Tag Archives: Mellieha

Travels in Spain, Boat Trips

In 1977 I had a two week holiday in Benidorm on the east coast of Spain. I’d like to tell you that I had a really good time, but I can’t because I didn’t enjoy it that much.

About two miles out in the bay between Levante and Poniente beaches was the little island of Isla Benidorm, a triangular shaped wedge of inhospitable rock, a mountain top I guess,  with a regular bright red ferry boat called the Bahia de Benidorm running across the short stretch for just a few pesetas each way.

Forty years ago I failed to fully understand the opportunities of travel and with limited imagination at my disposal there was so little to do that we made the trip twice and really once would have been quite enough.

It was advertised as ‘Peacock Island’ but I don’t recall seeing any on either visit and all we found there were a few scraggy chickens trying to get by in a very hostile landscape without any vegetation or water.  Fortunately there was a bar on the island with really good views back towards the mainland so at least there was somewhere to sit and have a drink while we waited for the ferry to return.

Forty years on Isla Benidorm is an uninhabited bird sanctuary and diving centre for those interested in marine life and today we were going to visit another off-shore island which is a bird sanctuary and diving centre, the islet of Tabarca about six miles from the port town of Santa Pola which fortunately sounded a lot more promising than Isla Benidorm because it has a census population of about seventy whereas Isla Benidorm has none.

We just about made boat departure time, which was a good thing because the next one wasn’t for about two hours or so (in high season they run a lot more regularly) and after purchasing our tickets we made our way to the top deck and selected seats in the sun ready for the short thirty minute crossing and after being invited to view the marine life through the glass bottom in the boat (really not worth it) we arrived in the small port and disembarked.

Before 1700, the island was known as Illa de Sant Pau or ‘Saint Paul’s Island’  on the basis that this is where Saint Paul was washed up about two thousand years ago. He must have got around a bit because he seems to have been washed up in quite a lot of places in quite a short space of time which begins to make him look very unlucky and me sceptical about the whole thing.

Personally, if I was inclined to believe any of it then I would come down on the side of the story of St Paul’s Island in Malta. The Acts of the Apostles tell the story of how Paul was shipwrecked on an island (somewhere) while on his way to Rome to face charges. You can call me a coward if you like but I wouldn’t have been going back to Rome to face charges that might result in crucifixion or beheading and I would have been inclined to stay on the island wherever it was but to be fair you don’t get to become a Saint by hiding in a cave!

Drogarati Caves, Kefalonia in 2000…

Anyway, with or without Saint Paul, Tabarca turned out to be a whole lot interesting than Isla Benidorm.

In the eighteenth century it was used as a convenient base for Berber pirates from North Africa who regularly raided the mainland coast so in 1760, to put a stop to it, Charles III of Spain ordered the fortification and repopulation of the Spanish island.

A group of Genoese sailors who had been shipwrecked near the coast of Tunisia, mostly coming from the islet of Tabark, were rescued and considered convenient settlers and the islet was renamed Nova Tabarca. The Genoese were moved to the island together with a Spanish garrison.

The King ordered a fortified town and as a consequence of Royal Decree walls, bulwarks, warehouses and barracks were built. The garrison was removed in 1850 and the buildings began to deteriorate and collapse through lack of maintenance but the Genoese stayed put and now a hundred and fifty years later it is a tourist destination and a thriving fishing community.

We maybe could have done with another hour on the island but if we missed the next ferry back we would be there for another four  which was too long so we made our way back to the small fishing port of the island and boarded the boat back to Santa Pola where we had previously found a nice pavement restaurant with a vey reasonably price Menu Del Dia and we simply sat and let the afternoon slip through our fingers.

Later we sat on the terrace and drank wine and ate pizza and just wasted the rest of the evening away as well!

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More cave stories:

Blue Lagoon, Capri

Cueva El Guerro, Castilla y Leon, Spain

Altamira Caves Santillana del Mar

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Malta, Doors of Mellieha

Mellieha Door 02Mellieha Door 03Mellieha Door 01Malta Door and Balcony MelliehaMellieha Iron Balcony and Door

More Picture Posts of Malta…

 

Malta, Fishing Boats

Malta, Door Knobs and Knockers

Malta, Cathedrals and Churches

Malta, Balconies

Malta, Washing Lines

Malta, Street Images

Street Art Mellieha MaltaRestaurant street Art Mellieha MaltaMalta Mellieha StatueMellieha Door 01

Malta, Happiness and a Walk to Mellieha

Mellieha Malta Postcard

Luckily it was only a short walk from where the bus dropped us off and it was all downhill so dragging the bags wasn’t too much of a chore.  The sun was shining and it was a perfect Spring temperature as we made our way along the driveway to the Mellieha Bay Hotel and to the reception.

