Getting wet on the Popeye film set at Mellieħa in Malta and exploring the stunning Blue Lagoon on the island of Comino.
As kitsch and bizarre swim spots go, it’s hard to top Popeye Village in Malta. And the story behind this much-loved attraction, built from an abandoned film set, is as strange as it is fascinating. Popeye was a 1980 live-action version of EC Segar’s comic strip about a sailor man who gets super human strength from eating spinach. After Paramount Pictures lost a bidding war to make a film adaptation of the Broadway Musical Annie, they decided to throw everything that had into another musical. Hence the huge $20 million budget behind this musical comedy film, which was directed by Robert Altman, with music composed by Harry Nilsson. Starring Robin Williams (in his first film role) as Popeye the Sailor Man and Shelley Duvall as Olive Oyl, it is remembered as being a huge flop, although it actually made $60 million, which is three times its budget.
It’s a remarkable story of Hollywood excess
The elaborate Sweethaven set took seven months to build, with a construction crew of 165 people needed to erect the rustic and ramshackle buildings. Hundreds of logs and thousands of wooden planks were imported from the Netherlands, while the wood shingles used for the rooftops were transported from Canada. The set was far beyond what was needed for filming and even included a recording studio, editing facilities and living quarters. They even built a breakwater around the bay to protect the set from high seas during filming. It’s a remarkable story of Hollywood excess and you can only wonder what the locals thought of all these Americans taking over sleepy Anchor Bay.
Today the bay makes a lovely place to swim and we went from the nearby pier that overlooks the village.
Unusually, once filming was completed, the set was never fully struck and the enterprising locals took full advantage by turning the set into a theme park. While the original buildings were quite bland and dark to allow the actor’s costumes to pop against the sets, the locals gave the village a colourful makeover. Today it actually makes a charming place to visit, with actors recreating scenes and the opportunity to go inside many of the buildings. There is a boat trip which takes you to the cave where the giant octopus scenes were filmed, while there is also a beach resort you can swim from, with inflatables to play on.
don’t forget to include a bit of spinach in your picnic lunch
While the whole film is a bit of a mess, there are some great dance sequences on nearby rocks and in the warm waters of the north coast of Malta. As you would expect from the subject matter, there’s lots of water-based action, including fights with both Bluto (played by Paul L Smith) and the aforementioned giant octopus. Today the bay is a lovely place to swim in and we went from the nearby pier that overlooks the village. It makes an incredible backdrop for a swim in the warm clear waters, while don’t forget to include a bit of spinach in your picnic lunch. We’d highly recommend a Qassatat, which is a pastry stuffed with cheese, peas and spinach. You’ll fly across the bay…
no trip would be complete without a visit to the famous Blue Lagoon
While there are endless lovely places to swim in Malta, no trip would be complete without a visit to the famous Blue Lagoon. Found on the island of Comino, between Malta and Gozo, the lagoon with it’s azure-coloured water is breathtakingly beautiful. However, it does get really busy, especially between July and September, so aim to go early in the morning or even in the evening if you can arrange boat transport. It’s even possible to camp on the island, if you are feeling adventurous.
My top tip is to follow the path in the direction of St Mary’s Tower (which boasts incredible views) and have a swim in the quieter Crystal Lagoon. You’ll spot lots of wild herbs and flowers on your walk, including cumin which the island of Comino is named after. There are some amazing jumping spots, as well as an incredible swim-through tunnel and several caves to explore. It's also a popular spot for scuba diving, or why not take a mask and snorkel? It's undoubtable one of the most beautiful places I have ever swum and I can't wait to go back and explore some more.