Malta Stories and Tips

Dishing the (Dog) Dirt on Sliema

The Waterfront in Sliema... Photo, Malta, Europe

Holiday resorts cluster on the eastern coast of Malta and this area has the densest concentration with one resort merging into another. 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, even in summer. Hotels overlook the sea, usually narrow but many storeyed, none of them picturesque or appealing from the exterior. I don't think my opinion would have been improved by visiting in summer - unless business proprietors were still to carry out their repairs and renovations before the season got properly underway. Even on the front, scores of commercial properties were empty with many of them marked "To Let". Half-built apartment complexes were left abandoned, most likely due to the economic downturn.

While many businesses have closed down, there are plenty of shops still open. Choose from Marks and Spencer, Next, Peacocks, British Home Stores: I don't go on holiday to shop (frankly I hate shopping even when I'm at home) but I was disappointed to find so many British chains not just here but in other towns on Malta and on Gozo too. Even in February there were a fair few souvenir shops open most of them the cheap and tacky variety.

One of the things that struck me about the holiday resorts in general is that compared to the amount of accommodation, there don't appear to be that many places to eat. Perhaps lots of visitors eat in their hotels? During the day there were plenty of visitors out and about but Sliema was very quiet in the evenings, with only a handful of places getting a bit livelier around ten o'clock. I think this may be linked to the fact that many of Malta's winter visitors are older couples who stay for a month or so and therefore don't go out every evening. As we were there for just three nights there were enough places to be able to have a reasonable choice. Himself was in the unheard of position of being within a few steps from three Indian restaurants and not visiting any of them! We didn't find any wholly Maltese restaurants but we did find plenty of "international" restaurants that included at least a couple of Maltese specialities on the menu. For more choice you could jump on the bus, or walk, to St. Julian's in the next bay where there are more restaurants including some that are more upmarket than those in Sliema. Sliema, however, does have the advantage of being cheaper.

One place that is certainly worth visiting is the "Jubilee" at the inland end of the Strand. It's a small chain with places in Valletta and Victoria (on Gozo) and also a number of food stores which sell the food that they serve in the pubs. They specialise in Maltese cuisine and all the ingredients used are grown on Malta or Gozo. Some items are suitable for taking home (mostly in hold luggage but a few things are OK in hand luggage) and others are worth buying if you are self-catering and fancy eating in one evening. I suggest trying one of their delicious lampuki (a seasonal fish local to Malta) pies. One of the things that I liked about Sliema was that it wasn't teeming with bars and nightclubs. For the time we spent there we found that there were enough places not to visit the same place twice, although we did spend the early part of one evening in St Julian's. If you do want lively nightlife Sliema is not really the place for you, although cheap taxis and night buses mean that the bright lights are not far away. Younger visitors looking to party all night and sleep all day tend to head for Paceville which is just past St. Julian's. Apparently the name "Sliema" is derived from the Maltese word "sliem" meaning peaceful - I couldn't think of a more appropriate name!

One disappointment for us was not being able to walk all the way along the length of the strand to the very tip of the land and round into the next bay. This was partly because of building work and partly because of swanky new developments that had taken the land for themselves,depriving others of what should be a pleasing walk. While we always like to walk by the sea, we actually found the streets further back more interesting. Here we found terraces of sweet little houses, each one slightly different from its neighbours. Many have lovely covered in wooden balconies, a little like traditional Ottoman era houses we'd seen in some towns in northern Turkey. Most have a double front door, smartly painted and decorated with a pair of gleaming decorative door knockers,and most pleasing of all, nearly every house has a name, usually English, sometimes something devout, sometimes something poetic but verging on the cheesy. Beside the door, set into the exterior wall there is often a small bust of the Madonna and child. It was one of my pleasures to stroll the streets before dinner, looking at the doors and the house names.

The pleasure was diminished a little, though, by having to remain alert at all times to the presence of dog excrement on the pavements. The authorities have clearly tried to do something about this with literally hundreds of signs reminding dog owners to clear up after their animals but it seems that even the threat of fines is not a deterrent. It's not even an early morning or late night thing when people think there'll be nobody to catch them, we saw people allowing their dogs to foul the pavement (and leaving the offending matter) in the middle of the day too. This is something that the Maltese authorities really need to clamp down on as it gives a very poor impression.

Another downside to Sliema (and to Malta in general we found) is that (with one or two memorable exceptions) the staff you encounter in shops and restaurants aren't especially friendly, whether that be ex-pat Brits or Maltese. Service was always brisk and efficient but there was a lack of warmth.

Sliema does not have any special attractions, nor is it particularly old or quaint. It grew from a small fishing village but it's pretty evident that any old buildings were either destroyed in World War Two or else bulldozed to make room for modern development. Some might say that the best thing about Sliema is that you can get away from the place quite easily; this is true. Malta in general has an excellent network of cheap and frequent bus services including night services. The bus hub for Sliema is on the Strand, opposite Marks and Spencer; timetable leaflets can be picked up from a kiosk there and when the kiosk is closed you can take the leaflet from a little box attached to the outside of the kiosk. Just beside the bus stops is the stop for the water taxi to Valletta which runs (more or less) every thirty minutes and has you in the capital in about three minutes. You can also jump on any number of boats here for trips along the coast and into the various bays. Malta has several deep inlets with fortifications at the end of each one making the coastline look rather impressive even if it's quite ominous.

I would say that Sliema is a resort best suited to people looking for a quiet base from which to explore the island. There's very little for children and limited nightlife for teens or twenty-somethings. While you might quickly exhaust eating options in Sliema over a longer stay, it's easy to get to other resorts to extend the choice. Sliema also has the advantage that it is in general slightly cheaper than other resorts though it does have a wide choice of accommodation including some quite upmarket hotels at the sea end of the Strand.

Recommended as a base for people with some get up and go

Been to this destination?

Share Your Story or Tip