Places to visit for FREE in Malta!

When people start thinking about going abroad on vacation, one of the first things they generally ask about, is whether the country they are interested in is ‘expensive’ or not. What they are referring to of course, is not the normal cost of living, since they will probably only be there for a week or two at the most, but whether tickets to interesting places and/or events are worth it, how much can dinner cost, and whether you have to break the bank every time you go out, if you really want to enjoy yourself.

Fortunately, many natural attractions and amazing places and events in our islands are either free of charge, or else very cheap to visit. Where you go and what you do depends, of course, on your own personal inclinations and preferences, however I feel quite safe in saying that there are places which no one can but appreciate.

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1. Go to the beach – whether it’s summer, spring, winter or fall, Maltese beaches are always there free to be enjoyed by anyone. You can swim, snorkel, jog, have a picnic (making sure to take any litter with you), or even just enjoy a quick coffee while you look at the waves and meditate. No costs involved.

2. Visit the fish market at Marsaxlokk – taking place each Sunday morning, the Marsaxlokk market, though most famous for its freshly caught fish, offers many other treasures to be found by the intrepid explorer, within its quirky traditional stalls which meander around Marsaxlokk Bay. This is an open-air market, and therefore free to visit. Beware however, although most items are quite cheap, you may find yourself buying more than you bargained for!

3. Stroll around Valletta – rich in Baroque architecture, medieval heritage and photo opportunities, Valletta is perfect for those who wish to ‘look around’ without having to buy anything. Admire the Grand Harbor from the Upper Barrakka Gardens, visit Saint John’s Co-Cathedral and gawk at its artistic masterpieces, and take a look at the newly restored Triton’s Fountain. During 2018, Valletta is hosting the Valletta 2018 European Capital of Culture, which basically means that there are a myriad of free exhibitions, events, and open-air performances taking place around the city almost every week. Definitely not to be missed.

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4. Explore San Anton Gardens – if you have children, or just love animals, this is surely the place to go. San Anton Gardens are located in central Attard and form part of the Presidential Palace. This beautiful very well kept botanic garden, houses both flora and fauna, and is interspersed with fountains, walkways, ponds and cosy corners. A very pretty place to go if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of city-life.

5. Trekking – instead of spending money on a gym membership, why don’t you walk or hike while exploring the beautiful Maltese countryside? Whether it be Fomm ir-Riħ on Malta’s Western Coast, Dingli Cliffs situated in the Northern region, the South-eastern Delimara Peninsula or Għasri Valley in Gozo, the islands of Malta offer a vast array of natural places where one can stop and breathe the fresh air while taking a relaxing walk, or a more energetic jog.

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6. Nightlife – During the summer, the Maltese islands flourish with the onset of weekly village festas dedicated to different patron saints and showing off the best of what traditional Malta has to offer. The fireworks, the night markets, the stalls, the entertainment, is all free, though of course once you smell a whiff of those freshly baked pastizzi, you’ll probably be tempted to open your wallet (don’t worry, this street food is quite cheap). In winter there are usually no festas, however there’s always Carnival in February and Easter in April, which always include a number of open-air evening activities. There are also a huge number of ‘Wine-fests’, and fairs focusing on particular products pertaining to specific localities throughout the year, such as the ‘Bread Festival’ in Qormi, the Pumpkin Festival in Manikata, the Chocolate Festival in Ħamrun or the Strawberry Festival in Mġarr. In case you hadn’t noticed, the Maltese do love their food!

This article was written by me and originally featured on the magazine LivingInMalta here.

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The Ancient Romans in Malta

In the year 218 B.C, at the beginning of the Second Punic War, the Roman Consul Titus Sempronius Longus invaded the Maltese islands while on his way to North Africa. It was this which led to the Maltese islands being considered part of the Roman province of Sicily, and having the status of an allied city (civitas foederata) within the Roman Empire. The natives of the islands were not regarded as a conquered people, but rather as allies of Rome, and this meant that the Maltese were able to keep their own laws, mint their own money, and sent their ambassadors or legates to Rome.

