If you fly to Malta at night, the sparkling lights of the island emerge from the dark of the Mediterranean Sea, immediately increasing your excitement levels ahead of your imminent arrival.
Words by David Baker | Extract taken from November's 2021 il-Bizzilla Magazine | Read more here
During your descent, (depending on your flight path!) you may notice that one light shines a little brighter than most and that is Sliema, a stylish seaside town on a peninsula on the north-eastern coastline. Here you will discover a place that has something for everyone – young and old, from pet lovers to high rollers and everyone in between.
If it’s not in Sliema, Malta doesn’t have it!
Sitting just over Valletta Harbour from the great UNESCO castles and cathedrals of the Maltese capital, Sliema - which means ‘peace’ in Maltese - was once a quiet fishing village, a minor summer resort that hosted the wealthier Valletta residents.
Today, that fishing village has given way to the country’s foremost tourist destination. Its elegant waterfront, rocky beaches, nightlife, wide variety of restaurants and hotels coupled with a superb retail experience give it a buzz like nowhere else on the island. Hey, there’s even several casinos where you can enjoy a little holiday flutter. Choose from an elegant colonial-style villa, an ultra-modern hotel complex, or a restored 17th-century, harbour-side palace. All provide great entertainment whether you’re new to the tables or have tried your luck before.
Weekends are among the most popular days to enjoy the many delights on offer in Sliema. It is then when it most of the island seems to descend, to amble the promontory which stretches for several kilometres connecting the villages of St Julian’s and Gżira. So, if you like people watching, then this is the time to go.
From dawn to dusk and into the late evening, you’ll find dogs trotting alongside their jogging owners, mums pushing prams and children learning to ride their bikes as café hoppers and cocktail sippers survey the activity.
They intertwine with elderly couples strolling arm in arm, just like newlyweds.
The Front, as it’s known locally, is also a great place to go to seek out some of Sliema's more historic landmarks. The square-cut Torri ta' San Ġiljan looms high about halfway along the prom. It dates to the 1600s and has seen some epic battles in its time. Move a little to the south of that and you'll find the quirky Independence Garden. It's been commandeered by cats as a sleeping spot, but also has babbling baroque fountains and sweeping views of the sea.
Steps lead down from the promenade at numerous points along the way, to rocky beaches where you can jump into the warm Mediterranean water. Alternatively, seek out the Fond Għadir, a series of manmade bathing pools. While locals refer to them as the Roman Baths, the pools actually date to the 1800s. They're like a natural bubble bath with crystal-clear water and ample protection from the strongest waves.
In the blocks behind the waterfront are charming Baroque churches, flower-strewn cottages, and sidewalk cafés by the bucket load.
In fact, The Front provides the hop off point for many of Sliema’s attractions - Tigné Point for fashion stores and boutiques, picturesque St Julian's Bay, Balluta Bay (home to the only sandy beach off the Front) and Spinola Bay combined offer more cocktail joints and eateries than you could possibly need.
Alternatively, visit Manoel Island where you can grab a dash of yacht watching and historic remains. Located in the middle of the harbour it is an unusual corner of the city that seems to have resisted modern development just a little better than the mainland. The island’s centrepieces are the buildings of the Lazzaretto and Fort Manoel.
As the sun goes down, the Southern European drinking and eating culture, becomes especially evident. Malta has an emerging wine industry and makes some fantastic reds and whites and they can be really great to enjoy with a traditional meat and cheese platter!
As you sit, sipping a cold white wine, you may also notice the increased traffic flow - towards Saint Julian’s - one of Malta's most popular R&R hubs. This is where the good-times roll! Swanky champagne bars open on the terraces above the sea, while chic cocktail joints and hotels with pools huddle between the honey-hued old buildings. Later, the action moves to Paceville, where raucous pubs and karaoke bars take over.
Even though it’s the country’s most populous area, many of those travelling to the Maltese islands tend to skip over this lively and bustling city in lieu of Malta’s other cities and attractions. This, however, is a shame as Sliema offers something for everyone – indeed too many options to list here.