The names Golden Bay and Riviera are most likely to evoke a beautiful image in your mind’s eye: golden sands, pristine waters, magical cliff formations: things you will surely want to see for yourself. The Golden Bay/Riviera area (locally called Ghajn Tuffieha which means apple’s eye) is comprised of two stunning bays surrounded by cliffs and clay slopes, basking in the golden rays of afternoon sunshine. These two beaches will be most visitors’ number one pick for swimming, tanning, and lounging when visiting Malta.
Do not despair, however, if you happen to come to Malta in wintertime when swimming is not always possible. Golden Bay/Riviera offers an abundance of hiking trails leading to views that will leave you breathless and in awe of this beautiful island. In fact, our mild and mostly sunny winter season is the perfect time to explore many exciting trails in this area, as summers are usually too hot to spend hours on cliffs with no shade.
Golden Bay/Riviera area is accessible by bus (No 225 in the direction of Ghajn Tuffieha) or by car. Once you arrive at Golden Bay, you have several enticing options at your disposal. You can walk down to the beach and enjoy some sunshine and fresh sea air or get a snack at Munchies, their beach bar and try the one and only (very beloved) Maltese beer Cisk.
If you happen to be a restless spirit and an explorer looking for more active recreation, follow the dirt road behind the Golden Sands Radisson Hotel, which will lead you to a hiking trail along the cliffs. This gorgeous trail stretches all the way to Popeye Village which is the original film set for the 1980s musical “Popeye” now turned into a theme park with hourly performances, a lovely secluded beach, and boat-rides (only in summer). Mind you, it is a long trudge to Popeye Village and you should stay on the path instead of veering off towards the sharp cliff drop-offs. Once you have reached the Ghajn Znuber Observation Tower, you are more than halfway there. If you do decide to go all the way, make sure you are equipped with sufficient water, snacks, appropriate clothing, footwear, and sunscreen. Yes, the Mediterranean sun can burn your skin even in wintertime. Also, make sure to begin your hiking adventures relatively early (late mornings are the optimal time for hiking) so you can make it back before the sun sets. You do not want to be caught on the cliffs miles away from your accommodation or your car when it is getting dusky.
Not big on cliff hiking? No worries. There are other less taxing (but therefore also less fun) ways to get to Popeye Village e.g., by car, shuttle bus or public transport. Most hikers choose to hike the trail for a little bit, snap some gorgeous photos and turn back to relax on a sunny beach with a snack and a local beer.
The opposite direction heading towards Riviera/Ghajn Tuffieha is just as perfect of a choice. A beautiful cliff path with stunning views of the bays will first lead you to the Ghajn Tuffieha Watchtower also known as Ghajn Mixkuka Tower. Right next to the tower you will find the Gaia Foundation Malta (environmental management of protected areas on the Maltese Isles) who offer organized tours through the area. The tours usually include visiting the watchtower, meandering through the Peace Grove abundant in lush olive trees and unique plans native to the Maltese Isles, trekking on top of the beautiful clay slopes of Ghain Tuffieha, learning about organic olive oil production and if season permits, tasting fresh olives and olive oil. These tours can be booked by contacting us.
Not a fan of guided tours? Feel free to explore on your own by visiting the clay slopes and trying out numerous winding paths leading upward in lush green areas offering awesome views all the way to Gozo and great opportunities for photography lovers.
If you happen to be a hardcore hiker looking for new challenges, you might wanna try the path leading upwards from the clay slopes towards the Ta’ Lippija Tower (also known as Gnejna Tower) and then across the cliffs to Gnejna Bay, another Maltese beach resembling paradise. Note, however, that this particular route is known as “breathtaking but dangerous trail between Ghajn Tuffieha and Gnejna Bays”. We have tried and tested the trail and while it is an amazing adventure and there are no direct drop-offs, this one is definitely for the more seasoned hikers who are in excellent physical shape. Should you decide to go for it, the cliff terrain is quite steep so exercise caution and stay vigilant at all times. Once you make it across the cliffs, we promise, you won’t regret it.
Another hidden treasure of the Maltese Isles (you won’t find it advertised in your standard tourist brochures) is the Selmun area near Mellieha (situated in the northern part of Malta). Easily accessible by car or public transport, Selmun is an ideal place to experience the beauty of the Maltese countryside as it is perfect for long leisurely hikes, camping, even swimming and sunbathing. The area can be easily spotted by its most prominent landmark, the gorgeous Selmun Palace, which originally served as a hunting and recreation lodge for the Knights of Malta. The Selmun Palace is the perfect starting point for your countryside adventures.
To the right of the palace, you will find a wide dirt road revealing an astounding view of the Mistra Valley which hosts a beautiful secluded bay (the Mistra Bay) mostly known to the local population. Here you will be faced with two choices: either to follow the steep path down to the unique and locally very beloved Mistra Bay or continue on the dirt road to eventually reach the Fort Campbell, an abandoned fortress locally known as Il-Fortizza ta’ Selmun, which was built by the British and is known as one of the most important fortifications in Malta.
To the left of the palace, you will find a semi-hidden narrow trail which will lead you directly to one of the most beautiful untouched beaches in the north of Malta: the Imgiebah Bay (also known as the Selmun Bay). Be vigilant, however, when walking: although the trail is quite narrow, some lazier folks WILL try to squeeze by you in their car (keep your headphones off as nice as it may feel to lose yourself in nature and your favorite tunes). The beach itself is completely au naturale and sparsely populated, so do not be disappointed that you cannot find booths with food and drinks or umbrellas and lounge chairs for rent. Don’t forget to bring your own water and sun protection. The beachside is particularly spectacular in the springtime with the surrounding sand formations covered in lush green grass and wildflowers.