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At the time, the Punic city of Maleth, located on present-day Mdina, the island’s old capital city, became known as Melite under Roman rule, and in fact became the hub of the island. Eventually, Melite was given the status of municipium, being granted the same rights as other Roman cities. The word Melite itself is Greek in origin, and refers to the island’s production of honey. At the time, the island served as a kind of haven from the hustle and bustle of Rome, which led to Roman citizens viewing it as a kind of resort in which to relax.

From a number of archaeological remains found, there is a clear indication that the defense system of the Maltese archipelago was much improved during this time. The main administrative and mercantile centers were located in the central part of Malta (today’s Rabat), the central part of Gozo (today’s Victoria and Citadel), as well as the Grand Harbour area. Archaeological excavations have unearthed various Roman structural remains of buildings, walls, columns and pottery in various parts of these localities. With regards to Melite (that is, Mdina), there are indications that show that cemeteries were located outside the city walls, for reasons of sanitation.

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The most important Roman building found in the Rabat area is undoubtedly the Roman domus (or townhouse), which for a long time was commonly known as the Roman Villa. This was excavated for the first time in 1881. Other archaeological excavations were continued between 1920 and 1924, during which remains of other Roman houses and roads were brought to light. The most interesting part of the Roman domus is its peristyle, an open-air shaft surrounded by a colonnade of Doric style. This and the adjoining halls are decorated by a series of fine mosaic pavements that generally show abstract motifs. It is important to mention that a number of Roman statues, including two important busts of the Roman Imperial Period, were excavated in this house.

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Another important find shows that the Punic temple of the goddess Ashtarte at Tas-Silġ, overlooking Marsaxlokk Bay, continued to be used for religious purposes during Roman times. The Romans in fact, re-dedicated this temple to the Roman goddess Juno, who was the counterpart of the Phoenician Astharte. During the excavations at Tas-Silġ, archaeologists unearthed hundreds of inscriptions.

It is also worthwhile mentioning that the remains a number of other Roman villas were found around Malta and Gozo, not to mention those of a Roman thermal complex at Għajn Tuffieħa which was uncovered in 1929. In certain parts of Malta, a number of circular towers, which at the time most probably served as watch towers, were also discovered. A number of structural remains of what appear to have been walls were also uncovered in various parts of Victoria, in Gozo. The Romans at the time also developed the way the local limestone was used and worked, this can be determined from a number of old quarries dating back to this particular period.

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This article was written by me and originally published on LivingInMalta. To take a look, please go here.

The Mediterranean Island of Gozo – A Real Haven!!

Gozo (‘Għawdex’), which is the second largest island in the Maltese archipelago, is a perfect holiday destination all year round. Although Gozo is found only a few miles away from its sister island of Malta, it is quite a distinctive island, having its own geographical treasures, its own monuments, its own history, and even its own identity.

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Gozo is more rural and unspoilt than Malta, in fact it is well-known for its rolling green hills, beautiful countryside and resplendent sandy beaches. The pace of life in Gozo is more tranquil and peaceful compared to the more modernized Malta. Most of the land is still virgin, which means that one can appreciate a number of picturesque views, especially during the winter season when the fields are cultivated. Here, one can even find some old traditions which are no longer found on Malta. Gozo in fact has its own spate of religious traditional festas, its own unique crafts and artisan products, as well as being famous for its yearly Carnival celebrations and local cuisine. If you want a taste of this, you must surely try out some Gozitan cheeselets (ġbejniet).

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As of early 2014, the island of Gozo hosted a population of around 37,300 people. Gozo has a rich history and one can find a huge number of historical places, ranging from Neolithic to modern times, on this small island. One can hardly fail to mention the megalithic Ġgantija Temples, which, after the Temples of Göbekli Tepe in Turkey, are the oldest man-made temples in the world.

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Another important spiritual structure is the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of Ta’ Pinu, otherwise known as the Ta’ Pinu Sanctuary, first built in 1545 and then restored in 1730. This Catholic Sanctuary, located in the village of Għarb, is well-known to hold the prayers, vows, and votive offerings given by those who maintain to have been miraculously helped after praying to the Virgin of Ta’ Pinu. This church is in fact linked with many miraculous healings.

