Malta has all the sun and the sea of other Mediterranean destinations, but with its very own culture and historical legacy. An archipelago made up mainly by the islands of Malta, Gozo and Comino, it's a popular sailing destination. With so much coastline confined to a relatively small area, Malta is made for charter sailing holidays, the ideal place for short sails and lots of time for relaxing at anchor or enjoying ashore.
For the suitably experienced charterer, Malta can also be combined with an exploration of the south coast of Sicily. Gozo is 45 nautical miles from Marina di Ragusa, which if used as a charter base opens up the whole of southern Sicily.
A Maltese charter has some great options: a compact itinerary requiring short sails between ports each with their own distinctive attractions, or a longer charter that includes a taste of Italy experienced along one of its lesser-travelled coastlines.
The capital Valletta is the usual point of entry to Malta. A city with a rich history and a Unesco Heritage Site, Valletta was founded by the Knights of St John in the 16th century as a haven for soldiers and pilgrims engaged in the Crusades, Valletta became a fortress of strategic importance in the warring between Mediterranean powers. Now supporting a significant tourist industry, Valletta is a great place to start your Maltese charter.
Once the sights are seen in the old part of Valletta, or if coming directly from Malta International Airport, it's only a 15-20 minute taxi ride to Roland Marina to connect with your charter boat.
Malta's size makes it an ideal destination for a leisurely seven-day charter. In the tourist literature the western islands of Gozo and Comino are the most talked-about, so suggested itineraries tend to chart a course in their direction from base, thus circumnavigating Malta counter-clockwise.
It's a leisurely day sail to Gozo, where most charterers aim to end their first full day at the fishing village of Mgarr ix-Xini, on the south side of the island. On the way there's the north-western corner of Malta island to discover.
It's worth having a full day to explore Gozo, given the fame of the island's dive and snorkeling sites such as the Blue Hole and Coral Gardens, and attractions like the Inland Sea and the remains of the Azure Window, which partyially collapsed in 2017. There are a number of beaches to choose for a lunch stop. Perhaps Rampla Bay with its orange sand, from where it's a short walk to Calypso's cave. Here mythical nymph Calypso is said to have imprisoned Odysseus for seven years in effort to make him her immortal husband.
Whether explored outward to Gozo or after visiting that island, Comino is a must-see. Just 2.8 sq. km and with virtually no permanent residents, Comino is a bird sanctuary and nature reserve, and the waters around it a protected marine area. Comino is popular with day-trippers, and the authorities are balancing the protection of nature against commercial activities. Most human impact is seen at Blue Lagoon, which lies between Comino and the islet of Cominotto. There are plenty of swimming and snorkeling options on Comino. But if the bays are crowded the little island is a great spot for rambling and communing with nature. Blue Lagoon is an idyllic overnight option once the crowds have gone home.
Sailing on, the south side of the main island is a somewhat imposing coastline, so best to aim for your next night at Marsaxlokk, at the eastern end but still only 25 nautical miles from Comino. There are some interesting spots along the way, such as Anchor Bay, the Dingli Cliffs and Hagar Qim Temples, access to which will depend on time available and the wind.
Marsaxlokk's attractive harbour is home to a traditional fishing fleet of luzzu, colourful double-ended craft with the bow decorated by a pair of eyes that are said to protect the fishermen at sea. Marsaxlokk is Malta's largest fishing base. Stroll around the waterfront and observe the activity, visit the markets or take a longer walk out of town to enjoy the stunning scenery of this part of Malta. In the wider vicinity and best accessed on your boat, a number of secluded and unspoilt coves offer much more than one could hope for by any other means of travel.
It's just 17 nautical miles back to base from Marsaxlokk, and there's still the interior to explore - places such as the ancient capital Mdina. So you may wish to sail on back to Valletta, and perhaps find an alternative place to overnight in the vicinity. There are a number of marina possibilities in harbour that surround the Valletta peninsular, or you may find a suitable anchorage such as Bighi Bay. Alternatively, spend your last night in Marsaskala Bay, just round the corner from Marsaxlokk and a larger centre with some 12,000 people. Enjoy another of Malta's lovely fishing towns and its surrounding, or hire a car for a tour of the island.
Whichever way you chose to plan your Malta charter, there are numerous options for exploring the place in some detail, or simply sailing along and relaxing aboard as you soak up the Mediterranean sun and sea air. Or, your journey could be part of a larger expedition that includes the south of Sicily.
Charter operators recommend that this passage be navigated by experienced sailors only. It's a busy stretch of water with some local issues, a journey of 55 nautical miles between Valletta and Marina di Ragusa, the nearest main sailing base on Sicily. For the charterer with previous sailing holidays on the log, it should not be too daunting with proper planning and an understanding of weather variables.
There’s more to the Mediterranean than the high-profile destinations. In 2020, why not expand your horizons, get a little off the beaten tourist path and discover some understated gems. Here are this year's five best lesser-known Mediterranean sailing holiday destinations, all well worth considering for your next voyage.
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