Malta – last day in St Julian’s

Portomaso MarinaLast days on holidays are always a sad occasion. They come round far too soon, when you feel you’ve hardly got your legs under the destination’s table, so to speak. And then you get sent back to where you came from, to the gloom of that 9 to 5 existence that you couldn’t wait to escape barely a week earlier. Unless you were having a rotten time, of course, in which case you can’t wait to get home.

Portomaso yachtBut we had adored our little week in Malta; and so we resolved at Friday breakfast to make the most of the relaxation options and just stay around St Julian’s for the last day. So, alas, there would be no HOHO bus trip round the south of the island; there would be no trip back to Valletta to see the Grand Master’s Palace; but as the poet once said, it gives you a reason to come back.

The MarinaMy pre-holiday planning had revealed there were some classy looking restaurants with good gluten-free options at the Portomaso marina complex in St Julian’s. We still hadn’t actually found it – I could work out from the map whereabouts it should be, but in all our wanderings we hadn’t stumbled across it. So we determined to find it, and maybe identify a nice place for lunch, or dinner, or both.

Portomaso ArchwayIt’s just off the Hilton hotel complex. You go through an arch, and then you have a wide descending staircase with restaurants off to the left and right, before you reach the water at the bottom and can then walk around either side and admire the yachts and motorboats. It’s beautifully clean, feels approachably exclusive, and makes for a nice leisurely walk.

saltThere’s a small promontory you can walk around and end up on the sea side (as opposed to marina side), with lots of fascinating little rockpools. But what took our attention the most, were the little patches of salt in the rocks, a residue of the seawater, and, as Mrs Chrisparkle pointed out, nature’s own exfoliator. Off came the trainers and we rubbed fresh salt all over our tootsies, like a pair of podiatric pixies. Incredibly effective, and left your feet feeling really soft and energised. You could pay a fortune for a pot of that stuff at home.

PortomasoWe retraced our steps back through the marina and checked out the restaurants. By now it was already an acceptable time for early lunch, but they were almost all closed. We did however note a couple of possibilities, primarily Spoon, a Chinese restaurant with a gluten-free menu. Unheard of! Mrs C’s tastebuds started to quiver. The only Chinese food she’s had since she was diagnosed about ten years ago has been eggy rice. They were closed, so we couldn’t book, but we hoped there would be some tables available for the evening.

Balluta BayBut that didn’t solve the problem of lunch. We headed back towards Paceville and thought we’d check out the Bay Street Complex again. It didn’t inspire us lunchwise, but we did get a nice bit of shopping done. Mrs C got a red shirt in a nice little boutique – not cheap but very trendy and excellent quality – and we both did well in the Terranova sale. I regret, gentle reader, that I am unable to bring to mind exactly what we eventually ended up eating. Or where. Or when. I know – I have let you down. It must have been something local, and by the same token, totally unremarkable and unmemorable. I do however remember staying out after lunch and popping into Peppi’s again, the bar/restaurant on the way into Sliema that we had visited earlier in the week, not for food but for that wonderful holiday institution, the “afternoon drink purely for the sake of it”. When we had visited before we loved the views on the outside terrace and also the wine was nice enough. We just wanted to enjoy the sit down, and to while away the sunshine of our last afternoon with a glass of wine. We’d had the La Vallette before, and it was nice but unchallenging; so, feeling bold, and trusting in the integrity of the establishment, I ordered a Half Carafe of the House White. Everything we had drunk before in Malta had been completely acceptable.

typical Maltese beachUntil now. It was like warm radiator fluid. Not that I am a connoisseur of radiator fluids, at any temperature; but Mrs C and I agreed pretty rapidly that it was totally undrinkable. Actually on reflection, I’m sorry to say, it was probably more like urine than radiator fluid. It certainly had that colour; that early morning urine that’s been building up inside you overnight and strengthening as it develops. Too much information? You should have tried the wine. I called the waitress over and said it was disgusting and could we have a half bottle of the La Vallette instead, as I knew that would at least be generally acceptable. She took the carafe away, brought the bottle and two fresh glasses and offered it to me to taste. Me: “That’s much better, thank you”. Waitress (with added tetchiness): “So, you knew you would like La Vallette, and yet you did not order it at first. Why?” Me: “Because I wanted to try something else”. She stomped off.

