We have had several blogs on Malta and some shorter reviews about restaurants and attractions, so this one adds a bit more detail about exploring the island using the excellent bus service. Mid-March to April is the perfect time to visit – green lush fields of bright yellow and pink flowers. The temperature is around 17-24 degrees, and you definitely need sun protection cream although locals are still walking around in coats, scarves and boots while tourists are in shorts and T-shirts!
It is a perfect island for walkers, though there is very limited signposting along routes (see more detailed reviews of ‘walking in Malta’). You do need a map of some sort, even if only the free holiday bus map, if you want to make sure you can get back to the starting point OK.
There is a good choice of bus routes from Bugibba in the St Paul’s Bay area as well as the main terminus in Valetta itself. You cannot fault the 6.50 euro weekly ticket, even if you do not intend to travel every day, and this is certainly the easiest way to get around the island. Just hop off the bus to explore each town along the route as generally, there will be another bus along in less than an hour. You can hire a car, of course, but you need to be brave, or foolhardy, to drive as they all appear to drive like lunatics and park wherever the fancy takes them. As one of the tour guides said, “we love our cars. We are lazy and if we could, we would drive straight into the kitchen to unload shopping!”
As with all package holidays, be wary of booking trips through the hotel rep. If a festival is on, go on the local bus to the village earlier in the day, checking what time the later bus goes back, and settle in with the locals. It was definitely not worth 20 euros per person we paid to go to the Festival of St Joseph in Rabat, basically just for the coach there and back.
From St Julian (in the east north of Valetta) walk north following the coast through to Pembroke. After the built-up area, there is a cycle route and path with lots of information boards along the way describing the flora and fauna. It is particularly pretty in the spring before it gets too hot in the summer – our first experience of Malta was in August when it is around 40 degrees and everything is scorched yellow and dry ‘like walking in a Cotswold quarry’ as my husband put it!
For an even longer walk, continue further up the coast to Caghaq bay then catch a bus along the main coast road. We walked this route on a Bank Holiday, a brilliant warm sunny day. By the time we reached the bay, you couldn’t move for the locals in large family groups complete with BBQs, awnings, tables and chairs and enough food to feed an army.
If you start from Sliema, just before The Point (shopping mall) there is a long walk through to Valetta following the contours of all the harbours. Beautiful fishing boats, traditional Luzzu, luxury yachts and large tour boats fill the harbour moorings, millions of pounds worth floating gracefully in the bright sunshine. Plenty of places to stop and eat, drink and watch the world go by.
Further south on the island, we loved Marsaskala and preferred it to the more popular Marsaslokk. We caught the number 91 from Valetta, and got off at the beginning of the harbour as you enter the town, as soon as you can see the boats and water ahead. Avoid the café next to the bus stop – takes too long to get served – and walk a bit further along the front to the zebra crossing and Cool Waters. This is a small bar, quick friendly service even for just a good coffee served with freshly-made biscuit. They serve freshly-prepared food from an interesting menu so well worth stopping a little while. This is a very picturesque town, lots of traditional Maltese boats and a well cared for promenade.
Comino – what a beautiful island, much more than we expected from the guide books. Catch the ferry from Cirkewwa where the bigger Gozo ferry goes from and buy the ticket at the wharf. 10 euros includes the return fare and tour around the caves on the way back. It is only a short journey, around 20 minutes, but be prepared for an exciting white-knuckle ride on the way there as the captain deliberately aims for the heaviest wash at great speed. Sit at the front if you can – you can’t see anything on the way but at least you will still be dry!
At the quay, you can buy snacks and there are legendary toilet facilities. There are four cubicles for the ladies but only one (questionable) toilet! I can’t vouch for the gents. We were surprised at how big the island actually is and as the last ferry is 4 pm, you really need more than one day to walk around its coastline. We walked clockwise from the quay, around to our left. You must keep to the paths and be warned – it is very rough ground so you do need decent walking shoes, definitely not flip-flops.
Fantastic rocks and cliffs with turquoise water so clear it seems unreal, hence the reference to the Blue Lagoon. However, our visit at the beginning of April also means that there are shoals of jellyfish in the waters, though this didn’t stop the swimmers. Further round this side of the island, we found the only hotel, The Comino, in an idyllic spot. Open only during the summer, it was still being prepared for the 2014 season, but we have already fallen in love with the notion of spending a week walking, relaxing and enjoying our own company. Just think of the sketching you could do or the novel you could start and, of course, the fishing.
A little bit further round the coastline, we found some self-catering bungalows and a small beach with camping facilities nearby, plus a friendly police outpost complete with small speed boat. We finished our picnic and made our way back across the middle of the island to catch the 2.30 pm ferry. We would avoid waiting for the last one as there were still a lot of people enjoying the sunshine when we left.
The return journey was on a bigger boat, taking us right into the little coves to see caves and blue waters more closely before landing at the ferry wharf again. Out of the different attractions in Malta, we have to count this as one of our favourites, particularly in spring.