material which attributes an intensely fairytale aspect to the whole place.
There are three basic characteristics of Malta to which the big influx of tourists every year is owed:
- The passage of the Hospitallers who left their mark in every corner of the island.
- The lacy beaches which form many small and large bays, amazing beaches with crystal clear water easily compared with ours.
- The ideal climate all year round, with the hottest period from mid July to mid September.
The next day arrived and we set sail to Comino Island. Kemmuna is called in Maltese because of the yellow plant, called cumin, which flourished in the whole island. The island, where small hills and leeward bays dominate, was for many centuries a perfect shelter for the pirates. It constituted the ideal base for raids in Gozo or Malta until 1618 when the knights built a tall stone tower in the middle of the island in order to discourage corsairs.
Only three families live on the island, where there are no roads and the only way of communication are the paths. A hotel, a small church and a small pier complement an idyllic image. A small touch of peace and quiet. The glory of Comino is the famous Blue Lagoon, a «legendary» beach. It is in its northwest side and it is a narrow canal which separates Comino from Cominetto Island. Here, the water is crystal clear, while the white sand in the background, transfuses an intense turquoise colour that engrosses you. Swimming in this water is a unique experience, and spending the night on the boat is the absolute getaway. Of course, we made the mistake and went there in the morning. We enjoyed the wonderful turquoise water, where there were only five or six boats moored, for some time. In a while though, boats were coming, one after the other, from every entrance leading to the Blue Lagoon.
At around 6 o’clock in the afternoon, there were only a few sailing boats so we truly enjoyed this place. We swam alone in the calm water, walked in the narrow paths leading to every corner of the island, cooked on the rocks and spent the night on the wonderful water of the «blue lagoon».
We released the rib’s bowlines and headed for the most western and very promising island of the complex. A way of half nautical mile. The island of Calypso nymph, as Gozo is otherwise called, is smaller than Malta of 14km length and 7km width. It has 28,000 residents, its capital city is Victoria and its main port is Mgarr, just opposite Comino.
The length of its coastline is no more than 22nm.
Just as we entered Mgarr, we immediately felt that the rhythm of life here is much slower in relation to noisy Valletta. We felt the same while walking the narrow streets of Victoria and coming into contact with the Gozitans who, it is worth mentioning, are very proud of their island.
In Gozo there are a lot of bays, well-protected by north winds ideal to spend the night, wonderful beaches and very scenic fishing villages. We enjoyed all these even more with – what else? – our rib.
We started our tour from the northern side of the island which smoothly ends to the sea, in opposition to the southern steep shores.
- The famous red beach, sand of which we sealed in a bottle as a souvenir. It was one of the most beautiful beaches we had ever seen. High up on the rock, according to the locals, lived Calypso who seduced Odysseus and kept him near her for seven years.
- Marsaforn bay, a popular region which is in the middle of the north shore and it is relatively developed. Many old buildings have been renovated the recent years and there are plenty of rooms to let on the waterfront. Late in the afternoon, everything is scenic: the little shops with the souvenirs, the restaurants, and the cafés while a lot of people are having a walk on the seaside road. What is particularly distinct is the little fishing port. Entering its narrow entrance, just 3 metres wide, we stood literally enchanted by the unexpected spectacle. Dozens of boats being still, with variable colours like a reflection of the one to the other. The famous luzzu with the intense yellow, blue and brown colours, the pride of the Maltese people.
- Dwerja, a region of stunning natural beauty in the north-western shore with the renowned Azure Window, one of the biggest attractions of the island.
- Xlendi bay, a wonderful deep bay and fishing port. In its entrance, 35 metres deep, two shipwrecks of the 2nd and 5th century AD were found, from which a lot of amphorae and ancient anchors that adorn the archaeological museum of Gozo were dragged up. The village is very beautiful and quiet with cafés and restaurants along the shore.
The days we spent on the wonderful beaches of Malta were very beautiful and, many times, they made me think that I was in our own sea water. A look at the map though, was enough to make me realise where I was…