Walking With Giants and Swimming With Locals in Malta

Sitting off the coast of Italy and Tunisia, this European archipelago feels more like the cradle of civilization to which it inconspicuously resides. Legend has it Gozo, Malta’s sister island, is the place where the infamously beautiful nymph, Calypso, held Odysseus hostage for seven years as a prisoner of love. And the Ġgantija temples, which locals will tell you were built by giants, are older than the pyramids in Egypt.

With only one full day on Gozo, Tori and I had to prioritize and plan our public transit route across the island. While the bus route is extensive across both islands, it leaves you holding your breath as drivers whip around narrow corners and squeeze down ancient streets, so we began our itinerary on a boat, wiping stardust from our eyes as we hurtled towards Comino, the water slowly fading from deep blue to turquoise. Situated between Gozo and Malta, this tiny island created a shimmering lagoon with warm waters where we’d spend the morning sunbathing and splashing. 

By noon, they were serving drinks in pineapples on Comino and we were aboard a bus for the other side of the island. We hopped off at the last stop–the edge of Xewkija–where we’d later get caught in the middle of a horse race.

Our knees wobbled as we made our way downhill towards Wied il Ghasri, an inlet carved out by millennia of tides. The stairs that are cut into the cliffside were mirage-like as we approached them, baked under the summer sun. We stood in the shallows, letting polished rocks massage our tired feet, and eventually, swam out to the mouth where thrill-seekers jumped off the cliffs.

Beneath these giant rocks, I felt tiny and humbly insignificant. That same feeling flooding my chest while watching the sun set on those wide open hills, which seemingly, had parted ways for giants who wished to jump into the sea.

Lined with cruise ships and bustling with people, Malta, the bigger of the two islands feels smaller. Our first day, we wandered through our home-base of Sliema and took the ferry across to Valletta, in both cities, chasing the cool canopy of shadows and looking up at colorful balconies. We ate heartier than expected food and listened to foreign conversations — attempting to decode the ancient tongue.

On the second day, we ventured to St. Peters pool, splurging on a taxi that would take us down the nearly 5-kilometer dirt road that we refused to walk in the heat. From afar, the pool looks serene, but the tide quickly pulls you in. And if you’re too busy mustering up the courage to jump off the rocks, the courant won’t hesitate to drag you out to sea or push you up against the jagged shore.

When the third day came, Tori and I ventured to the Three Cities on what looked like a Gondola, and were essentially the only ones crazy enough to choose the city over the beach. We soon discovered, while the quietness of these remote cities provided a relief, the heat proved stifling. We plodded through two of the three cities, stopping on stoops to swig water and taking every opportunity to pause and photograph colorful doors.

Eventually, we decided to join the crowds and head to the beach, so we set off for the famous Blue Grotto. After an hour-long bus and a transfer, we soon realized the viewpoint is high above the water and there was nothing resembling a beach in sight. Panic set in — but we agreed, at least we had wine.

Spotting another lookout point, we lazily wandered down the hill only to hear faint splashes coming from what looked like a boat dock — so we kept walking. Our pace quickened as we realized we’d reached a local swimming hole and marina. My skirt and shoes were barely off before I’d jumped in head first, saltwater stinging my eyes as I waved at Tori to join.

By late afternoon seemingly any tourist that was lucky enough to find this oasis had left, and the elderly were gathering for their afternoon swim and gossip session. Later, while watching the sun set over the uninhabited island of Filfla, we decided we wanted to be that active at that age. Then we plotted our return, unsure what captivated us most about this place, but sure this tidal and enchanted feeling would never elude us.  

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