If you mention Qawra, Bugibba and St Paul’s Bay all in the same breath to a local, it’s likely to trigger the same emotions as mentioning ‘Bognor’ to someone from Britain. That is, images of a slightly tawdry traditional seaside town that’s seen better days.
These northern resort towns in Malta are largely the domain of British tourists, and the Maltese traders here – from hoteliers to street hawkers – tend to offer up goods and services that will look very familiar to any British person. One hoarding today advertising a snack bar had the words ‘chip butty’ on it. I am not sure continental visitors – and there were some Germans and Italians walking the front today – would know what that is.
But in winter, the couple of kms walk are largely reclaimed by the Maltese – you’ll see sporty, Lycra-clad power walkers, joggers, and lots of families with pull-along sit-on toys, bikes with outriders and buggies just about making it to McDonald’s. Here, an outdoor play area can work out any extra energy the kids have left (though the Golden Arches has removed the much-loved castle replacing it with a ‘gym’ that seems only open when animation is on hand).
There are plenty of things to amuse you (and any kids) on the way. Kiosks take pride of place, underlying the Maltese propensity to never be far away from refreshments. Many of them are open on a Sunday walk, serving anything from hot and cold drinks to meals. They also provide shelter from the wind, and rest for tired legs. Here are some other highlights en route:
1. Planets for the kids
The ASTRO-CLUB, a voluntary science group, has devised a ‘planet walk’ with scale models of our solar system along the Qawra to Bugibba stretch. Kids love rotating the planets and reading the info on them, and racing to find the next one!
2. Views of St Paul’s islands
Don’t look landward (at the architectural mishaps dating from the ’60s – ’80s), look seaward. This front has some of the most interesting views of any paved stretch of coastline. Natural, rugged parts, St Paul’s Island with its statue, Selmum palace on the ridge across the bay, and so on. Just before the Wignacourt Tower are mounted binoculars (50c to view) with narration (choose from around five languages) about St Paul’s Island. It’s called, apparently, ‘religious tourism’ by the Malta Tourism Authority.
3. Spray & Wind
This side of Malta tends to get the prevailing winds in winter, so even when you’re well back from the sea, the wind blasts the spray your way. As you round the Bugibba bay area, expect to get wet if the wind is very strong! It’s exhilerating though, and a great New Year’s walk.
4. Name & Sign spotting
In the built-up stretch in Bugibba, enjoy spotting weird shop names on establishments, open all hours and days, selling various souvenirs, jewellery, papers and unclassifiable goods. Bars, kiosks and restaurants have great names too. A particularly amusing sign post indicates that ‘horse bathing’ is not permissible here. Anyone seen this road sign in another country, I wonder?
5. Wacky street furniture & public loos
As you round corner on the last part towards Wignacourt Tower, the seafront takes on a more contemporary feel in its lighting and in the ship’s bow design of the concrete stairway to the higher road. We’ve changed local council district here, and it shows! In the same style is the latest in public toilets right by Sirens’ Waterpolo pitch and restaurant-bar. These have to be the ultimate in public conveniences in Malta, so use them before the graffiti takes hold.
6. Wignacourt Tower
A perfect end to the walk, this stocky watch tower was built by order of Grand Master Olof de Wignacourt in 1610 and is the oldest surviving one in Malta. It is run by Malta’s National Trust, Din l- Art-Helwa (this fair land, in literal translation). Trust volunteers open it most days, but do check the website for full details of opening times. The Sunday we were there, the man in charge was exceptionally knowledgeable and gave our group a comprehensive guided tour of this small, but charming heritage site. His talk covered the entire history of the Knights in Malta plus copious details about their fortifications and defences.
Photo: Alex Grech