An abandoned film set from a box-office flop turned Disneyland-esque theme park makes for one of the most surreal places in Malta and you bet visiting was number one on my Maltese bucket list.
My itinerary for the day was very me. That is to say hectic and almost impossible. We were to get the bus from Valletta to Cirkewwa where we’d get the ferry to Comino island, hike the perimeter, see the blue lagoon, crystal lagoon, abandoned hospital, catch the ferry back then walk from Cirkewwa to the Red Tower. From there, we’d walk to Popeye Village. Sounds like a good plan, right?Well, yeah, if you’re physically fit, wearing the correct footwear and don’t get lost. The latter was my problem. I’ll admit I didn’t take into account the time it would take talking to locals and letting them point us in the right direction only to follow the path and have it circle back around to them. Awkward.A point of reference was the red tower. As long as it was in eyesight, we couldn’t be too lost… could we? Well, it turned out my estimated time of 45 minutes would turn into two hours until we finally reached the red tower. I know, right? We could see the thing the entire time and still got lost! Luckily I was enjoying the rocky Maltese countryside so much for it to bother me. My mum and her inappropriate shoes, however, wasn’t having any of it. We were grateful for the the British lady at the red tower who helped us out with a handy map on how to reach Popeye village. It had been hand drawn and photocopied so we clearly weren’t the first to ask. However, the length of time and the funny route we took to get there made me wonder why everyone didn’t just get the bus.
We passed mountains, cliff edges and a sewer. There was even a bleak moment on the top of a hill when we could see nothing but farm land and the trusty red tower in the distance but before too long I saw something that indicated we were close. A white building with bright blue edges with signs and railings in sharp primary colours. We were used to the beige limestone buildings of Valletta and the browns and greens of the Maltese countryside. Only Popeye Village could be that colourful.As we got closer my excitement grew. This wasn’t the Popeye Village I’d seen in photographs. There we beached whale statues, overturned fairground teacups in amungst piles of rubble and a small Ferris wheel surrounded by broken fairground equipment.My mum was a bit annoyed at this point. She assumed I’d dragged her and her burning feet one sixth of the country to see that. I’ll admit it is a very ‘me’ thing to be interested in. I’d made her visit an abandoned hospital just a few hours earlier and she knows I don’t shut up about the time I broke into Spreepark in Berlin.Luckily for her, we quickly exited the part of the park we weren’t supposed to be in. This was evident by now because we passed a rope with a sign that read ‘trespassers will be executed’ with an illustration of a guillotine. So that’s nice. Hey, we were just following the route that kind lady in the Red Tower gave us. It’s not our fault we basically snuck in through the back entrance.Don’t worry, we didn’t actually sneak in. We ended up round the back of the restaurant just outside the village. It was too late in the day by this point to get into the park but that was never my intention. What I wanted to see was the view from the cliff face at the colourful houses on the hill and the traditional Maltese fishing boats on the clear waters. This splash of colour was truly a sight to see and definitely worth all the effort we took trying to get there.Some fun facts to keep in mind is that the village was used as the film set for the 1980s musical ‘Popeye’ starring Robin Williams. The set took seven months to complete and it is nicknamed ‘Sweethaven’ as the village was named in the film. The movie had mixed reviews and afterwards the set was abandoned for many years until the Maltese locals decided to re-purpose the set and turn it into a Disneyland-esque theme park complete with rides, shops and actors dressed as Popeye characters. Inside you can see a museum, a cinema and even buy some of Popeye’s famous canned spinach. Yum.Luckily, if you’re interested in getting to Popeye Village from Cirkewwa, there is a bus so you don’t have to follow my ridiculous route. I know I sound like I’m complaining but I’m not. The hike was half the fun, as was getting lost and sneaking in through the wrong entrance. But even if I did hate all that, the views make everything worth it. Trust me.