Mellieha Bay Hotel…

I could tell that Kim wasn’t overly impressed.  The hotel was opened in 1969 and I had visited and stayed there in 1996 and 1997.  At nearly fifty years old and almost twenty since my last stay the place was showing its age and to be honest you would probably have to say a little beyond its best and in need of some attention.

But what the place lacked in style was more than compensated for by the welcome that we received at check in.  In a 2013  report by the World Economic Forum Malta placed seventeenth in a list of most friendly countries in the World (Iceland was first and Bolivia was last but I don’t think the list included Syria or Palestine) and it is also currently placed sixty-seventh in the New Economics Foundation Happy Planet Index.

Follow this link for a happy song about Malta.

Valletta Malta

The room wasn’t ready and the man at the desk apologised for that but I didn’t really mind at all because just along the way at the end of the room I could see the bar so we made our way to the delightfully sunny terrace and ordered a beer.

This turned out to be rather a shock because it was €4.50 for a half a litre which for my sort of travel budget feels like a bit of a mugging so one of the first jobs was going to be to find a mini-market with sensible prices.

Luckily we sat close to a couple who were preparing to go home and as they had been there for a week were full of good advice about bars, shops and restaurants.  They told us about the weather, the buses, the sightseeing and the hotel.  At some point in the conversation he leaned forward and whispered ‘yesterday the French started to arrive and they are a lot of them’ and we could tell by the tone of his voice that this was something that he clearly disapproved of.

It didn’t take long for the room to be made ready and soon we were unpacking, changing into summer clothes and admiring the spectacular view from our balcony across the bay to the village of Mellieha on the opposite side.  Kim’s Malta assessment was still on the wrong side of the love/hate scale but that view helped nudge it in the right direction.

Mellieha Malta Parish Church

We walked out now to investigate the place and strolled around the edge of the horseshoe shaped bay with its sandy beach and multicoloured sea that sparkled in the sunshine and made our way to the string of bars on the other side.  As we walked we found some nice looking restaurants with reasonable prices and all the while the indicator needle on the scale was moving positively.  I confess that I too have been guilty of making hasty assessments on arrival at places but I generally find it is best not to – things generally work out for the best – and if they don’t you can always trash the place!

Mellieha Village, Malta…

It was a steep walk to the village with a long sweeping road that looped around in extravagant sweeping bends and we were glad when we reached the top and the huge Parish Church.  Every village in Malta and Gozo has a church the size of a medieval cathedral and all have a story of how it was paid for and built by the residents of the village and this one is no exception.  It is indeed a grand structure standing in the most prominent place in the village with glorious views in all directions.

The main square has had extensive infrastructure works since I was last there but really you can’t really accuse Mellieha of being especially attractive but along the main streets and the steep side alleys, so steep that the pavements need steps, there are some interesting buildings and some fascinating balconies – some looking rather precarious I have to say.

Apart from a visit to the war time air raid shelter cut into the rocks under the church, there isn’t a great deal to see in Mellieha, even though it has been included in the EU list of ‘European Destination of Excellence’ it isn’t really a tourist destination and it is all the better for that, so after a while exploring the streets we made our way back down to the bay and selected a bar for a beer and a snack of a Maltese platter.

Mellieha Malta

The beer was a lot cheaper than the hotel and the platter was delicious so by the time we returned to the hotel via the mini-market Kim was coming round to my point of view about Malta.  I think she was starting to love it!

After a walk along the beach front and a temperature test in the swimming pool – way too cold – we spent the early evening on the balcony where the fierceness of the afternoon sun was replaced by the soothing cool of early evening as the scents of the gardens wafted into our room on a gentle breeze and we looked out over the glassy translucent sea as the lights of Mellieha started to flicker on one by one and leave a reflection in the sea.

Kim chose the restaurant, she is so much better at it than me and we had an excellent first meal and I think we both knew that we had found a place that we would be returning to.

Since you are here, check out my visit to the Mellieha World War Two Air Raid Shelters.

Mellieha Malta Balcony

Weekly Photo Challenge: Serene

Malta Boats Luzzu

I read somewhere that Malta was the last place in Europe to be cleared up after the war and I recall that Valletta was a little untidy but this seemed to add to its charm as we walked along Republic Street, stopping more often than I would normally choose to step inside the tourist shops, darting down narrow alleys and investigating hidden corners and emerging by the waterside and walking around the Grand Harbour in the shade of the sandstone coloured fortifications of the Knights.

Read the full story…

Malta – Sightseeing, a Church, a Cartoon and a Capital City

malta-map

“Valletta equals in its noble architecture, if it does not excel, any capital in Europe. The city is one of the most beautiful, for its architecture and the splendour of its streets that I know: something between Venice and Cadiz.” Benjamin Disraeli

After the nautical adventures of the previous day, the tedious Captain Morgan and the hair-raising Toni Oki Koki motorboat ride, we had had enough of boats and the sea so turned our attention to dry land once more and returned to walking and sightseeing.

The village of Mellieha is quite large and it rises up behind the shoreline of the bay and is topped by the twin towered Baroque style Parish Church which looked easily as big as any cathedral.  It wasn’t very far away and so one lunch time we tackled the walk to find somewhere different for something to eat.  Although it wasn’t far it turned out to be an especially arduous trek because it was up a very steep incline and the road swung around in extravagant hair-pin sweeps before reaching the top of the hill and the promenade that surrounds the church.

There were excellent views from the top but we were concentrating on catching our breath and in the heat of the day we needed somewhere cool to collapse and enjoy a beer.  There was plenty of choice and we selected one with outside tables under the shade of red and white umbrellas, ordered drinks and snacks and addressed the matter of getting back.  Although it was downhill all of the way we didn’t really relish repeating the ordeal so we settled on a bus ride and enjoyed the cold drinks all the more for that.

Mellieha Malta Postcard

On the following day we weren’t going to make the same mistake of waiting until midday to go walking at the hottest part of the day so we started out early on the two kilometre stroll across to the west of the island to Anchor Bay and the film set of the 1980 film ‘Popeye’ with Robin Williams as the famous cartoon sailor.  Malta it seems is a popular location with film makers and directors and there is a long list of well known films shot on location on the island and it appears to be especially in demand for historical epics like Troy, Columbus, Alexander and Gladiator.

Popeye Village today is marketed as a Fun Park and one of Malta’s top tourist attractions but in 1997 it was just a fifteen year old film set that was starting to show signs of wear.  There weren’t many visitors walking around the dusty paths or wandering around the set interiors of the houses and the shops and it didn’t take very long to walk around the US style east coast harbour village and find ourselves back at the entrance and wandering back to the Mellieha Bay Hotel in time for lunch.

Popeye Village 1

After two days of walking we returned to the buses to visit the capital of the island Valletta.  It wasn’t very far but Malta has one of the highest ratios of car ownership in Europe so the roads were congested and the nearer we got to the city the slower the journey became until the bus finally crawled into the bus terminus close to the old medieval walls.  The terminus is like a giant roundabout and was clogged with yellow buses all belching fumes and impatiently trying to get in and out.

The city of Valletta was built by the Knights of St John who were granted the island in 1530, seven years after being expelled from Rhodes by the Ottoman Turks.  Trouble with Turks however continued to follow the Knights and in 1565 the Ottomans laid siege to their new home on Malta with the intention of establishing a base from where they could conveniently advance into Europe.  But as in Rhodes and at Bodrum the Knights proved a tough nut to crack and the Great Siege of Malta which lasted from May until September ended with the defeat and retreat of the Turkish army.

The rest of Europe was so grateful for this stoic resistance that it began to provide funding for the Grand Master of the Order, Jean Parisot de Valette, to plan and construct a new fortified city that was to be called Valletta in his memory.

Valletta Malta

Although it was designed principally as a fortress city with great forts and armed bastions the architects also paid attention to good design and within the walls they built a Baroque style city with churches, palaces and fine mansions, laid down gardens and designed grand plazas at the intersections of the grid pattern of the streets.  The cathedral of St John is one of the most spectacular churches in Europe with a floor laid almost entirely from marble tombstones dedicated to the Knights of St John.

Benjamin Disraeli called it “a city built by gentlemen for gentlemen”.  Sadly much of medieval Malta was destroyed in the bombing raids of the Second-World-War and although it took a long time to recover it has now been named the European Capital of Culture for 2018.

I read somewhere that Malta was the last place in Europe to be cleared up after the war and I recall that Valletta was a little untidy but this seemed to add to its charm as we walked along Republic Street, stopping more often than I would normally choose to step inside the tourist shops, darting down narrow alleys and investigating hidden corners and emerging by the waterside and walking around the Grand Harbour in the shade of the sandstone coloured fortifications of the Knights.

Valletta turned out to be a fascinating place to visit and as the bus left the terminus and made slow progress through the east coast holiday resorts I regretted that we didn’t have longer to spend in the capital of the island but time was beginning to run out on this holiday.

Valletta Postcard