Malta: Three Islands, 1,001 Options
The question of the day: Sailing or kayaking? We studied the water for ripples. None. So we snagged a white canoe (which the Maltese call kayaks) resting upside down on the beach and slipped beyond the shiny yachts moored in San Nicklaw Bay. The Watersports Center at the Comino Hotel and Bungalows is the epicenter of activity on tiny Comino Island, where one can choose from a flotilla of canoes, two-person sit-on-top kayaks (you guessed it referred to as canoes by the Maltese), Lasers, Hobicats, and windsurfs. Our destiny was Rabbits Nest, a protected southern bay framed by 100-foot cliffs that open into mysterious sea-level caves. We glided past the pleasure boats in the Blue Lagoon, a popular inlet for the sun-seeking crowd who come to swim in its impossibly turquoise water, and rounded the bend to explore the grottoes in the bay. Two warnings: jellyfish and jet skis.
While Malta climbing may not rival Corsica or the south of France, the island does offer some worthy one-pitch, moderate (5.4 to 5.7) climbs on beautiful limestone rock in picturesque coastal valleys. The miles of sea cliffs are composed of loose rock, making climbing treacherous, though there is one route with protected boltsthe Blue Wall, a steep, exposed climb along the Dingli Cliffs on the western coast of Malta.
Bernard Bonnici, co-owner of Malta Outdoors, and I worked our way through the underbrush and pines in Wied Babu (wied means "valley in Maltese), an arid chasm that leads to the sea. A blend of salt and lemons infused the air. Looking like a smaller, tropical version of Wild Iris, the cliff offers a handful of bolted sport climbs established by the Brits when they maintained a naval base on the island. Manzira Valley in Gozo and Victoria Lines on Malta are other climbing options.
It was a weird menagerie in the parking lot in Dwerja on the western coast of Gozo: pasty British tourists milling about, Bonnici and me strapping slings and ropes around our torsos, hulky scuba divers donning tanks and masks. Pointing to my harness, one German diver remarked: You go up, we go down.
Actually we were planning to go down as well, but from higher perch. Our descent into the liquid sapphire began from the top of the Azure Window, a huge hole cut into the limestone precipice. Boulders atop the geological formation provided bomber anchors for the 70-foot rappel. Inching off the cliff edge, I surrendered to the salty sea air and admired the midday sun glinting off the gem-colored water. Positioning the end of the rope two feet above the sea ensured us a sufficiently tantalizing plunge. A quick swim reunited us with our aquatic brethren on the rocky bank.
Buffed by centuries of wind and weather, the apex of the limestone cliffs on Gozo looked as if it had been re-upholstered in yards of luxurious suede, but to the touch it's as hard and smooth as packed sand. We began our coastal trek in Xlendia quaint fishing village on Gozos southern coast, where snorkelers and fishing boats bob in the bay, and followed the footpath across a ravine to a bluff still protected by a watchtower built by the Knights of St. John, a Christian religious order that ruled Malta for nearly 300 years. The five-mile trek to the village of Mgarr Ix-Xini takes you past saltpans, moonscape boulders, and ramshackle stone huts erected by the legions of bird hunters who emerge locked and loaded from the thicket. Stop for a mid-walk cocktail at Ta Cenc Hotel, a luxurious resort perched above the indigo with Maltas shadow in the distance.
Hiking the well-trodden footpath along Maltas Dingli Cliffs provides an equally memorable journey: sheer limestone cliffs plunging into the froth; sea grasses wafting in the slight breeze; ospreys, falcons, and other birds of prey screeching overhead. Take a bus or cab from Valletta to the viewpoint at Ghar Lapsi, south of Zebbug, and head towards the sun. The 12-mile trek to Gnejna Bay will take you about four hours. Malta Outdoors offers guided, four-day treks along coastal footpaths and country roads in Gozo and day hikes along the Dingli Cliffs.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication