Posts Tagged ‘Sliema’

The “best of” wining and dining in Malta …

May 24, 2011 4 comments

Tourists sometimes complain that the food in Malta just isn’t as good as in neighboring Mediterranean countries. Others are thrilled to see Italian favorites like pizza and pasta on almost every menu. Meanwhile, Anglophones, who like their home comforts, are always happy to see an English breakfast and fish and chips popping up here and there.

Tucking into the Seafood Tower at Grill 3301 at the Corinthia San Gorg Hotel. Most Maltese restaurants have a good selection of fish dishes.

Like any other place which has a heaving tourism industry, for every good restaurant there’s a not-so-good one. Stick to the tourist-beaten track and you’re sure to be disappointed. I’m referring to tourist traps like Paceville and Bugibba  … many restaurants here just don’t try hard as they know that their diners will come once and never return, regardless of whether they get good food or service … or not. (Of course, there are a few good restaurants in both places but if you’re not in the know, it’ll be like looking for a needle in a haystack to find a Michelin-star-worthy one.)

But what is good about Malta is that there is a restaurant for every budget, age group and taste. The challenge is to find them!

Over the past ten years, I’ve built up a list of my firm favorites to which I always return, found some that have become regular hang-out spots and tried some new ones that, for sure, I will never revisit.

My “best of” list:

Lupanara by evening. Romantic and secluded.

Best romantic spot: Lupanara is a cozy cellar-style restaurant/wine bar built into stone fortress walls on the waterfront in historic Vittoriosa. Intimate and atmospheric, it’s the perfect setting to enjoy a cheese platter and bottle of wine with your other half or close friends and family. It recently got new management so hopefully, nothing too dramatic will change.

Best value for money:  You just can’t beat La Cuccagna in Sliema for good food at a price that won’t break the bank. Unpretentious and “simple” décor and the kind of food you could imagine an Italian mama cooking up at home. Their avocado, ruccola and prosciutto salad, with bruschetta as a starter, come highly recommended.

Best hidden secret: Wedged in between a dodgy-looking Chinese restaurant and a rowdy bar, don’t be put off by the entrance to this restaurant, or by its childlike name. Snoopy’s serves up a great steak and has a cozy wooden seating area upstairs, a nice bar downstairs.

Gululu. A colorful twist on typical Maltese food.

Best to impress foreigners or visitors: Touristic? Maybe. Kitschy? Yes. But Gululu is a great place if you want to eat Maltese food in  lively and pretty Spinola Bay  … it’s the perfect
spot to bring foreign friends or visitors to taste Maltese food. Their selection of dips for starters are delicious.

Best view, regardless of the weather: This can be a thorny issue but, personally, I like Surfside on the Sliema waterfront. The food’s so-so here but they have a great choice of pizzas and pasta, all named after famous footballers. There’s a large sun patio on the roof, a side balcony, and indoors, large glass windows giving you a panoramic view of the waves crashing on the rocks underneath. An all-weather venue.

Best “local” hang-out: Peppi’s is a well-established and classic spot on the waterfront, a stone’s throw from Balluta Bay. From the outside it looks a bit like a kiosk but they have plenty of indoor and outdoor seating. The no-frills menu is basic but broad. Their pizzas – especially the Capricciosa – are well worth checking out, or, if you are a bit more conservative, their half-roasted chicken and chips are a safe bet. Friendly service, low prices and, if you’re a football fan, plenty of TV screens.

Best to cure indecisiveness: If you’ve walked up and down the seafront in Marsaxlokk ten times and still can’t decide on a seafood restaurant, why not try La Ruelle. They have all the usual fresh fish of the day, a good choice of seafood platters, classy water bottles and a nice rustic décor inside. Their wraps are also good.

Best café: Without a question, Mint in Sliema is my absolute favorite. The food display is always changing so even if you go there every day, you’ll never get tired of it. Great coffee, mouth-watering cakes and tasty lunches (especially their chorizo hot dog and quiches). There’s free wireless internet, some magazines and papers, and toys for the kids.

Best Sunday lunch spot: If you don’t know Marsascala you probably make a beeline for the waterfront like the tourists, but Tal Familija despite its more rural setting has actually some of the best seafood in town. Especially their seafood platter which they can customize according to your preferences. The perfect place for a leisurely Sunday lunch with friends or family. Outdoor seating, though, is limited.

Rabbit is pretty common on Maltese menus. Eat it as a sauce over spaghetti or whole.

