‘Holidays in hell’ programmes make riveting TV. We all have that sense of Schadenfreude as we watch family X from Manchester or Munich coping with disastrous plumbing, sewage outflows on the beach, cockroaches, indelible stains on hotel bed mattresses, stomach churning food or worse.
Below is a round up of the main issues that come to the fore when you search Malta’s bad tourism press online. We’ve hand-picked a small selection of some of the worst, but indicative comments. They make colourful reading of individuals’ views. The other side of the story? This site has a great deal on the plus points to the Maltese Islands.
Of course, one man’s holiday hell is another’s holiday happiness. Also, the more reviews you read, the more confused you can be. The majority of reviews are about particular service providers. A hotel or taxi experience may be negative, but be included in a review with glowing comments on the general atmosphere of Malta (i.e. warmth of people and place). Then, there are the aspects of Malta (cultural and environmental mostly) that tourists may not be aware of on an average holiday, but which could colour their stay if they knew of them.
One reviewer said of his accommodation:”…if you don’t spend very much time in the hotel, you will be all right in Malta.” In fact, if you read accommodation reviews, a lot of visitors tend to rate their hotels as at least a star below the category awarded. Another trend we found was that visitors who had a Maltese friend to show them around had a far better time in Malta on the whole. For those who don’t, we hope you’ll find information on this site to equip you.
Online reviews are unmediated by and large, and you may opt to agree with the review that fits your prejudices. As one reviewer put it: “Malta has a unique character; many love it, many don’t.” The very worst we came across was this one: “Steer clear of this knackered holiday resort. The whole island needs a face lift, tummy tuck, liposuction and botox.” Ironically, Malta has a growing niche in medical tourism.
Make of the following what you will. Just because we’ve posted it here doesn’t mean that we agree with all of it!
“Small and a bit grubby, but not bad.”
“The best beaches were reasonably secluded. The abundance of ‘artificial’ beaches is high; sometimes it’s like being on a building site with dusty sand. The amount of quality beaches is very low, they are very small. It is advisable to steer clear of any of the decent beaches on a weekend. They are packed out.”
Our view: If you are town-bound, and don’t have wheels – car or bus it – then you may end up on artificial beaches. While Malta’s beaches aren’t the largest in the Med, most are in rural areas, surrounded by garrigue. The main ones have upgraded and include copious litter bins and a lifeguard service in peak months.
Holiday Resorts & Towns:
Sliema: “An ugly places on an ugly island. ….Sliema appear[s] glamorous in brochures but in reality disappoints… [it’s] characterised by bleak, unimaginative, grey buildings many of which are empty.”
“Some might say that the best thing about Sliema is that you can get away from the place quite easily.”
“The pleasure [of walking the strand] was diminished a little, though, by having to remain alert at all times to the presence of dog excrement on the pavements.”
“A strip of concrete a mile wide pushes up against the rocky coastline; there are no sandy beaches. There are a couple of lidos but they are small and I couldn’t see how spending the day at one would be much fun.”
“Valletta was quite impressive (especially from the outside), but a little tired and dirty inside.”
Qawra & Bugibba: (A coastal destination in the North of Malta.) “The gutter of Malta! It’s a large concrete jungle, full of sunburnt people who frequent local restaurants t-shirtless. It really is all concrete! Hotels and apartments, no greenery whatsoever.”
Our view: Malta’s Mediterranean coastline has it urban jungles just as do Spain, the Balearic Islands, Sicily, and so on. But, it also has old village cores with charm, grand palaces, baroque and medieval cities, and surprisingly quite a bit of countryside (though summer visitors or those without a car probably don’t venture there).
“The proliferation of very low class pubs and clubs who serve watered down spirits is 100%, the cost of alcohol is high, the volume of ‘music’ – it really is offensively and pointlessly loud everywhere you go…”
“The Paceville nightlife area is a Chav and hooker filled disaster zone.”
Our view: There’s more to Malta’s nightlife than Paceville, which we feature here. For nightlife, there are jazz bars and festivals, summer season of cultural events, opera (in Gozo even!), and barely a weekend in Valletta without some decent drama. If you fancy an alternative to Paceville bars, read here.
“The first morning, we hadn’t been out of the apartment 5 minutes when we were grabbed by another timeshare rep to view a new development nearby. They blagged [our friends] that they could trade timeshares if they liked it, which later turned out to be more or less a total lie unless they wanted virtually nothing back for what they have now. A morning and half an afternoon wasted when we could have been on the beach or something.”
“Do not treat these creatures [timeshare touts] as a joke. They are at best a pain in the butt. I used to think I was relatively bright, but I got caught. I will not be returning to Malta anytime soon. It leaves a nasty taste in my mouth just thinking of the place.”
Our view: Timeshare is a valid contributor to Malta’s tourism/property mix, but not if its representatives are anything other than professional. Anyone witnessing or being at the receiving end of unacceptable behaviour by timeshare reps may report the incident to the MTA (email@example.com or 2291 5400) or by lodging a complaint at the nearest police station.
“Visit Malta? Not b….y likely! For many environmentally-aware tourists (particularly those of us with binoculars permanently round their necks) the Mediterranean islands that make up Malta are well-known for all the wrong reasons: for migratory birds Malta is part of the southern European “killing-fields” where the slaughter of every [bird] continues as if the 20th Century (let alone the 21st) never happened.”
“I would not set foot on Malta with my tourist pounds untill they make efforts to stop this slaughter. I would love to go to Malta and shoot the birds myself….with a camera.”
Our view: We know people who boycotted holidaying in the States when George Bush Jnr was in office; similarly tourists can be conscientious objectors to several issues in a lot of holiday destination countries, including Malta, on account of the bird hunting and trapping practices here. We sit firmly in the anti-hunting camp.
“The general standard of hygiene in restaurants is poor, the quality of food is low.”
“We had an ‘English’ breakfast in the resort bar. 5/10. It was greasy and the baked beans were out-of-the-tin stone cold. We bought fruit and cereal and didn’t bother again.”
“That night’s dinner was a disaster [at a restaurant in St Julians]. The boys argued with the manager about the food they didn’t eat and got the bill reduced, but it was still an expensive mistake.”
” Beware – most restaurants offer the usual fare of chips and pizza; in fact the resort [Bugibba] is targeted at the English, though not all of us want crap food.”
Our view: Everyone can have a dodgy, rip-off meal anywhere. Stick to tourist areas (in most destinations) and meal variety, value, quality and so on is often compromised. But, do your homework on some restaurants, work out what local Maltese fare is all about, and you can have some great meals out.
Photo: Karl Micallef