Marsaskala: A Quiet Seaside Village on the East Coast of Malta
The seaside village of Marsaskala (also referred to as Wied il-Għajn locally) lies in the south east of Malta, very close to the fishing village of Marsaxlokk.
Built around a small natural harbour, Marsaskala has been popular with fishermen since antiquity, and continues to be popular even today.
Although archaeologists found evidence of Roman settlements around Marsaskala, the area remained largely unpopulated until recent times. It seems that since the natural harbour was easily accessible by invaders, people were afraid of settling in the area. Just a hundred years ago, there were only a handful of residences in the area, and these were fortified by their owners.
The locality is home to around 12,000 inhabitants although, similarly to Mellieħa, it’s a popular location to stay during the summer months for locals (having summer residences there) as well as tourists. Having said that, Marsaskala is by no means a tourist hotspot and still relatively quiet at that time of year still.
- The Maltese name for Marsaskala is Wied il-Għajn, or Valley of the Spring
- The name Marsaskala is made from two words: Marsa, meaning port in Arabic and Scala, a word of Italian origin referring to people from Sicily. Probably this was because Sicilian fishermen would take shelter in this natural harbour when the sea grew rough
- The feast of Marsaskala is dedicated to St Anne and celebrated at the end of July
- Bus routes 91, 92 and 93 can take you from Valletta to Marsaskala in 1 hour 20 minutes
- In 1614 Marsaskala was the landing spot for around 6.000 Ottoman soldiers who launched a large scale attack on the south of Malta.
Why it’s worth staying in Marsaskala
Marsaskala is a nice authentic town with a laid-back atmosphere. Cafes, bars and restaurants are plenty and the harbour area, with its wide promenade, offers a fantastic venue for quiet strolls by the water.
The nearby beaches of St Thomas Bay and St Peter’s Pool also attract many swimmers. Other than to chill out, Marsaskala does not offer much else. There are some historical towers worth a visit. Also chapels and salt pans that might be interesting. Overall, however, this is a village where one goes to relax.
It’s a good and quieter alternative to avoid the hustle and bustle of busy tourist resorts like Sliema, St. Julian’s and Buġibba, but really only if you’re looking for a quiet holiday by the sea. If your main priority is to explore Malta, there are better, more central options to stay in.
Hotels and Accommodation
Because Marsascala isn’t one of the most popular tourist destinations, there aren’t an awful lot of hotels in the area, but these are a few options to consider if you’re looking to stay here:
- The Akwador Guest House offers basic accommodation but seems to be hitting a sweet spot for travellers who don’t care for the frills and just want a good budget hotel.
- Portside Lodge is one of the best options around, offering good value for money with comfortable lodging at very reasonable rates.
- The Cerviola Hotel is a clean and smart hotel that gets the basics right and is located close to the seaside.
Prefer a self-catering option?
There are a few nice places available on Airbnb!
How to get to Marsaskala
Marsaskala is very well connected with regular buses from Valletta. The bus numbers that go from Valletta to Marsaskala are 91, 92 and 93.
If you’d like to get to the village from Malta International Airport, route 135 is the best option, taking you straight there in around half an hour. You can also get an airport transfer of course, which costs around €20 for a private taxi (one way).
Places of interest
Marsaskala is not known for places of interest, however there are still some nice things to see and learn more about, such as the medieval towers along the coast or the history of the small chapels of Marsaskala.
St Thomas Tower
Grand Master Wignacourt commissioned the building of St Thomas Tower out of his own pocket, building it on a plot of land he had bought. It cost him 12,000 skudi, a huge sum for the time and is bigger than other towers built by the Order of St John.
The reason is that, apart from guarding the bay, it was also used for storing weapons. The eighteen-metre high tower, which was named after a small chapel dedicated to St Thomas, has four small bastions, one in every corner.
The walls are five metres thick and a wide dry ditch runs all round the tower. A small window in the basement looks over the front battery which was armed with cannons and faced the sea. The tower used to have a drawbridge.
Mamo Tower was built in 1657 by the Mamo family. It can be found in the area known as Tar-Rumi, on the road leading to Żejtun. Built in the form of a cross, it has a small dry ditch around it and used to have a drawbridge.