Best “home away from home”: Feeling like you are sitting in your own home, Vino Veritas in Sliema is understated and cozy with a great selection of pasta dishes and friendly service. It’s good value for money and if you want something traditionally Maltese, their rabbit is supposed to be pretty good, according to the locals.

Best “trendy” spot: The flickering flames on the roadside on the Sliema waterfront mark La Rive, a great watering hole for after work drinks and casual dinners. Always attracts a young, professional and lively crowd right through the week.

Best view in Valletta: It’s got to be the tucked-away Café Deux Baronnes underneath the Upper Barrakka Gardens. The outdoor café has a great view over the Grand Harbour, super-friendly staff, a decent menu for lunch or just a coffee break and is much more reasonable than some of the cafes on the city’s larger squares.


A bird’s-eye view of Malta

May 21, 2011 2 comments

Our seatbelts are fastened, the engines rev up, the smell of fuel wafts through the windows and there’s a splash and ripple of waves as the seaplane lifts off from the terminal in historic Valletta.

Harbour Air's seaplane moored in Valletta.

I’m one of 14 passengers and am sitting in the first row of Harbour Air’s DeHavilland DHC-3 Turbine Single Otter plane for a 30-minute aerial tour of Malta. Even though I’ve flown in and out of Malta hundreds of times, this is the first time I’ve really seen the island properly from above. Travel experts always say to really know a country you need to see it from the water, by road and from above. I’ve seen Malta several times already from the sea, on the charming but rickety old yellow buses and now, finally, from the air.

It’s a well known fact that Malta is a densely populated and rocky island, but this is even more obvious from above.

After veering northwards, we enjoy a spectacular view of the historic and breathtaking capital of Valletta with its large harbors and fortified walls. Once we’ve reached our cruising altitude, we’re high enough to avoid turbulence but low enough to get a great view of the crowded buzzing areas of Sliema and St. Julian’s before seeing the choppy waters of St Paul’s Bay, the tourist mecca of Bugibba and the quieter coastal town of Mellieha below us.

Our pilot on the job focusing on safety and pointing out the sights.

I’m not a big fan of small planes or turbulence but the flight is relatively smooth apart from the odd bump when we cross from the land to the water and vice versa. Our pilot, a 30-year-old French Canadian is one of the few qualified seaplane pilots in Europe. He tells us that there are very few seaplane companies in Europe, compared to Canada. He’s competent and friendly and is keen to share information about the plane and sights along the way.

Once we are over the north of Malta, the concrete jungle landscape below us changes to a more rural mix of low stone walls, limestone house of characters and, to our far right, we see the sheer drop of the Dingli Cliffs.

The turquoise-colored waters of the stunning Blue Lagoon.

After a bump it’s out over the aquamarine-colored waters of the Mediterranean before flying a bit lower over the stunning Blue Lagoon and small island of Comino before reaching Malta’s second largest island – Gozo. The contrast between Gozo and Malta never ceases to amaze. Locals often say that Gozo is like stepping back to how Malta was fifty years’ ago with its sleepy villages, old men sitting smoking in roadside bars, fields with sheep and goats and potholed roads. Gozo is also very quaint in its own way with its distinguished villas and beautiful architecture which, luckily, have not been knocked down yet to make way for characterless sky-high apartment blocks like what has happened on Sliema’sTower Road.

We take a sharp left and swoop low over the Azure Window, one of Gozo’s key attractions and one of the most stunning sea arches in the world.

Final glimpses of Valletta before landing back at the sea ferry terminal.

All too soon, the 30 minutes are almost up and it’s time to head back to Valletta. We nosedive down, and land smoothly with a splash, gliding along the water before coming to a standstill at the sea ferry terminal.

If you live in Malta, or are holidaying, you’re sure to spot Harbour Air’s seaplane flying overhead several times a day. Besides offering scenic routes over the island, it also offers daily scheduled flights between the islands of Malta and Gozo. The scheduled flight takes just 20 minutes and is a good alternative if you don’t fancy the ferry crossing between the two islands or if you are strapped for time.

Short-term vacation rentals in Malta

April 28, 2010 4 comments

At a first glance, finding a short-term rental apartment in Malta appears a piece of cake as you browse through pages of penthouses, spectacular seaviews and beautifully converted houses of character. But dig a little deeper and it’s not as easy as it might first appear. Something I discovered recently when organizing a Spring break on the island.