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Apart from its deeply spiritual heritage, Gozo also holds some of the Mediterranean’s most breathtaking natural wonders. There’s a number of pristine sandy beaches like Xlendi Bay, Marsalforn Bay, as well as Ramla Bay, just off Xagħra, which according to mythology, is believed to have been the site of the nymph Calypso’s abode. Gozo in fact, is theorized to be the mystic island of Ogygia, which featured prominently in Homer’s ‘Odyssey’ as the island where Ulysses was held captive for seven years. Near the beach, one can also visit the so-called Calypso Cave, high up on the cliffs.

Gozo is also home to a large number of medieval coastal towers built by the Order of the Knights of Saint John, like Isopu Tower in Nadur and Xlendi Tower in Xlendi, as well as innumerable tiny churches and chapels which are gems of medieval and baroque architecture. Traditional architecture can also be admired by going to Victoria (ir-Rabat), Gozo’s capital city, and taking a look at the historical buildings, niches, balconies, aqueducts and churches, not to mention the Medieval Citadel, iċ-Ċittadella, which is a unique small fortified town situated on the promontory of Victoria.

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It is easy to arrive in Gozo, one simply has to take the ferry-boat from Ċirkewwa on the north-west side of Malta. The crossing takes approximately 25 minutes and is quite enjoyable. Truly a destination not to miss!

This article was written by me and published on LivinInMalta.com. To view the original article, please go here.

The Spectacular Ta’ Ċenċ Cliffs on the Island of Gozo

One of the most panoramic and beautifully unique views within the Maltese Islands, can surely be found within the small Gozitan village of Ta’ Sannat, on the Southern side of the island of Gozo. Known as Ta’ Ċenċ Cliffs and rising to 460 feet above sea-level, this location offers amazing sea views from the picturesque and unspoilt garigue countryside of the Sannat coastline.

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The steep and rugged cliffs sport a number of interesting cliff paths whereby the intrepid explorer may venture, not just to enjoy the staggering Mediterranean views, but also to take a look at the typical Maltese landscape, since Ta’ Ċenċ Cliffs are the homing ground of a number of typical species of flora and fauna redolent to our islands.

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Ta’ Ċenċ Cliffs also harbor a number of mysterious and interesting archaeological and historical remains. One cannot but mention the cart ruts; a series of parallel ruts said to have been created by the huge rocks dragged by Neolithic men, this is just a theory however, since no one really knows what the so-called cart ruts were exactly. What’s sure is that these strange tracks, carved in groups into the plateau itself, together with the stark natural beauty of the surroundings, create a unique palate of sensations which anyone interested in hiking and history will appreciate.

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Another important element present at Ta’ Ċenċ Cliffs is surely the Megalithic Temple known as Tal-Imramma, which is situated at ‘ix-Xagħra l-Kbira’, and consists of an oval court with many oval rooms in it. One can also see three dolmens, that is horizontal stones supported on three sides by stone blocks, and which date back to the Early Bronze Age.

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Ta’ Ċenċ Cliffs are an area of geological and ecological importance, and in fact they are crucial for many species of birds, such as the Blue Rock Trush or ‘Merill’ which is the Maltese National Bird and is protected by law, as well as the rare Spectacled Warbler, Cory’s Shearwaters, and Yelkouan Shearwaters.

Wild plants and herbs grow prolifically on the Cliffs, perfuming the air with aromatic scents and lending a particular quality to the rich landscape. One of these plants is wild thyme (‘sagħtar’ in Maltese), which flowers between May and June, and which is of particular importance to local bees which acquire a particular flavor when producing honey after having flown over it. Other flora found on Ta’ Ċenċ Cliffs includes Carrob (‘ħarrub’), and eucalyptus.

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Such organisations as the Malta Geographical Society, the Malta Ramblers Association, the NGO Din l-Art Ħelwa, and other groups, frequently organize awareness walks and hikes at Ta’ Ċenċ Cliffs.

This article was published on LivingInMalta, to read the whole thing, go here.

Easter Celebrations in Malta

Malta is a predominantly Catholic country, this means that most Maltese follow and adhere to a yearly religious calendar which gives importance to a number of recurring feasts and traditions. Among these, Easter is one of the most prominent periods, since it not only has a specific religious meaning, symbolizing the rising of Christ, but also coincides with the beginning of Spring, which also serves to bring new life in nature, better weather, a flourishing of crops, and add energy and verve to the life of each individual in general.

