Cross back over Howard Gardens and you're out of Mdina and into Rabat, a small town with only three things worth seeing. On the traffic-spoiled main square is St Paul's Church and Grotto, a large, gloomy place designed in Baroque style and built above a cave where the saint of the same name was supposedly interred for three months in 60AD. Hang around for more than a few minutes and you'll be given a brief guided tour of the church - statue of Saint Paul here, painting of Saint Paul there - before going down to the grotto itself, chisel marks still visible in the ceiling and donation plate by the door.
A few hundred metres away, signposted and almost directly opposite each other, are the catacombs of Saints Paul and Agatha, underground burial chambers dating from the Byzantine period. It had started to rain and I was sick of paying admission charges, so all I saw of either was the entrance.
It was early and I didn't want to go back to Valletta so I went back to the station downhill from Howard Gardens and took the number 80 bus to Attard instead (get off at the third stop after you enter the village for St Mary's Church and the centre), where the Knights once built their country retreats. From St Mary's I navigated my way to the back entrance of San Anton Palace, the official home of the Maltese president, following signs for Lija and almost continuing straight past the simple green door. The garden was almost the size of Mdina with more workmen than visitors and more stray cats and ducks than both put together. I found myself a deserted bench by one of the many fountains and attempted, unsuccessfully, to shell a hard boiled egg.
There wasn't much to see in Lija or Balzan, the remaining two of the Three Villages. (Truth be told, there wasn't much in Attard either.) More churches, some pretty villas, baroque streets that could have been transported from a corner of Valletta. They're places to break a journey - there wasn't anything here that you couldn't find elsewhere.