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.

Malta – St Julian’s Bay

St Julian's BayIt’s rare for Mrs Chrisparkle and me to have a relaxing holiday. We tend to get up and go places, explore off the beaten track, visit areas that are not yer actual normal holiday destinations. Oh, and go on cruises, which is the complete opposite. But this time we did feel like having more of a slow, self-indulgent wallow of a holiday. We chose to go to Malta, as, apart from a couple of day’s strolling around Valletta on cruises, we hadn’t been there since 1993. That time, when we were Relatively Hard Up, we spent the grand total of £189 each on two weeks at the Hotel San Pawl in Bugibba, half board, with Blue Sky Holidays (remember them?) One day on that holiday we visited St Julian’s Bay, which we remembered as being unspeakably beautiful – although your average abattoir is probably more beautiful than Bugibba – and we vowed if we ever came back to Malta we would stay at St Julian’s. So, true to ourselves, that’s precisely what we did.

Walking towards Balluta BayWe flew with the now defunct bmibaby from the splendidly useful East Midlands Airport to Malta’s international airport at Luqa, which has certainly enjoyed a facelift since 1993. On that occasion, only one of our two cases made it to Malta; the other went on a trip to Rome and it was five days before we were reunited with it. That was a good lesson learned – before then, we used to pack “his” and “hers” cases, but ever since we have always divided our clothes up half-and-half between each case so that if one bag doesn’t make it, you don’t have the problem of one of you being fully dressed and the other naked, which can be very embarrassing.

Hotel JulianiOur pre-arranged taxi met us and whisked us to our hotel, the Juliani, facing the westernmost tip of Spinola Bay. We chose the Juliani on the strength that it was the Number One hotel for St Julian’s on Tripadvisor, and I’m not surprised at its rating. It’s a charming, welcoming hotel, superbly located, with wonderful staff and delicious, big breakfasts. In fact I still miss Kenny’s, Zsuzsi’s and Gabor’s attentiveness in the mornings. Their combination of friendliness and politeness was very hard to beat. We had a junior suite, which meant we had a balcony overlooking the bay, perfect for an afternoon read and relax, or indeed a late-night relax combined with a half-bottle of wine from the minibar. Goodness me, hasn’t Maltese wine improved since 1993? More of that later, I expect.

Marching band at St Julian's FestaAnyway the Saturday we arrived (25th August 2012) St Julian’s was gearing up for its annual festa day. Every town in Malta has a day when they celebrate its saint, and St Julian’s was certainly in party spirit. The streets are decorated, fireworks boom day and night, the roads are closed, marching bands perform and seemingly thousands of people descend to enjoy roadside eating and drinking. On the Sunday, a large effigy of St Julian would be paraded through the town, to and from the church I suspect. Everyone is in a very jolly mood and it was a pleasure to witness it. Our hotel room balcony had a great view, as you can see from that top picture!

Gluten-freeRegular readers will know that when we are abroad we need to sniff out the availability of gluten-free food so that Mrs C doesn’t starve to death. Some Internet research beforehand suggested it wasn’t going to be a problem. And indeed, I am delighted to report that Malta is great for coeliacs. I understand there are quite a few high profile Maltese who are coeliac and as a result there is considerable awareness out there. A lot of Maltese cuisine is Italian-influenced; the majority of restaurants are the pizza and pasta type, which would normally be hell for a coeliac, but I would say that every third or fourth Italian restaurant in Malta will have provision for serving gluten-free pizza bases and pasta. As for the taste of the offerings, well, that’s another matter. But there are very many plucky attempts to integrate gluten-free food with standard fayre, which will make your favourite coeliac appear less of a sore thumb, when it comes to standing out with your restaurant choices.

Balluta Bay near Paul's Sea Breeze restaurantWith average temperatures 34 degrees every day, and mornings, noons and afternoons filled with wall to wall sunshine, we thought we’d start off with salads for lunches and see how it progressed through the week. For our first lunch, we turned right out of the hotel and strolled past Spinola Bay and got as far as Paul’s Sea Breeze Restaurant at Balluta Bay. We sat by the sea edge and had delicious, huge salads and a nice bottle of white wine and instantly felt we were in holiday mood. It’s an unsophisticated but perfectly friendly place, perfect for a restful lunch, and whilst we didn’t actually go back again during the course of the week for a meal, we did buy White Magnums from them whenever we were passing.

Walking towards SliemaWe walked on, round the bend of the bay into Sliema, just to see how far we could get in how short a space of time. The answer is quite a long way, and we identified a number of potential eateries en route for later in the week. After half an hour or so, we decided to head back, as our very early start (leaving home at 4am) was catching up with us so we were in great need of that delightful institution, the afternoon nap. It was, after all, a holiday.

LuluThe nap got extended, and extended again, but eventually we shook ourselves out of our comas and changed for dinner. This time we turned left out of the hotel. We got the last available table (not having booked) at Lulu Restaurant. Unfortunately we were too distant from the bay to see all the evening fireworks, which was a shame – although we did catch some later on after the meal – those fireworks go on for some time! There’s one price at Lulu – and it’s for a three course meal chosen from their menu, which includes a bottomless jug of mineral water too. The atmosphere and the food were great, and the service was friendly and polite if occasionally a little forgetful. I had the Pear and Gorgonzola Salad, followed by the Pork Schnitzel and the Apple Pie. I can’t offhand remember what Mrs C had, but she enjoyed it very much. Sadly they didn’t have a dessert that was gluten-free, so her set price three course meal had perforce to become a two-courser. Lucky she’s not a big eater.

FireworksWe were also introduced here to what would become our favourite Maltese wines – the Gran Cavalier range from Delicata. Twenty years ago, Maltese wine was absolute paint-stripper. You had to buy really expensive imports to get anything decent – or simply stick to drinking Cisk beer. But the arrival of the EU has had a splendid impact on the Maltese wine industry and nearly everything we drank during our week was decent to some degree (with one major exception). We had the Gran Cavalier Sauvignon Blanc at Lulu and it was to die for. Yes, it’s a bit expensive for a local wine, but absolutely worth it – actually at €17,50 for a bottle Lulu was about the cheapest place you can buy Gran Cavalier wines.

Late night on the balconyThus, full and satiated, we fought our way back to the hotel past the good natured crowds all happy to be celebrating good old St Julian, sat on the balcony to watch the end of the midnight fireworks, indulged in a half-bottle of Delicata from the minibar – alas not Gran Cavalier but the Cavalli Sauvignon Blanc if I remember rightly – which was fine for a nightcap. By about 12.30, our poor tired little bodies gave as an ultimatum – go to bed or collapse where we were standing. Bed it was.