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During this time, numerous processions, plays, marches and celebrations take place throughout the islands of Malta and Gozo, since here, Easter celebration can be said to be at a par with Christmas. As in most Mediterranean countries, Malta starts to officially celebrate the Easter period with Palm Sunday, which this year will be on Sunday 9th April. Many activities take place even before that, during Holy Week, which technically commences on the Friday preceding Good Friday, when the statue of Our Lady of Sorrows is carried in a procession through the streets of Valletta and many other towns and villages. This is a historic and traditional demonstration, where penitents who have made certain vows or asked for intercession from above, walk barefoot through the streets behind the procession, with chains and shackles tied to their feet as a symbol of their guilt and willingness to atone for their sins.

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Prior to Good Friday, many believers also celebrate Maundy Thursday or, as it is known in Maltese, ‘Ħamis ix-Xirka’, whereby most churches are decorated with flowers, models of the last supper, pennons and other specific decorations. During Maundy Thursday, it is traditional for the devout to perform ‘The Seven Visits’, or ‘Is-Sebgħa Visti’, which entails visiting and praying at seven different churches. Maundy Thursday is also referred to as Holy Thursday or the Mass of the Chrism, since on this day, the Archbishop of Malta blesses the Holy Oils during a ceremony at St. John’s Cathedral in Valletta.

Good Friday, which is a National Public Holiday in Malta, is considered to be a serious and solemn occasion. Churches are adorned with dark colors, and several processions occur throughout most towns and villages in Malta and Gozo, where priests or devout carry different statues symbolizing the Passion of Christ. Most villages also prepare short dramas or plays, enacted by devout dressed as characters from the Bible. Processions are almost always accompanied by marching bands, playing funeral marches or religious songs.

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The mood of the celebrations starts to change on Saturday evening. This is known as Holy Saturday and while starting in a somber manner, culminates with a celebration whereby all churches are illuminated with candles, lights, song and the tolling of the bells.

Easter Sunday, starts with a procession which commemorates the Risen Christ. The most famous of all such processions which take place around the island is surely the one which takes place in Valletta, and which is organised by the Confraternity of the Risen Christ, which traces its origins to the 17th century. The procession is a festive one, accompanied by beautiful traditional tunes and statues. Children also form an important part of the procession, carrying traditional foods and sweets, of which the most important is surely the ‘figolla’. This is a Maltese sugar and almond pastry which can only be found served in Maltese bakeries and confectioneries during the period of Easter, since it is synonymous with this feast.

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This article was published on LivingInMalta.com – to view the complete article go here.

Għajnsielem and Fort Chambray

Għajnsielem, found on the southern coast of the island of Gozo, is the first village one meets as he leaves Mġarr Harbour towards the capital city of Victoria. The name of the village means ‘Peaceful Spring’, in reference to a number of natural springs in the area which were probably the reason why people settled here in the first place.

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Għajnsielem became an official Parish in 1855, with its Patron Saint being Our Lady of Loreto, and the village feast being celebrated each year on the last Sunday of August. It is also interesting to note that the island of Comino falls under the responsibility of the local council of Għajnsielem.

Though Għajnsielem is not large, it contains many popular places of interest, most notably the Prehistoric Temples of ‘Tal-Imrejżeb’, ‘Tal-Qigħan’ Prehistoric Temple, Lourdes Chapel, Mġarr ix-Xini Tower, Saint Cecilia Tower and Chapel, and Fort Chambray amongst others.

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Fort Chambray is an old fortress built at the top of a hill called ‘Ras it-Tafal’, or Blue Clay Point, which is situated between Mġarr Harbour and x-Xatt l-Aħmar. It started to be constructed in the year 1722, during the reign of Grand Master Antoine Manuel de Vilhena (1722 – 1736) of the Order of Saint John. Originally, the idea for building the Fort was for it to be a starting point to build a new capital city to replace the Citadel (Ċittadella), however this plan never came to fruition, and in fact the actual completion of the fort was shelved for some time due to lack of funds. It was in 1749 that a Norman Count of the Order of Saint John named Francois Chambray offered to finance the full expense of the construction, which is why the fort was named after him. During that time, the islands were under the governance of the Grand Master Manuel Pinto de Fonseca (1741 – 1773). The Fort was built in order to safeguard the island of Gozo from pirates, and it was finally completed in 1758. It was used to house the Government’s Palace, administration buildings, and a chapel.

