Some people say Malta is like Marmite – you either love it or hate it! For me, it is the former and a love that began not long after I could walk
I have visited Malta on numerous occasions - beginning when I had no choice, progressing through many happy childhood holidays, teenage trips and more recently as a couple with my husband. Most of these were based around Mellieha and the northern part of the island.
Mellieha is a town of two parts – the ‘village’ on the hill and the bay area (official name Ghadira Bay). Both are equally alluring.
Village with a view
At the top of the winding road is the village crowned by the 19th Century Baroque church – the focus for the annual Festa (September 8th). If you are lucky enough to visit during this time you will be guaranteed a spectacle of parades, traditional dress and extremely noisy and exuberant fireworks! Be warned the shops will be closed and although restaurants and bars remain open, they will be crammed full of locals and therefore extremely busy. Be sure to visit the nougat sellers in the Parish Square during Festa for a sweet, chewy and nutty treat.
Regardless of whether it is Festa time, the church is well worth a visit as is the Parish Square with great views down toward the bay. If you wander further up the hill you will pass a number of restaurants, markets and shops including the family owned Herbies Jewellery (65 Gorg Borg Olivier Street, Mellieha +356 21523547). My family have been visiting this store since the 1980’s and would thoroughly recommend a stop to view their wares, especially the exquisite ‘filigree’ style gold and silver Maltese cross jewellery.
When it comes to food, you will be spoilt for choice in the village (and in the bay) with a wide range of restaurants serving Mediterranean style food and local dishes. If you visit between late August and November, be sure to search out a restaurant serving ‘Lampuki Pie’ or ‘Torta tal Lampuki’. This traditional dish made from the Lampuki fish (similar to Dorado), spinach, onions and tomatoes is divine and thoroughly recommended.
A good choice of restaurants is Cross Keys (5 Cross Square, Mellieha; www.crosskeys.com.mt; pizzeria +356 21522605, restaurant +356 21523744) which has both a pizzeria and bar downstairs and more formal dining upstairs. It is mainly Mediterranean style with dishes at the pizzeria being slightly cheaper. It offers a terrace which provides the perfect backdrop for a relaxed evening meal with the bay, Comino and Gozo in the distance.
Bay and Beach
Make your way down the hill to come to Mellieha Bay itself. At first rocks line the water’s edge providing perfect fishing platforms and rock-pooling opportunities, however as the road meanders around the bay, a long stretch of sand appears. This is the longest beach on the island and justifiably one of the most popular.
It is a short walk from most of the hotels in the bay itself or a few minutes' drive from the village. It is possible to walk down from the village; however the long uphill walk at the end of a day’s sunbathing, may not be so appealing! You can park on both sides of the road near the beach and if you don’t have your own transport, local buses stop regularly (although out of season (Sept- April) these are less frequent).
A common sight any late afternoon or early evening is the local people congregating on the rocks and beach and I can thoroughly recommend joining them after a hard day’s sightseeing. The water is warm and calm and the beach is a lot quieter at this time too! Many of the restaurants in the bay are at the water's edge providing a great vista whilst eating.
Whether you visit during the day or evening, you will be well catered for. Several places hire out sun-beds and umbrellas, including the Marea Beach Shop (open April – Nov). Here, loungers will cost €4 and useful umbrellas with lock boxes (to prevent those soggy Euros) for €7. The owner Jemma is very friendly and they will inflate your airbeds/beach toys for you at no cost. It is a very family friendly beach (no topless sunbathing) with life guards and flagged swimming areas. New (2010) portaloos and cigarette stub bins, alongside recycling, have improved the cleanliness of the beach too. For those seeking activity, pedalos are for hire, a banana can be ridden or you can have a go at paragliding along the bay.
A day on the beach would not be complete without an ice cream and for this very purpose, you must visit Charlie’s ice cream hut. He has been selling ice creams at Mellieha since 1983, originally from a Mr Softie van. One of my earliest memories of Malta would be hopping across the hot sand with a few Maltese Lira in my hand to stand at his van, pondering whether to have strawberry or chocolate sauce and whether to ask for nuts! Charlie epitomises the friendliness of the people of this island and my parents have photos of myself and my brother gradually getting taller and older, but still continuing to be greeted with a smile and as though we are family. For those with a less sweet tooth, Charlie also sells drinks including the local tipple – Cisk, a fabulously refreshing and light lager.
However, Mellieha is not the only beach in the northern part of the island. If you fancy a different stretch of sand, then a short drive away are both Golden Bay and Paradise Bay.
Golden Bay is another stretch of golden sand, a little further north near the town of Mgarr. It is home to one of the grandest hotels on the island (Radisson Golden Sands) and is also extremely popular. It is a less sheltered beach as the bay is not as deep as at Mellieha and therefore has stronger waves and sometimes powerful undercurrents, meaning less confident swimmers and children need to stay nearer the shore. Like Mellieha, facilities are numerous with the usual sun beds, pedalos etc on offer.
For a smaller (and in my opinion) more picturesque beach, you must visit Paradise Bay. Situated near Cirkewwa and close to the Gozo ferry terminal is the sandy beach. There is a car park near the access to the beach, usually with a car park attendant who will look after your car for a few Euros. There are a lot of steps down to the beach and are not always easy with children, make sure you take everything you need with you to avoid trips back up. This is a very popular beach for families, teenagers and locals alike so make sure you arrive early for a good spot; it will get crowded. Paradise Bay is a sheltered cove with crystal clear waters, and is one of the best places I have snorkelled on the island. Although small, there are facilities including kayaks for hire, restaurants and in the nearby hotels, diving trips can be arranged.
Most frequently when visiting Mellieha, I have stayed in the Luna Holiday complex (Marfa Road, Mellieha) located at the bottom of the hill. It is a short walk away from the beach, is good value for families (particularly 2 bed apartments in separate building with bay views) and has a good range of clean, simple facilities including a lovely sun trap, roof top pool. Prices start at €40 per night for self catering studio.
If you would like to stay in the village, the Pergola (Adenau Street, Mellieha) is a good option with restaurant, PADI dive centre and spa on site. Rooms are spacious and well equipped, with many looking out over the bay. Prices start at €75 for self catering studio.
Cash points – HSBC and Bank of Valletta both available in village.