St Julian'sWe drank the wine; we lingered over the view; we rested and relaxed and watched the world go by. It was lovely. Then started the nagging internal question: would they charge for both wines, or just the nice one? No doubt they will have just tipped the rest of our carafe of urine into their simmering cauldron of bodily fluids out the back, so they would barely be out of pocket. The bottle was emptied; the bill requested; the waitress brought it over. They charged for both. €6,50 for the urine and €6,00 for the wine. I did a quick mental calculation: €6,50 + €6,00 + impertinent waitress = no tip. And no recommendation from me, either. Avoid them like the plague!

Canine skipperThe last afternoon nap of the holiday is a bit of a damp squib as it gets overtaken by that thing called “packing”. All those fine bits of clobber you’d painstakingly prepared, folded and placed just-so in the outward suitcases now get screwed up and bundled back in any old how. Well that’s what I do; I think Mrs C comes along behind me and unscrews things and folds them out a bit more neatly. Not quite sure why – they’re destined for the washing machine, after all. One good thing – at least we weren’t flying Ryanair, so we didn’t have to dread unpacking everything in the airport concourse to satisfy their need to humiliate their passengers.

gluten free ChineseSo it was the last evening; and we wandered back up towards Portomaso in the hope that the Spoon would have a table for us. But first, pre-dinner drinkies at the bar just outside the Hilton Complex. Lovely setting; the service was a bit slow, but we didn’t mind that; and we entertained ourselves by eavesdropping into the conversations of some of our posher co-drinkers. It was about 9.30pm now so our tummies were more than ready for a spot of Chinese. Spoon was very busy but they found us a table. And sure enough, there was a gluten-free menu! Part of the fun of a Chinese is to order lots of different meals and then all share them, so I ordered from both the g-f and the ordinary menus. The only thing I had that wasn’t gluten-free were the barbecued spare ribs, so I slavered over them completely by myself and I have to say they were gorgeous. We had seaweed and soup, crispy duck and beef with cumin. It was all a very plucky attempt to create a g-f Chinese banquet, and much of it was very tasty, if a little dry – especially the beef with cumin. It lacked that aromatic gloopy sauce that would have made it taste sensational, but which would almost certainly have enough gluten in to flatten your cilia at fifty paces. We still enjoyed the meal though; it was relaxed and elegant, and with a lovely view over the marina; and once again it made Mrs C feel a bit more mainstream in her restaurantability.

A fiendish knockerAnd that was it! Dinner over, we slunk back to the hotel miserably; well not really, we’d had a wonderful holiday and relished every minute. We didn’t have to get up too early the next day; the hotel arranged for a taxi to take us to the airport; transfers, flights and so on all took place smoothly; we were back home by 6pm. Verdict: Malta is a great place for a holiday. We could have done and seen much more, but we wanted it to be relaxing and it absolutely filled the bill. Now it’s your turn to visit!

Malta – St George’s Bay, St Julian’s Bay and Sliema

St Julian's Bay from SliemaWe saw no reason to get up early so we squeaked into breakfast with just enough time to be soothed into the day by Zsuzsi and Kenny’s serving skills. The brekky in the Hotel Juliani is great. The orange juice is superb, the muesli tasty and crunchy, the cooked breakfast is made up of several delicious individual constituents – including the best scrambled egg I’ve ever had in a hotel – and there was always a different “breakfast cake of the day” that was officially fabulous.

St George's BayWhen we did eventually face up to our sightseeing duties, we decided to walk north up towards St George’s Bay and from there take a look at Paceville before returning to St Julian’s for lunch – unless we saw something we fancied more beforehand. If you’ve been to Malta, then you’ll know that the coastline is very rugged and unbeachy, and there are so many little inlets and headlands and bays that you can never be sure quite how far you can walk and still stay close to the sea. Such was our experience. A welcoming looking outcrop near the Dragonara Casino beckoned us and we explored it, but then found we could get no further, so it was necessary to retrace our steps over the rocky pools and back to the busy streets in order to make any progress. Those streets weren’t particularly interesting or attractive at 11.00 on a Sunday morning, the night after everyone stayed up to enjoy St Julian’s Festa. Nevertheless we persevered, and eventually found ourselves walking down an incline with the rather beautiful St George’s Bay on our right.

Danger to ShippingIt’s one of those Maltese rarities – a little sandy beach. As a result it was pretty heavily oversubscribed by bronzed beauties. Not that beaches hold much attraction for Mrs Chrisparkle and me. I can’t imagine anything more boring than a holiday spent lazing in the sun, so it was not a matter of regret that we couldn’t stretch out on the sand. However, it wasn’t long before Mrs C spied one of her pet loves – they had pedalos. She spoke to the lady in the shop who said it was €8,00 for an hour. We struck the deal. Pedalo lady hollered at her long-suffering husband to procure us one said pedal operated sea-going vessel, and in a few moments we were on the crest of a wave. The only words of instruction or advice we were given were not to go out beyond the casino. That was quite far enough out to sea for me, frankly.