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In 1798, Fort Chambray saw its first military use, during the French invasion of the Maltese Islands. The knight De Megrigny, who at the time commanded the Fort, offered it as a place of shelter for many Gozitans, who took refuge inside with their livestock and possessions.

Unfortunately, the Fort was later forced to surrender, after which it was manned by a French garrison. Months later, the Gozitans rebelled and re-took possession of the Fort…

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This article was published on LivingInMalta – to read the rest of it, please go here.

Gozo – The Good, the Bad, and the Overpriced

Last Friday was a public feast in Malta, and as we had planned some time ago, me, my friends, and of course my bf, decided to spend three nights (starting Thursday evening) relaxing togather in a rustic farmhouse on the island of Gozo.

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For those who are not aware of it, Malta is actually made up of three main islands, Malta, Gozo and Comino, and most Maltese view Gozo not only as a sister-island, but also as a place for them to relax and spend their holidays. The island of Gozo itself has a specific market to cater for young people, couples and families who are looking for cheap or un-expensive accomodation and services, so it is kind of a win-win situation.

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Gozo is beautiful. The flora and fauna are exactly like those of Malta, however it is a cleaner, less traffic-polluted and greener version of Malta. It is also more sparsely populated, so even though it is much smaller than the main island, one can visit beaches which are more beautiful, more scenic picnic locations, not to mention eat fresher food.

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On the other hand, unfortunately, many natives of the island, being aware of the fact that not only people from different countries, but Maltese people themselves, love to visit Gozo for short weekend-breaks, for these reasons, tend to over-do it. The farmhouse we stayed in this weekend was very beautiful, the kitchen was very well stocked with all needed utensils and everything was very clean. The pool was a bit small, but that was ok since not all of us swam anyways as the weather is still not warm enough for everyone.

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The issues started to crop up when it came to money. First of all, when my bf booked a couple of months ago, the browser suddenly got stuck as he was clicking the booking dates section and the wrong dates were booked. He called the owner of the farmhouse immediately, since we could not make it on those dates, not to mention the fact that the price was a lot more expensive than the dates we truly wanted to go in. The owner refused to cancel the booking, even though this was a genuine mistake due to the browser not working properly. In the end and after a week of trying to come to some sort of terms, the owner let us change the dates instead of cancelling them, however we still had to go three weeks before the dates we had actually wanted, due to the rates (which is why half of the people could not use the pool). Apart from that, there was a 100-euro damage protection money charge, and that was fine. The thing is, when we arrived to the farmhouse four days ago, the owner seemed convinced that we had NOT yet paid the damage-money, which, he stated, was 300 euros. OFC we had already payed… and he had told us it was 100 euros and not 300! Thank all the gods my boyfriend had saved the email and banking proof of our payment, and since we had our laptop with us, we could show that as proof. So, not only was the owner unhelpful when it came to booking, but he also tried to rob us…

Moving on, the farmhouse was not cheap and due to the booking mistake, we also ended up paying more than we bargained for, for different dates. Moreover, when we arrived we realized that while in the living room and kitchen downstairs, electricity and water heating worked normally, in the bedrooms and corridors upstairs, apart from the main ceiling bulbs, other electricity outlets like bedside lights, electricity plug-ins, and other outlets where one could plug things like hair-dryers, etc, did not work! That is, they did not work for free. You had to put two euros in a slot for these to work, and they would only work for a limited amount of time, and not for the whole hour. Same thing with the water heaters in the showers!! Unbelievable!

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Currently there’s been an issue mentioned on the media that Gozitans were becoming irritated because tourism in Gozo was diminishing due to low cost airlines, as people from Malta were preferring to go to Italy, Spain, France, UK, or other locations, instead of going to Gozo. Well, I can well understand that!! A couple of years ago I went for a long weekend break in Sicily for just 30 euros, including the return flight!! We found a really good and non-expensive hotel and the whole thing (minus the rental car) was as expensive as four days in Gozo would have been!

So, would I prefer to spend the same amount of money to go somewhere I have already been to four or five times each year starting from my childhood, or another country where I could explore new places and where water heating was included in the accomodation price…? I don’t need to tell you my answer do I??

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