Touring the island of Malta

Saturday 12 to Sunday 13 September

We hired a car for a few days. It was a little underpowered Peugeot 107, but the roads are narrow and busy, so there was no speeding.

Our first stop was at Mdina, also known by its titles Città Vecchia or Città Notabile. It is an ancient walled city in the centre of the island of Malta.

This city was founded by the Phoenician settlers around the 8th century and was the capital of Malta until the 16th century. Even after the capital was moved to Birgu by the Order of St John it remained the centre of nobility and religious authorities.

We  wandered the little streets until we came across St Paul’s Cathedral. I was taken by the two clocks on its towers. The left clock tells the date, in our case 12 September, and the right clock tells the time. The cathedral, built in the late 17th century is richly decorated in the baroque style.

We continued in Dingli to see the south east coast of the Island of Malta. The village lies on a plateau 250m above sea level, which is the highest point of the island. It appears that Maltese are not very outdoor oriented people so we had the cliffs to ourselves. They are certainly spectacular.

A radar station sits on the cliff edge. Built in 1939, it was the first Radio Directing Finding radar installed outside the UK. A few months later World War II started and this experimental installation became a permanent fixture, proving very useful in the defence of the country and the Mediterranean during the war.

Nearby is a typical countryside church of St Mary Magdalene. An Italian inscription next to the door Non gode l’immunitá ecclesias – warned that the church’s precincts were not available to all those in trouble with the law.

We returned to Kalkara to be entertained in our local restaurant by international bands and local dancers as part of the ongoing festival.

Next day, taking advantage of our car, we drove to Marsaxlokk on the western edge of the island, a mere 10km away by road. Marsaxlokk is a fishing village and has a harbour fill of colourful boats with the eye of Osiris painted on the bow. It was Sunday – market day and we enjoyed wandering through the town and examining the stalls of fruit and vegetables, fans and shoes and of course fish.

There seems to be a distinct lack of sandy beaches in Malta. The swimming beach called Peter’s Pool is just that – a beautiful Mediterranean blue beach off the cliffs.

We drove to St Thomas Tower in nearby Marsaskala. It is one of six large coastal watchtowers built in Malta by the Order of Saint John between 1610 and 1620.

Next to it was the Jerma Hotel which opened in 1982. It was once the largest hotel in Southern Malta. In 2007 it was closed and subsequently abandoned. Since then it has been ransacked and has become a home for squatters, drug addicts and refugees travelling from Libya to mainland Europe. It has also become a showcase of graffiti and an interesting photo opportunity.

As we drove back towards Valletta we passed through the village of Fgura. It was their turn to go on parade and there was a lot of activity preparing banners and flags for the occasion.

We drove to the north of the island to tour the holiday villages. Sliema is one of the oldest tourist hotspots. We stopped for a coffee and a magnificent view of Valletta across the Marsamxett Harbour.

By now we had discovered that the easiest way to reach Valletta from our hotel was to take the ferry across the Grand Harbour. It is faster than the bus that has to chug around the harbour and at 50 Euro cents, a quarter of the price. After a day on the road, dinner in town was welcome.