On the inside, Mamo Tower has a big circular room in the centre, with three lateral smaller rooms opening into each of the arms. The fourth arm contains a flight of stairs leading to the roof. It was recently renovated by Din l-Art Ħelwa, a government owned organisation.
This tower, although privately owned, has been declared a national monument due to its unique features. Tall-Buttar Tower in fact contains a watermill within it and the machinery of the watermill is probably one of the best surviving examples in the Malta.
San Gaetan Chapel
The same family that built Mamo Tower built St Gaetan Chapel in1657. This chapel and its saint were very sought after by local fishermen and their devotion is reflected in the inscriptions still visible on the stone of the medieval building.
St Anthony Chapel
Originally within the limits of Żejtun, this chapel is dedicated to St Anthony of Padua and was built in 1675. The feast of St Anthony is still held annually on June 13th with a mass and a short homily.
Small loaves of bread are distributed among the congregation on this day. Within the chapel there’s a small statue of St Anthony which used to be taken out to sea by Maltese fishermen. They lowered the statue into the sea praying and hoping for a good catch. And farmers used to lower it inside their wells during droughts.
The Three Crosses monument
The origins of the Three Crosses monument are shrouded in mystery. Over the years, there have been many different interpretations as to why it was built. Among the popular theories are that three monks were killed by Turks and buried there; a man died of the plague and was buried at the site by the people of Żejtun; an elderly hermit was buried three times in that place, after arising from death. Another less fantastical theory suggests that the Monument of the Three Crosses was built around 1615 to indicate the confines between Żejtun and Żabbar.
Żonqor Point Salt Pans
All along the coast of Marsaskala salt pans are a common sight, especially at Żonqor Point and also towards St Thomas Bay. These historic salt pans, called salini by the Maltese, have been carved out into the top layer of rock in squarish shapes. When filled with water, these salt pans make for an interesting sight to behold, especially at sunset.
Riħama Battery lies on the southern end of St Thomas Bay. It used to be an artillery battery built by the Order of the Knights between 1714 and 1716 as one of a series of coastal fortifications around the coasts of the Maltese Islands. The building still exists but has long since fallen into disrepair.
Things to do in Marsaskala
It’s not the most obvious spot for family activities or events, so don’t expect the world when you stay in Marsaskala. Having said that, these are a few good options for things to do nearby.
Book a scuba diving trip
Malta is a well-known scuba diving destination, so if you’re an avid diver you can find one of the best diving schools in Malta around here: Divemed. They offer a variety of shore and boat dives, you can rent equipment and get value for money with well-reviewed services offered.
The feast of Marsaskala
The village feast of Marsaskala, dedicated to St Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary, is celebrated at the end of July. Like any other Maltese festa, the village feast in Marsaskala is characterised by religious activities within the parish church, lively brass band music in the decorated streets and fireworks display held by the sea.
Places to swim
The only sandy beach in the area is St.Thomas Bay, which is very popular with the locals, even though it’s not the nicest or cleanest among sandy beaches in Malta.
However, the area between Zonqor Point and St Thomas bay offers several good rocky beaches with nice flat rocks suitable for sunbathing. These offer a less crowded option and are also particularly good for snorkelling. The water is nice and clear and there’s some interesting underwater life to observe.
Another popular swimming destination in Marsascala is Zonqor Point, where you can find a small rocky beach with easy access points into the water.
The nightlife in Marsaskala ebbs and flows according to the time of the year. In summer it is usually packed with many Maltese and their families walking along the promenade, or just chilling around the harbour area, eating ice creams. In winter however, you’ll find the place quiet, with the nightlife concentrated around a few pubs like the ones I listed here:
Lemon ‘n Lime Pub
Location: Triq ix-Xatt
Lively pub overlooking the bay. Nice food and great atmosphere.
Summer Nights Pub & Grill
Location: Triq ix- Xatt
Nice food, friendly service, place is accessible, and the atmosphere is enjoyable.
Zion Reggae Bar
Location: St. Thomas Bay seafront
Great place and location. Situated in front of the sea with a lot of parking space. The food is good and also the staff are really nice. Good music and relaxing area.
Location: Triq Id-Daħla ta’ San Tumas
Very good food, friendly staff and very polite. Excellent place if you have small kids with a big free playing area for children if you eat there.