Mind that yachtWe let a group of over-enthusiastic Italian youths go first – not that we were ever going to stand in their way – so as to reduce the chance of maritime intimidation. Once pedalling, the main hazard to shipping in those first few moments were the bathers, who seemed determined not to move out of the way even though we were much bigger than they were. So we progressed very slowly and carefully, trying hard not to side-swipe local beauties and fat foreigners alike, till we got beyond the swimmers and alongside the yachts moored out in the middle of the bay. Some of them were rather splendid, and contained wealthy-looking owners, unimpressed with the sight of a middle-aged English couple hurtling towards them at full pedal speed. But we knew what we were doing. Once we’d put the wind up them, we swerved aside and pottered on happily up to near the casino, then did a wide sweep-round in the clear blue sea, and headed back into the bay. The bunch of Italians had stopped their pedalo in open water and were playing at pushing each other into the sea. What larks they must have been having. In the course of our hour we managed to do the full round circuit of St George’s Bay four times. On our final leg, we returned to the shore, extremely slowly as some bikini clad ladies refused to yield their patch of beach to us, until, miffed, the old pedalo bloke told them to sling their combined hooks. We regained land safe and sound, and I have to admit it was a lot of fun.

Triq Sir Adrian DingliFrom St George’s Bay it’s a very brief walk until you find yourself in the centre of Paceville. By day it looks a little run down, with stretches of identical bars and restaurants all next to each other. It comes into its own at night, as we would discover later in the week. We had a little wander round but the restaurants all seemed a bit chicken ‘n’ chips-like for us, so we decided to follow the road back down into St Julian’s. Profiting from our walk the previous afternoon, we traipsed all the way round the bay and up and over towards Sliema, and got as far as Peppi’s Restaurant. We had seen the day before that they had gluten-free pizza bases and pasta so thought we just had to give them a try. Well Mrs C did – I had a burger. It was ok, it tasted rather like those burgers we used to eat in the seventies, fried rather than grilled – nothing special but perfectly adequate, and we did have a wonderfully positioned table overlooking the bay. Mrs C’s pizza looked gorgeous, but she didn’t finish it. When questioned on its merits, she described it as “a plucky attempt”. To drink, we ordered a bottle of white wine from the Marsovin winemakers – La Valette Blanc. If you want a subtle, complex, awe-inspiring wine, don’t even consider it. If you just want a simple, refreshing white wine it’s a very nice option – rather like an old-fashioned Liebfraumilch.

Valletta from SliemaAfter the lunch and relax it was time to explore again. We thought we’d cut through the centre of Sliema and emerge at the coast where the ferries connect Sliema and Valletta. So we walked down the snappily named Triq Sir Adrian Dingli, got a little bit lost trying to find the Triq San Vincenz, so a kindly old local gentleman wandered up to us and tried to help – only he didn’t know where it was either. No worries, eventually we found the way down to the sea. It’s an absolutely splendid view of Valletta from that coast road – no wonder all the ferries do that stretch of water, it’s not often that the direct route and the “pretty way” are the same. From there, we walked along to the Fortina Hotel and up and over in front of Tigne Fort and past the new big shopping centre there, Tigne Point. Reminiscent of Milton Keynes but bizarrely deserted on a Sunday; the skateboarders seemed to enjoy it though. I noted loads of padlocks attached to the railings, which appears to be a new trend for courting couples and newlyweds – at least it’s more environmentally friendly than carving their names with a penknife. We dropped back down the steep streets and found ourselves back in the older shopping centre of Sliema around Tower Road, where Mrs C took note of a few establishments for her to patronise when they would be open later in the week.

Heavy chapWe started to head for home – taking a more direct route through Sliema back to Balluta Bay and then round the water’s edge to our hotel. Preparations for the final evening of St Julian’s festa were well advanced. An effigy of the Great Man himself was marched through the town; I say marched, what actually happens is that he is so heavy that the guys carrying him can only manage a few yards at a time before they have to put him down and massage their hernias. Sooner them than me.

St Julian's at nightFollowing our afternoon nap – which came pretty late that day, but still had to be observed as it is a statutory requirement – for dinner that night we went to the Sardinella Restaurant in St Julian’s. Mrs C had the Tagliata, and I’m afraid common decency does not allow me to impart to you her exact description of it, suffice to say that it was “extremely” yummy. I had a pizza and it was very nice, thank you.