IT’S a moment as overwhelming as Mel Gibson’s cry for ‘’freedom’’ in the film Braveheart, except my word is `Sunshiiiiiiinnnnee’. It is day one of our mini-break to Malta and the first time I have felt real heat on my body since moving to London earlier this year. Our first destination is the famous Blue Lagoon and I am beyond excited.
Bound for the Blue Lagoon
My boyfriend and I have chosen to stay in Mellieha Bay, a small seaside town in the north of Malta. The island’s ubiquitous limestone outcrops sprawl down the hillsides to a glistening sea of blue. Beautiful bronzed bodies dot the sandy shoreline, whilst fishing boats bob serenely with the waves in the backdrop. We have found a bargain day-trip to the island of Comino, where the Blue Lagoon awaits – â‚¬12 with ‘Oh Yeah Cruises’. Score.
The boat has a fully-stocked bar and reasonably comfortable seating. I sigh with relief as I notice several other seafarers as equally pasty as me, and shyly rip off my sundress to reveal my corpse-like London skin tone. I let the sun’s warmth seep into my bones as I down an icy local beer called Cisk. Now we’re talking.
The captain shows us several caves en route to our destination, but nothing is quite as spectacular as the sight of the Blue Lagoon when we eventually arrive. Turquoise waters sparkle atop a white-sand seabed. Unfortunately the cove is a not-so-well-kept-secret, and boatloads of other tourists have arrived to make the most of the early spring sun. Thrifty Maltese guys offer umbrellas and chairs for a few euros, and you can buy everything from beer and burgers to healthy salads and wraps at the makeshift kiosks. With a little bit of effort, my boyfriend and I cross the lagoon with our backpacks on our heads to a small rocky island opposite, where we manage to avoid the crowds. A few hours later, we have turned a few shades darker, or in my case pinker, and are feeling thoroughly sun-kissed and merry. That evening we splurge on a seafood platter at one of the many restaurants back in Mellieha Bay. Sublime.
Making the most of Mosta
Day two and it’s time for some history. We head out early on one of the local buses, which are dirt cheap (â‚¬2.20 for a day pass), albeit a little sporadic. Our first stop is Mosta, a town in the middle of the island, north-west of the capital of Valletta. The town’s main attraction is the Rotunda (Church of St Mary), made famous when a German bomb dropped through its dome during WWII while more than 300 people were gathered for Mass. The bomb landed with a bounce, but failed to explode. A replica of it is on display, and you can still see remnants of where the bomb pierced the dome.
Next stop, Valletta
Next stop, Valletta. This city has so much history, so much beauty and charm, it is overwhelming. A World Heritage site, the fortified capital features Baroque architecture, with limestone buildings lining alleyway after alleyway of quaint cafes. A visit to St John’s Co-Cathedral is a must, as is a walk to the Upper Barrakka Gardens for the best views of the Grand Harbour.
For an insight into the fascinating history of Malta, The Malta Experience is an excellent hour-long documentary on this island nation — starting with Malta’s prehistoric stone-age settlers to its long list of invaders, the arrival of the Knights of the Order of St John, and finally the island’s role in WWII. With our heads swarming with information, we indulged in a few local pastizzis, or small pastry snacks filled with ricotta cheese, at Caffe Cordina.
Of particular interest to me was the National War Museum, as my grandfather served in Malta in April 1942 — the same month the German Luftwaffe dropped 6,000 tons of bombs on the country. Especially poignant were the exhibits about life for the Maltese during those hard years. The people of Malta were awarded the George Cross in recognition of their heroic struggle against occupation that year, the first time such an honour was bestowed upon an entire community.
Besides the beaches and the history, the best thing about this country was its people. It could have something to do with the fact that Australia and Malta have a one year reciprocal Working Holiday Visa arrangement – it seems everyone you meet has a cousin, brother, or long-lost relative who lives in Australia. As a result, they adore us, and I even spotted a few Aussie flags around the place.
For those tempted to extend a mini-break, Working Holiday Visas are available to Aussies and Kiwis aged between 18 and 30. This is a multi-entry visa, valid for one year from the date of issue. For more information, see the Australian Department of Immigration website.