Beautiful Gnejna Bay
If I think that Ghajn Tuffieha is Malta’s most beautiful beach (https://leslievella.wordpress.com/2013/02/08/maltas-most-beautiful-beach/) then Gnejna lies at a close second. It is another beach which lies off the beaten track, at the mouth of a verdant and fertile valley and with a stretch of beautiful golden sand leading to crystal clear waters.
As in the case of Ghajn Tuffieha, the nature of the bay is strongly influenced by the thick layer of clay which surrounds the high ground which embraces it: clay which stores rainwater and subsequently releases it slowly back to nature through one of Malta’s few permanently flowing watercourses to ensure that the fields in the area are irrigated and productive all year round. In fact the word gnejna from which the bay takes its name is a diminutive of gnien which means garden in Maltese. And the place is truly a beautiful garden protected by high ground on all sides and an invitingly translucent body of water at its base.
Gnejna is best accessible from the village of Mgarr in Malta’s north-west through a well-paved road which leads down the valley and to the edge of the beach. The area has adequate parking facilities although it does tend to get quite crowded during peak season. It is also a popular anchorage for sailing boats which are however prevented from disturbing bathers who are protected by a clearly delineated swimming area.
Nature in the area is also very rich. In the watercourse I have occasionally even seen the very rare and endemic Maltese freshwater crab (Potamon fluviatile lanfrancoi) known as Maltese as qabru, a severely threatened species which is a conservation icon for Maltese nature lovers. More recently, in summer 2012 in fact, the first recorded nesting of a loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) in a Maltese beach for almost a century took place when a lone turtle surprised visitors to the beach by emerging from the sea, digging a hole and calmly laying 79 eggs before disappearing once more into the night-time depths. Regrettably, in spite of all the precautionary measure taken to safeguard the eggs none of them hatched to the disappointment of the many who had been looking forward to the positive event for an entire summer.
For those who wish to visit during the cooler months the bay and its surroundings offer numerous opportunities for walking with breathtaking views from the high ground surrounding the bay. My favourite is the Lippija Tower area from which one can enjoy views of Gnejna and Ghajn Tuffieha bays from a landscape dominated by swathes of fragrant Mediterranean thyme (thymbra capitata), source of Malta’s renowned saghtar honey.
The pictures accompanying this story were taken in late May from the high ground near the Lippija Tower referred to above: a seventeenth century coastal watchtower built during the time of the Knights of Malta as part of a coastal early warning system reporting on enemy shipping movements. They show a truly beautiful place which I am never tired of visiting.