Where are the best areas for expats to live in Malta?

I am always glad to hear other people’s opinions about something which is close to me, or part of my everyday life. When we see and experience something every day for years, it becomes common place. For us, that is. It is always kind of refreshing to realize that what is normal for you, may be strange, new and/or seem different to other people.

When it comes to Malta, the island in the Mediterranean where I was born and bred, this is especially true. I have never lived anywhere else, the traditions, mentality, heritage, and geography of this tiny island are in my blood, and it always tickles me to no end when I see people from other countries or backgrounds land on these shores, look around them in wonder (or depreciation, depends who you ask), and start clicking madly on their cameras, or writing about it on their blogs. I am always curious to see and ponder these reactions, and maybe this is why some time ago I opted to become a member of a number of Facebook groups consisting mostly of expats living here, or people who are thinking about relocating to Malta.

The candid ideas, thoughts, issues and questions of someone who has never lived here before, or who has lived here for some time while having a different natal country, are very interesting and at times, quite educational. One also realizes that most queries, concerns and problems are shared and natural to ask before relocating to another country.

One of the most common issues tackled on these forums regards the best and/or worse areas to live in.

Although the Maltese archipelago is relatively a small one, it still offers a huge number of choices when it comes to residential opportunities. First and foremost, when choosing a place to live on the island, one must consider one’s wants and needs. If, for example, one wants to live near his or her place of work, that is quite understandable, and here the size of our island comes into play, since as Malta is not so large, almost everywhere can be said to be located within a stone’s throw of every other location. Traffic, of course, must always be taken into account, especially if one works in a central location such as Sliema or Valletta.

Working requirements aside, one must also consider whether s/he considers being close to the beach a priority, or whether s/he would prefer to be located in the city center. For people who wish to be near the sea, I would personally recommend finding a home either in the South, that is within such towns as Marsascala or Marsaxlokk, or else in the far North, that is in such towns as Mellieha, Qawra, or Bugibba. While accommodation can be cheaper in the South, one must also keep in mind that living in for example Mellieha has its advantages if one is interested in frequent trips to Malta’s sister island, Gozo, since this town is closer to the ferry than, say, Marsaxlokk. Again, the atmosphere of the North and South is quite different, in that the North offers opportunities to enjoy not only a multitude of beaches, but also a number of unspoilt countryside walks, however on the downside, since tourists tend to gravitate towards places such as Bugibba or Qawra, which offer a number of cheap hotels and services, relocating to the South would bring one closer to the original Maltese traditional way of life.

Those who prefer life in the city, such as students, business men or plain city gals and guys, tend to look for accommodation in places such as Sliema, Saint Julians or Valletta. Take it from me, this is a no-no. First of all, because flats and homes in general in these two cities are quite expensive, despite being mostly on the small-ish size, and secondly because, due to the onset of so many tourists and expats, daily amenities and convenience stores tend to be much more expensive than those one finds in other parts of the island. My suggestion would be to find more reasonably priced accommodation in towns such as Msida, Mosta, or Naxxar, which though not at the exact hub of Maltese high-life, are definitely more affordable. They are also quite close to the center.

One must also not forget the many ex-pats who relocate to our islands in order to enjoy a quite retirement. The tiny island of Gozo is perfect for those searching for peace and quiet. Its unspoilt panoramas, clear sandy beaches, and picturesque countryside offer a view into an older and more traditional way of life. Unfortunately however, Gozo is not such an attractive place for those looking for work, entertainment or new opportunities, as even the locals themselves struggle to find these, and often have to commute to Malta for work on a daily basis.

Should one wish to combine the bustle and hustle of a lively city, togather with historical heritage and Maltese tradition, I would suggest going to live in the Harbour area, most particularly in one of the ‘three cities’, that is, Bormla (Cospicua), Birgu (Vittoriosa) or Isla (Senglea). Apart from offering unparalleled seaviews, the Harbour area is also the showcase for some magnificent architecture. It is also a center of industry, and is quite close to the capital city of Valletta. 

Note: Part of this article, written by yours truly, was also published on the Expat online magazine LivingInMalta. The direct link can be found here.

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.

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.