Perched on a hill, this is a well- known and well liked, rather sweet holiday town in the lush, green north east of Malta. It stands alone, surrounded by the fabulous, open countryside. The island’s largest sandy beach, Ghadira Bay is situated here and is a wonderful place for sunbathing, swimming or water sports of all kinds. It is easily accessible by a few steps or a ramp, with fine restaurants, friendly cafes and traditional, small shops edging the shoreline. Other easily reached beaches close by are Paradise Bay, Armier and little Armier, along with the aptly named Golden Sands and Riviera Beach.
The Baroque Parish Church is right in the centre of Mellieha, with a perfect view right out over the bay. The building itself is relatively modern, however the cavern sanctuary to The Birth of Our Lady in Heaven is hidden away beneath the current church and is a far older site. Legend has it that St Paul and St Luke visited here when they were shipwrecked around AD 60, although another cave at Rabat is generally accepted as the actual site. The typically narrow streets around the church create a really charming ‘olde worlde’ atmosphere, especially for an evening stroll when the area is prettily illuminated.
In an unexpected nod to World War II, when Malta was extensively bombed, you can visit the Air Raid Shelters to get a sense of what the Maltese actually suffered. For those interested in battle fortifications, the pillboxes in this region, built from 1935 onwards, initially as a result of the Italian invasion of Abyssinia (Ethiopia), are fascinating and remain intact, fairly undamaged.
Stepping way back in time, there are Phoenician and Roman tombs, along with early Christian graves around the area, and the archeaological remains of a Roman temple. A fascinating array of caves known as the San Niklaw site, show signs of centuries of human and animal habitation, with a cave church dedicated to St Nicholas at their centre. They were certainly used as shelters during WWII.
The Ghadira Nature Reserve is home to more than 200 species of birds and of particular importance for migrating birds, especially as it is home to wetland and saltmarsh areas, which are most unusual in Malta.
For an excellent coastal walk, the area of ‘L’Ahrax Tal-Mellieha’, which is protected and thus still very natural, is recommended. From here there are also superb views over the entire town. The Red Tower, standing up behind Ghadira Bay, again with great panoramas to be enjoyed over Comino and Gozo), is a 17th century building of interest and makes a good finishing (or middle) point for a stroll. The cliff tops near here provide the location for catching stunning sunsets: surely just the perfect end to a day hiking and exploring, or perhaps relaxing on the beach.