Aside from the Easter weekend, March/April is still officially considered low season. For sun-starved Nordic residents suffering from the winter blues (like me), the blue skies, sunshine (albeit a little windy), al fresco dining and lower volumes of tourists makes it the perfect time to combine a private/work trip. The hotels are all offering special deals at this time so if you don’t like scorching hot temperatures, need some sun therapy and want value-for-money, then Malta’s a good choice at this time of the year.

Many of the five-star hotels were offering discounts of 50% on their room rates, “stay seven nights and pay for four” and complimentary upgrades … on average you can get a nice double room in a four or five star hotel for around EUR 80 per night including breakfast and a seaview if you search hard enough (or use your negotiation skills). But, most hotels on the island are not pet-friendly which posed a problem for my furry four-legged companion who loves hotels but, unfortunately, the feeling is not always mutual.

So, wanting to travel with my dog and needing some freedom to cook my own food, plus requiring internet access for work, I began scouring the vacation and short-term rental agency sites. Which soon proved interesting!

“It’s illegal to keep dogs in apartments!”
One of the biggest rental agencies informed me by email that “Unfortunately none of the owners accept any pets, and it is illegal in Malta to keep dogs in apartments.” To which I replied that I had a Chihuahua not a Great Dane which was used to living in small city apartments as we live in downtown Stockholm. I also pointed out that I knew plenty of people living in an apartment in Malta with a dog, or at least a cat, but never received any reply. Walking down the seafront in Sliema every evening more or less confirms this as I meet plenty of lovely dog owners, all of which live in the neighborhood … in apartments!

As a landlord myself, I understand that not everybody want to rent out their property to tenants with pets, children or to smokers. So that’s fair enough and I kept on searching with just seven days left before my departure date.

Up to EUR 200 a day in low season … plus bills!
There is no shortage of beautiful apartments, villas and town houses to rent but it’s a matter of selecting the area you want to live in. The most popular (and built-up) area in Malta is around the Sliema/St Julian’s/Valletta area and if you rent here it means you can save on a car rental (as parking can be a hassle and the public bus transport system is frequent and good.) plus you are close to all the main attractions and facilities. It’s a good choice if you will be on your own for some of the time as the area is always buzzing. If you’re a group of people or if you are looking for peace and quiet, then check out the Mellieha or Bugibba areas in the north (or Marsascala in the south) which are very pretty seaside areas and just a short trip away from the main towns.

So I short-listed my favorite ones based on location, price, internet and dog-friendliness. I noticed they were quite pricey – the average rate was EUR 80 per day but there were apartments off the beaten track for EUR 50 a day or the luxury apartments at prime developments like Portomaso for EUR 150 per day. Which could be ok if you’re not watching your bank balance or if you are a group of people that can split the costs.  

Well, I fell in love with a converted house of character in Marsascala area which had its own small swimming pool in the courtyard and could sleep up to six people making it more than big enough for me, the Chihuahua and my visitors; and a two-bedroomed apartment with sea-view on the Tower Road in Sliema. And the negotiations started. The house was unfortunately booked for some of my dates so that ruled it out. And the two-bedroom apartment would set me back EUR 1,600 for a three-week rental. Ouch! As if this wasn’t already high enough – for off-peak season – the owner also wanted me to pay the electricity and water charges. And then the agency informed me that their fee was another 20% on top of the EUR 1,600. Ouch again. When I explained it was too much, the agency fee went down to 15% and provided I didn’t use too much water or electricity, the bills could be included. I said “no” and “Auf Wiedersehen”. Sure, everybody has to make a cut on this deal, and yes, electricity and water rates have risen dramatically in Malta in the last few months, and yes, there is a seaview … but EUR 2,000 for three weeks …in April? What happened to the recession?

In the end, I contacted my Maltese friends as a last resort. And within minutes had two offers – one for a three-bedroomed furnished apartment in Marsascala including internet and bills for EUR 40 per day; and a furnished two-bedroomed apartment in the Sliema/Gzira area for EUR 1,000 a month (including bills if I used water and electricity sparingly) or EUR 40 per night.

The morale of the story: like in many other countries, try to get a local contact and shop around. Ads in the local newspapers and on local social sites are much better value than going through the agencies and rental companies. If budget’s not an issue for you, then the agencies have fantastic properties available and will deliver a professional and personal service.

The end result ... an apartment two minutes walk from Spinola Bay in St. Julian's.

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