Why you should care
Because Malta is one of the most densely populated countries, and solitary swimming is hard to find.
The island state of Malta, which lies in the Mediterranean Sea and what feels like a stone’s throw from Sicily, is one of the world’s most densely populated countries. It is also supremely popular with tourists — on some of the island’s sandy beaches, deck chair rows stack up like cinema seat lines. But for the enterprising few who wish to swim unmolested, there is hope for solitude.
The key? Let go of the idea of sitting on a sandy beach. The few that exist on the island are overcrowded and impossible to park around. Not to mention all that pesky sand getting everywhere.
The best swimming in Malta? Off the rocks. Fact. And one particular set of rocks called Wied-iz-Zurrieq.
A deep, jagged inlet filled with the clearest, bluest waters of the Med, Wied-iz-Zurrieq lies on the southern belly of Malta. The needle-shaped cove runs deep into the limestone rock, encased in pale limestone cliffs. At the base, local families can just about fit to picnic in their bathing suits on the narrow rock ledges that line the water.
Be sure to take the time to swim across the channel of water and hoist yourself up onto the rock outcrops that serve as natural diving boards.
This swimming spot is attached to a traditional fishing hamlet, and if you make it down early enough, you’ll still see fishermen chugging out into the open sea at first light in their colorful Luzzu boats. Chances are you won’t be there before dawn, but you won’t miss the chance to go boating. A stone pier sits at the back of the inlet, where the walls of the limestone cliffs start to come together. From here, for the cost of a few euros, boats will transport you to a local cave called the Blue Grotto — so called because of the sand at its base that gives off an incandescent blue light.
The passion for this fishing village “was inherited from one generation to another,” explains Alfio Cutajar, owner of the local Congreve Channel Bar & Restaurant. “Most of the present boatmen, who take tourists to the caves, are sons or grandsons of these fishermen. It is a community renowned for their skills on the sea.”
But as great a joy as the boating is the swimming here, and the intimacy of the spot is deceiving. It is only when you open your eyes under the water that you realize just how far the sea bed drops down. The waters are some 20 meters deep, and although the bottom is clearly visible, it is intimidatingly far away.
Be sure to take the time to swim across the channel of water and hoist yourself up onto the rock outcrops that serve as natural diving boards — much fun can be had climbing up and diving in, but be careful you don’t scrape yourself on the rough limestone sides.
After you’ve worn yourself out swimming, decamp to the nearby Congreve Channel Bar & Restaurant, which has been there for decades and serves one of Malta’s most traditional dishes: red wine rabbit stew. Have it in two parts — a starter with spaghetti and just the sauce, and the main dish afterward with the rabbit and boiled potatoes.
Cutajar serves up some history titbits with traditional food. “In 1987, a renowned fisherman caught a great white shark between the seas of the islet of Filfla [visible from the shore] and Wied iz-Zurrieq. Up to this date, he holds the record of the greatest shark caught in the Mediterranean,” he says.
By this point in the day, post-feast, you will for sure be ready for your traditional Maltese siesta.
Go There: Wied-iz-Zurrieq
- How to get there: If you don’t have a car, the easiest way is via the 74 bus from the capital city of Valletta.
- Best time to go: Spring and summer are the best times to visit.
- Pro tip: Go early, and be sure to take the boat trip to the Blue Grotto. Watch out for the occasional jellyfish, and bring along your snorkel.