Where our room would usually be lit by a warm glow as the morning sun filtered through our thick curtains, this morning we were woken by a 5.30am alarm, to a room that was pitch black. Our cruise round Malta with Hera Cruises set sail at 9, which required being at the pickup point on Malta for 7.30 and catching the ferry to the pickup point at 6.30. Any aggravation at the early hour and initial darkness was quickly diffused, however, as we watched the sun rise over Comino from the deck of the Gozo-Malta ferry.
No shopping on Sundays
Once over on Malta, we were picked up from the Paradise Bay hotel, just a short walk from the ferry terminal. It was a long and bumpy ride round to the other hotels to pick up other guests (we were to make an almost identical journey in a few days’ time). In Sliema, the touristy coastal town from which we were embarking, we used our free time before the cruise to have a run round looking for ATMs — a pretty difficult task, it turned out, with machines bizarrely turned off if the adjoining bank was shut (it was a Sunday). In fact, the whole place, allegedly Malta’s ‘Shopping Capital’, was little better than a ghost town save for a tiny supermarket (the larger one was shut). To a Londoner, this was pretty outrageous. Lesson from this: Don’t go shopping anywhere in Malta on a Sunday.
We boarded the cruise after most people had already claimed the available sunloungers, but luckily found two unoccupied ones on the top deck, on the right side of the boat to see the coast as we sailed along it. We sat down and made ourselves comfortable as the ship began to drift, our rather entertaining captain introduced himself and the music began. This music got off to a really good start — Dire Straits, Sting, Genesis and similarly respectable easy-listening rock that suited the laidback cruise perfectly. Unfortunately, towards the end it descended into modern chart trash such as Rihanna and David Guetta. Thankfully, the scenery and the experience were beautiful enough to keep us sane and relaxed.
Malta’s southern coast
The sparkling waves gently lapped and splashed below our feet, the sun beat down hotter than ever, warming our skin and hair, yet a light refreshing breeze kept us comfortable. The coastline remained interesting throughout, transforming from colourful harbours bustling with boats and jetskis (Sliema), to towering stone facades and cathedrals (Valetta), to an unexpected industrial port for oil, power and water purification (Marsaxlokk), to stretches of sea caves, jagged cliffs and other spectacular natural rock formations (this landscape made up the majority of Malta’s coastline, especially the Southern coast).
Caves by speedboat
We docked at Comino, the small island lying between Malta and Gozo that we’d passed by so many times on the ferry. Our first action was to take our seats on the speedboat ride, to Comino’s caves, that we’d signed up for just moments before — I don’t think I’ve ever travelled so fast, save for select rollercoasters! We all screamed, tears running down our faces, Steve trying to film it on my camera. On reaching Comino we slowed down to admire the caves, fascinated by their various colours, shapes, stalactites hanging from their ceilings. It was then full-speed back to the boat — worth every penny of the 10 euros extra.
Lunch was already in process as we returned so we joined the back of the queue, eventually returning with a plate full of couscous, pasta, peppers, olives, bread rolls, feta cheese and cured meats. Drinks (wine or softies) were included. Not spectacular, but pleasant and filling. Next we walked down the plank onto Comino, to explore this almost uninhabited little island on foot. Some clambering over rocks and we were sat high above the Blue Lagoon, a stunning inlet of twinkling turquoise water through which the seabed shone, held within knobbly yellow cliffs, sprouting with pretty little plants. A small yet perfectly formed capsule of paradise.
Venturing beyond that we found an otherworldly landscape of bare, dusty hills, covered in spiky desert plants and jagged grey rocks. It was so unlike any environment I’d ever seen, it felt almost as if we’d landed on the moon. Much of the time, there was not another soul in sight, the only other life being the tiny lizards darting around in the dust. Over a few hills, however, we found a bay full of people swimming and sunbathing, probably from the island’s one small hotel, accompanied by food stalls. I bought a Magnum White (Queen of indulgent ice creams), which I ate on our trek back to the ship.
The cruise back from Comino to Sliema was a little cooler, the wind picking up and the lightest mist of a drizzle drifting in to cool our skin. The Northern coastline was less interesting than the Southern, being largely populated by seaside towns. We docked and thanked the captain as we left the boat, then cast about looking for somewhere to get dinner. A long walk to the shopping centre, the much-touted ‘Largest in Malta’ was shut and the supermarket too. Thankfully we managed to pick up some dried pasta, arrabiata sauce (it was extremely spicy — very different to the mild spice of the British-adapted version of the sauce) and big water bottles in the harbour’s tiny supermarket (later on, this made a quick and easy dinner to enjoy on the sofa, listening to the soft-rock music stream of our favourite TV channel… the information channel). By the time we were returning to Gozo on the ferry, the sun was setting again — a fitting end to our most relaxing day.
All text and photos (c) Juliet Langton, 2011. All rights reserved.