Malta’s South Side
When I was in Malta, I was delighted to discover that Hop On Hop Off open-top bus tours were available, because I have found these invaluable over the course of my travels in the cities of Europe.
In Malta things were slightly different because the capital,Valletta, is small enough to be seen, almost in its entirety, on foot. However, the bus tours covered the whole island – one for the north and one for the south.
I followed my usual way of doing a bus tour – started early and initially stayed on board for the complete tour so that I could decide which of the sights I wanted to explore more closely. Because Malta is such a beautiful island, with glorious weather, this was no hardship whatever.
The bus starts on both routes from the centre of Valletta, although there are pickup points from some of the bigger hotels outside the city, and both routes leave Valletta via the Castille, the Old Knights Hospital and the Valletta Waterfront.
The south route then makes its way to Tarxien, a small village in the south east of the island. It is the stop for the Temples and Hypogeum, a prehistoric site believed to date back to 2800BC. The Temples have various statues and reliefs of animals, and many of the statues are thought to have something to do with fertility. Fascinating stuff if, like me, you find archaeology and the like interesting. One disappointment for me was that I didn’t get to see the Hypogeum, an underground temple carved entirely out of rock, and the only one of its kind to be discovered (so far). Tickets for the Hypogeum are limited in case of damage to the site, and thus need to be booked well in advance. I didn’t do my homework in time, and wasn’t able to get a ticket. (Though given I don’t like underground, maybe no bad thing!)
The stop after Tarxien is the Vittoriosa Waterfront, a recently developed marina and promenade – something which may interest the star struck, because apparently the yachts of the rich and famous can be spotted here. For me, the next stop, Marsaxlokk Fishing Village is a picturesque spot, perfect for a coffee or lunch stop, but there’s not a lot to see, other than the view.
The Ghar Dalam Cave is another prehistoric site, dating back some 7,500 years, and apparently it was here that the earliest evidence of human habitation in Malta was found. Much of the cave is almost completely dark, deliberately so in order to support a unique eco system for more than 40 species of life.
The Blue Grotto is regarded as a must see – I’m not so sure. I discovered after my boat trip that it is best seen before mid-day, which may explain why I was rather underwhelmed by what is basically a series of caves through which the sea appears to be a brilliant shade of blue
However, for me Hagar Qim and Mnajdra Temple is worth going to see. Yet another prehistoric site, this is a megalithic temple site, and a designated World Heritage Site. Amazing!
The last stop on this tour is at the town of Siggiewi where the Limestone Heritage Park can be visited, and visitors can see sculpting and other uses for the indigenous limestone. I didn’t stop here, so cannot comment.
A captivating day and I would happily return to many of the sights for another look.