Around the South, East & West of Malta
January 1, 1970
by Denise Cassar
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking Malta is so small that you can go round it in a few days. It might be only 316km squared, but there’s a lot to see and do. Here’s my suggestions of the basics you should see if you’re around for a week or so.
I’ll split the island into 3 parts. This way you can enjoy each part well before moving to the next and you avoid extra driving time. Driving, yes. The buses are okay if you have a lot of time at hand but despite the size of the island, it might take you an hour and a half to cross the island, whereas by car you’ll be there within 45 minutes. If you ask me, I think renting a car will surely make it easier. That said, we do drive on the left, so it might be a little challenge if you are used to driving on the other side. So here goes, the 3 parts:
The 3 cities
Standing since the middle ages, Birgu (also known as Vittoriosa) will give you the feel of the traditional Maltese houses with their colourful balconies. Walk through its streets to the central square, where you can sit down and enjoy tea, coffee, or a beer, if it’s past midday and it’s hot – which is very probable, cause we have more than 300 sunny, warm days a year.
Hang around and just watch life pass you by. You might catch the little van honking its horn for people to come out and get their fresh bread or a fresh stash of bigilla – our traditional black bean pate. Watch the old lady walk up the street to the church as the bells on one of the churches in town calls the faithful in.
Then get lost in the pedestrian alleyways all around the city, their high walls will provide you with shade for most of the day. At lunchtime enjoy freshly made food in one of the local restaurants there in the alleys, or walk down to the yacht marina, known to the locals as the Waterfront. From down there you can have lunch while looking at the old bastions all around you. Those across the sea are the ones of the Grand Harbour of Valletta.
There is a water taxi service from the 3 cities to the capital. You might want to use it to avoid traffic. However, don’t miss out on a walk from Birgu, towards the newly restored sea front of Cospicua, then cross the bridge over to Senglea. Few steps up and you will get to the watch tower which was crucial for the islands’ people to lock themselves up within the city’s safe walls when there were attacks from the sea.
If you like markets visit the 3 cities on Tuesday morning when various stalls stretch from Cospicua through to Birgu. You will find a little bit of everything – food, clothes, jewellery, books.
On Sunday mornings instead, you will find an antique carboot in a place known to the locals as Fortini, right between Birgu and the neighbouring harbour village of Kalkara.
Special occasions – If you happen to visit in October check out the dates of the yearly Birgufest when the whole city’s electricity is switched off and its stone paved alleys are sparkling with candles.
Remaining on the market scene, the Sunday morning fish market in Marsaxlokk lets you dive into the life of the fishermen families of this seaside village.
If you’re staying somewhere where you can cook or use a BBQ, get there early – 7ish and pick the best fresh fish on offer. If you ask, the vendor will keep it cool for you in the ice, while you walk up to wander through the rest of the stalls.
If you prefer a sit down meal, the harbour is full of little family run restaurants who have a vast fish menu.
St. Peter’s Pool
Further in from Marsaxlokk, drive through the country roads and follow the signs to St. Peter’s Pool, a small creek surrounded by white rocks. Dive into its clean, clear waters, away from the usual tourist spots.
The capital is where the buildings of the middle ages are home to modern day shops, restaurants and cafés. The city’s grid-like streets, make it quite easy to roam around.
If you’ve taken the water taxi from the 3 cities, take the restored lift to the Upper Barraca, to save yourself the steps all the way up to the city.
If you’re into history and heritage, look at The Historic Tour of Malta, coming soon.
Sliema & St. Julian’s
These two adjacent towns are home to Malta’s financial hub, where tourists flock and expats reside. You can literally walk from one to the other following the seafront promenade. There are a couple shopping malls and various shops. So if you’re into shopping, I suggest spending a day in between Valletta and Sliema – a water taxi runs here as well.
What’s more, you will be spoilt for choice to pick a restaurant both by the sea or in Sliema’s streets amid its town houses.
If you, like me, can never have enough of sunsets, this is a great spot. Dingli is a tiny village on the highest cliffs of the island, overlooking the Mediterranean and Malta’s smallest, uninhabited island – Filfla.
Just sit on the rocks, unwind and take in the view. If you get hungry, don’t worry, there’s a couple of restaurants in the area.
Rabat & Mdina
Before Valletta was built in the 1500s, Mdina was the capital city, strategically placed in the centre of the island, far away from the shores where enemies could attack.
Nowadays, it’s become The Silent City. During the day walking through the labyrinth of streets built in Arabic fashion to disorientate enemies, is a joy. The streets are still paved in their original form. Notice the door knockers on the big, thick, colourful doors – try and find one that’s like another.
If walking through the Mdina by day is a joy, by night it’s a delight. The street lights are dim and the whole city takes on a totally different vibe. To me it is when it really becomes The Silent city. There’s hardly anyone around and with a little imagination you can drift yourself into the past and think how it must have felt back then – who walked these streets?
There are a few restaurants with delicious food in Mdina if you feel like a sit down dinner, even fine dining if you’re in the mood. If what you want is a quick snack though, walk out of Mdina and you’ll be in Rabat. Take a stroll and ask the locals for the best place for pastizzi – flaky pastry pockets with cottage cheese or peas inside and my favourite Maltese food. They’re warm, cheap and crunchy. What else do you need?
If you have more time, then indulge in The North of Malta & the little island of Gozo
Coming soon –
The North of Malta and the little island of Gozo
Historic tour of Malta
Trekking in Malta