The southern coast of Malta is one characterised by high cliffs in most places. Accessible inlets are limited – there are virtually only two of them in the long stretch from Birzebbuga to Gnejna Bay. These are the tiny fishing hamlets of Wied iz-Zurrieq of Blue Grotto fame and the more humble Ghar Lapsi, home to a few boats, a tiny bathing spot and a couple of eateries. But in between these two inlets the cliffs tumble down in a gentler way to the sea – allowing for a narrow shelf of accessible coastline which is very much reachable and one of the most beautiful wild spots in Malta.
Lapsi is the best starting place for exploring the area. At the end of the hamlet’s tiny car park, follow a track which winds its way across a flat plateau – wedged in between cave-dotted high cliffs on the left and the deep sea on the right. This is an immensely dramatic landscape and one is left to wonder how film-makers, now using the Maltese islands ever more frequently as their backdrop, haven’t discovered this area yet… But if Hollywood hasn’t come yet, rock climbers have and this area is a favourite for the small community of local enthusiasts.
The first ‘plateau’ ends in an uphill trudge past a cliff girdled cove and leads to another flat expanse. On this plain one crosses the mouth of Wied il-Maghlaq – an ancient river valley now reduced to a dry one. Interestingly this once mighty water course has left a wealth of deposits close to the shore – what appears at first glance as an area of open brownish soil is in fact a stratum of Quaternary deposits made up of the fascinating detritus and rubbish of millions of years back; loose pebbles, mud, plant and animal remains - all coagulated into a concrete hard sediment.
Beyond this dry valley bed there is some gentle climbing again, leading to a five tongued promontory appropriately called L-Ilsna which translates as ‘the tongues’ in Maltese. There is a small sea arch in this area – a humbler sister to the more celebrated ones at nearby Blue Grotto and Dwejra in Gozo.
The canopy covering Mnajdra Temples now comes into view above the cliffs and one can climb from here to the temples. Aim for a spot to the immediate right of the canopy where the climb is easiest and there is a natural opening in the cliff face. From the temples one can make one’s way back to Lapsi via the main road but going back via the coast the way one came is definitely the more picturesque route. A (longer) alternative is to keep following the coast eastwards beneath the Knights’ watch tower in this area until one approaches Wied iz-Zurrieq – and then making one’s way up to Hagar Qim temples via a path which follows the upper lip of Wied Hoxt – the deep ravine which exits at Wied iz-Zurrieq.
The distance from Lapsi to Mnajdra is just a kilometre and a half but the nature of the terrain means it will take approximately an hour or possibly more to cover. But then hurry is not one of the words one associates with this type of landscape. On the other hand sensible trekking shoes are a must.
Bus 201 runs hourly from the airport to Rabat and vice versa and stops at both Hagar Qim temples and the top of the hill leading to Lapsi.