A good starting point is Birzebbuga’s Pretty Bay. The bay’s name is rather flattering - these days the view is somewhat dented by the giant gantry cranes of Malta Freeport, sited at the southern end of town. Still this stretch of sand remains the town’s most popular open space and bathing spot, and the dredging work related to the creation of the Freeport some years back did enlarge the bay to a degree that it is now one of the largest sandy beaches on the Island.
Following the coastal road northwards one soon comes across a large sculpture dominating an otherwise drab open space. This is the so called Summit Monument and commemorates the formal ending of the Cold War, when the then U.S.S.R. leader Mikhail Gorbachev and his American counterpart President George H.W. Bush held talks on board the Soviet cruise ship Maxim Gorky in Marsaxlokk Bay on 2nd and 3rd December 1989. Disappointingly for a country eager to parade its winter sunshine to the world, nature decided otherwise on that historic weekend and the sea threw up a raging storm, earning the Summit the journalists’ moniker “The Seasick Summit”.
Approaching the tiny St.George’s Bay one can also make out a number of deep cylindrical holes dug in the rock by the shore – these are the remnants of a larger group of Bronze Age storage silos which were once sited here. On the landward side of the street stand a number of fine old houses – Birzebbuga served as a resort of sorts for a long time and a number of Maltese still own or rent a small summer house here.
An inland detour from here will get you to a massive Bronze Age defensive wall in the area known as Borg in-Nadur. Confusingly, a large modern-day cross sits on top of this historic artifact; the result of reputed (though highly suspect) apparitions of The Virgin to a local man. The site is a popular pilgrimage place although the local church authorities have never pronounced themselves on the veracity of the celestial claims.
Detour aside, the road continues along the coast through Qajjenza, best described as a sunny, nondescript suburb of Birzebbuga, with one relieving factor – a former Knights’ coastal battery now converted into a stylish eatery. Leaving the built up areas behind, the next landmark is St. Lucian’s Tower; a massive, squat structure built by the Knights in 1610 to guard over the bay. It was here after all that the Turkish Armada landed in 1565 – the opening move in the epic Great Siege of Malta. Today the tower serves as an aquaculture centre and entry is not normally possible. One can however stray off the road here and take a cliffside path through fields leading to Marsaxlokk.
Away from the picturesque promenade with its array of inviting restaurants and a small perennial weekday market, there is not much to keep you in Marsaxlokk, so steer to the next landmark – the small chapel of Tas-Silg at the top of a hill just outside the village. Take the winding road past the chapel until a small tree-lined lane (marked Xrobb l-Ghagin) on the left takes you past yet another military installation. This is the British period Tas-Silg Battery – today a home for stray dogs run by the Island Sanctuary. The road eventually turns into little more than a country path and leads back to the coast (always keep left)– and a dramatic piece of coast it is too.
The Munxar headland is an imposing clay cliff jutting out to sea and unquestionably one of the area’s top beauty spots– our own miniature version of the white cliffs of Dover. Take time to relax and enjoy the open views here, then continue along the path which meanders its way along the promontory leading to St. Thomas Bay.
St. Thomas is another popular bathing area with clear waters, though somewhat marred by a ramshackle collection of boathouses and garages of dubious legality. Curiously this bay is the site of the only reported fatal shark attack in Malta. It happened way back in 1956 and the victim was an English serviceman stationed here. A weathered plaque on the north side of the bay commemorates this bizarre incident.
Leaving the bay, keep to the shore front leading into Marsaskala. The road here is lined with swanky modern properties in what is obviously a well-heeled area. As the road curves round this last headland, have a look at the fine St.Thomas Tower, another bulky structure built in 1614 to reinforce this area’s defences. Unlike St. Lucian’s however, this imposing moated tower is today hemmed in between buildings, which obviously diminishes its visual impact. The seafront road passes by some rock-cut saltpans before eventually leading to Marsaskala creek, the real heart of town with a wide selection of eating places and watering holes, and an appropriate place to end this longish walk.