Should you chose the path directly behind the palace, you will find yourself in a fairytale setting (particularly in the springtime) of typical Maltese countryside with pristine air, lots of green nature and a local vegetable farm here and there. Follow the trail veering towards the sea and you will arrive at two most amazing look-out points:
One a bit lower overlooking steep clay formations and small beaches and facing St. Paul’s Island (where The Apostle Paul is believed to have been shipwrecked while on his way to Rome).
The other, a tiny hike up revealing the stunning Mgieba Bay (the Selmun Bay). The slightly more challenging hike up might be well worth your effort though.
Ta Cenc- Xlendi Cliff Walk
If you happen to be an adventure seeker (not afraid of heights) and visiting Gozo, the Ta’ Cenc -Xlendi Cliff Walk is an absolute must. The approximately 45 min. hike will reveal the true magic of the island. We have done this hike in every season, including sweltering summers with sunsets that will leave you speechless, mild sunny fall weekends with blue skies and monumental waves crashing against the foot of the cliffs, balmy winter days and early spring with warm sunshine and fields of wildflowers stretching as far as the eye can see. The trail never ceases to surprise and awe us.
You can begin your hike from Sannat, the town bordering the Ta’ Cenc Cliffs and Sanap Cliffs (There are many signs leading to the cliffs) by exiting the town in the direction of the Sanap Cliffs and then taking a right turn onto the trail. In this case, your hike will be mostly downhill. But don’t think for a moment that downhill is easier as the path closer to Xlendi becomes quite narrow and steep and there are rolling stones to watch out for. Trust us, it is not fun to roll down the path on your backside. Regardless of how strenuous you may find the hike, the beautiful Xlendi Bay will greet you with a cozy beach to relax on, swimming and diving spots and a number of restaurants with excellent local specialties, fresh seafood dishes and local wine and beer to enjoy and refresh with.
If you decide to begin your hike from Xlendi Bay, you will have to cross a small green (in winter) valley with a picturesque bridge and an astounding sneak peek of the cliffs. Once across the valley, follow the biggest trail veering left and then simply continue along the cliff side uncovering spectacular spots to sit down and take in the island of Gozo in all its splendor. Even though the hike is not particularly dangerous if you exercise caution and remain aware of your surroundings, people with vertigo should not be embarking on this particular “journey”. Once you arrive at Ta’Cenc/Sannat be aware that apart from the hotel and spa, most restaurants are closed during the day so make sure you have your food and beverage provisions with you. In the summertime, if you still have it in you, you might be able to hike past the Ta’ Cenc Hotel down the lovely Il Kantra Lido/Beach Club where you can rejuvenate with a refreshing swim in the picture-perfect Kantra inlet and enjoy delicious seafood and grill specialties while sunning on top of a cliff. In late fall/winter/early spring though be aware that the Lido might be closed.
Both Xlendi and Ta’ Cenc can be easily accessed by car, public transport or bike. Should you decide to brave the hike, this one will most certainly be the one to remember.
The Island of Comino
When you hear Comino, your first association is probably the Blue Lagoon, a tiny turquoise water bay overrun with crowds of tourists in the summertime. However, the Island of Comino has more jewels to offer than just the Blue Lagoon. In fall, winter and early spring, Comino turns into a hiker’s paradise. All you have to do is follow the winding paths crisscrossing the land and in about an hour you will have covered the whole island. Seeing so many different paths, you may feel unsure about which way to go, yet whichever path you choose, you will not be disappointed.
The paths veering left of Blue Lagoon will lead you to gorgeous hidden bays, which are worth braving the heat during the summer season as the crowded and noisy summer version of Blue Lagoon might be a bit too much for someone who craves deep relaxation. Eventually, you will arrive at the beautiful and relatively untouched Santa Maria Bay which, located right next to the Comino camping site, boasts crystal clear water and abundant space to camp out, relax, read, tan, swim and enjoy some fresh air and quietude. The Santa Maria Bay is particularly lovely on a sunny day in late fall or early spring, as you may be the kind/queen of the bay with all this gorgeousness right in front of you and no other humans in sight.
If you decide on the paths to the right of Blue Lagoon leading upwards, you will be taken aback by an incredible view of the Blue Lagoon from above (the best place in our opinion for making photo memories). If you continue on this path, you will enjoy magnificent cliff formations to your right along with the sneak peak of the Crystal Lagoon, a cliff-embraced bay, which is a scenic spot and a “secret” beloved swimming area with a ledge to jump off into the water (the area is protected from winds and currents). This little bay, unfortunately, can be quite overrun with swimmers during summer weekends as the place is popular for docking boats and chilling.
At the end of the southern part of Comino, you will find the Comino Tower, which can be open or closed (depends on the season) but the views are actually more impressive alongside the cliffs than from the tower.
The Island of Comino can be visited during any season weather permitting, yet please note that the winter schedule of the boats is much more limited than during the summer. Make sure you do not miss the last boat back to Malta or Gozo, which can leave as early as 3 pm during the offseason. The boat tickets are slightly more expensive during the off-season (Euro 15 per person both ways), yet off-season is The Time to visit Comino when it is at its lushest, greenest and freshest covered in blossoms of wildflowers. It may the best Euro 15 you have spent on the Maltese Isles.
For private tours of any of the trails we have mentioned in this blog, please kindly contact us.