A new bus service that gives you a good orientation of what Malta is like has just been introduced by the Malta Bus Transport Association. Aimed primarily at tourists and called 'Visitmalta', this service follows two routes, both operating from the Sliema ferries bus terminus which you can reach from Valletta by frequent scheduled Bus 61 or 62. Once you are in Sliema, you can choose either Route 505 which takes in the north section of the island or Route 506 which covers the towns and villages in the south. The bus ticket for either trip can be bought from the driver or from the ticket booth at the Valletta City gate bus terminus and costs £M2, equivalent to about US$6.
Besides being both enjoyable and interesting, the trip which lacks a much needed commentary runs along streets which contain the best sights and attractions. The bus stops at numerous locations where tourists are given the opportunity to visit places of interest and then continue on the next 'Visitmalta' bus. It is advisable to buy a good street map either from a stationery store or from the Tourist Information Office housed inside the City gate arcades at Freedom square, Valletta. (Tel: 00356 21237350 or 00356 21237328).
Six buses run daily along each route, following this timetable:
ROUTE 505 departure times:
From the Sliema ferries bus terminus – 9:15am, 10:30am, noon, 1:15pm, 2:45pm, 4pm.
From the Qawra bus terminus – 9:50am, 11:05am, 12:35pm, 1:50pm, 3:40pm, 4:35pm.
From the Rabat bus terminus – 10:15am, 11:30am, 1pm, 2:15pm, 3:45pm, 5pm.
From the Mosta church bus stop – 11:00am, 12:15pm, 1:45pm, 3pm, 4:30pm, 5:45pm.
Arrival at the Sliema ferries bus terminus – 11:28am, 12:43pm, 2:13pm, 3:28pm, 4:58pm, 6:13pm.
ROUTE 506 departure times:
From the Sliema ferries bus terminus – 9am, 10:00am, 12:15pm, 1:30pm, 3:30pm, 4:45pm.
From the Siggiewi centre bus stop – 9:50am, 10:50am, 1:05pm, 2:20pm, 4:20pm, 5:35pm.
From Marsaxlokk – 10:30am, 11:30am, 1:45pm, 3pm, 5pm, 6:15pm.
From Cottonera – 11:10am, 12:10pm, 2:25pm, 3:40pm, 5:40pm, 6:55pm.
Arrival at the Sliema ferries bus terminus – 11:50am, 12:50pm, 3:05pm, 4:20pm, 6:20pm, 7:35pm.
1. One of the best places to stop along the north route is Mdina, Malta's preserved medieval capital where the historic atmosphere can be tasted in its ring of thick defensive walls, its narrow meandering walkways, its tiny squares and in the numerous old buildings that are tucked away within the most unexpected locations. The Baroque 17th-century Mdina Cathedral, work of the renowned Maltese architect Lorenzo Gafa has splendid architecture inside and out. Its magnificent dome and ornate towers can be seen from miles away while its interior houses numerous paintings and frescoes attributed to the Sicilian painter Mattia Preti. The Cathedral museum, housed inside a medieval building across the square is a treasure trove of ecclesiastical works of art which include silverware, religious vestments, paintings and engravings by Favray, Goya and Van Dyck together with a unique collection of coins. For information about the cathedral or its museum, tel: 00356 21454136. More splendid architecture adorns Cathedral square. Have a look at the 14th-century Norman house whose double-arched windows and doorways are architecturally unique. Wander along more narrow streets and alleys until you reach Bastion square from where the breathtaking uninterrupted view reaches as far as Valletta's coastline.
If you still have time before taking the next 'Visitmalta' bus, stroll along the winding streets of Rabat (Mdina's suburb) until you reach St.Paul's Catacombs, a large network of underground burial chambers which are more than 1500 years old. Move down the steep steps to the third level and see rows of tombs and small side chapels cut out of limestone rock where mourners prayed for deceased relatives (recommended time is 2 hours).
2. Another recommended stop along the north route is the village of Mosta. You can't miss the Mosta Dome, a huge church with an imposing Greek-style architecture . Built in 1860 to replace a smaller church, this structure of immense proportions was designed by the Maltese architect Giorgio Grognet. Its impressive interior has numerous works of art that you shouldn't miss. Enter the vestry to see the huge bomb that pierced the dome and crashed to the floor inside the church in 1942 without exploding. Both the church and the congregation had a miraculous escape, as can be witnessed from the numerous photos on display in the vestry. (recommended time is 1 hour).
3. If you opt for the south route, stop at Marsaxlokk, Malta's main folklore and fishing village. Stroll along the 1km long coastline and see rows of colourful traditional Maltese fishing boats anchored to the pier and groups of fishermen preparing or mending their nets. If you happen to come here on a Sunday, the fishing market along the coastline provides a fascinating insight into the traditional fishing industry while the adjoining flea market is the best place to make a good bargain (recommended time is 1 hour).
4. The Cottonera area along the south route offers visitors the chance to get the best experience of Malta's maritime past. Known as the 'Three Cities' because it is made up of Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua, this is the place where the knights built their first homes or auberges. Built on a promontory stretching into the harbour, Fort St.Angelo in Vittoriosa has been restored and today looks much the same as it did in the early days of the knights. The impressive facades of Auberge de France and Auberge d'Angleterre, two of the first residential homes used by the knights are graced with ornate doorways and decorated windows while the restored 16th-century Inquisitor's palace which you can visit has wonderful Italian-style architecture. The Vittoriosa Church of St.Lawrence which overlooks the Grand harbour has a wonderful interior richly decorated with numerous paintings, sculptures and artistic works.
If you still have time, continue towards the small town of Senglea. Don't miss climbing to the 'vedette', a turret with six windowed facades from where the view of the Grand harbour reaches as far as the eye can see. Another highlight here is the Church of Our Lady of Victory which was reconstructed after World War II when it was completely destroyed. The church houses numerous paintings by Maltese artists and priceless artistic statues. There's not much to see in Cospicua, a hilly harbour town with steep narrow streets, alleys and steps. But it's worth having a look at the Church of the Immaculate Conception which boasts numerous artistic works in silver and a number of beautiful paintings by Maltese and Italian artists (recommended time is 2.5 hours).
For more information about 'Visitmalta' buses, tel: 00356 80072393.