Malta Stories and Tips

St. Julian's - Pretty but with Little Substance

Spinola Bay, St. Julian's, Malta Photo, Malta, Europe

On Malta's east coast, nestled in the next bay north from Sliema, is the resort town of St. Julian's. Sliema and St. Julian's blend into one another imperceptibly such is the level of development on this part of the island. Just after arriving in Sliema we went out for a walk and within a few minutes we'd strayed into St. Julian's. (When construction works allow) it's possible to walk all the way along the wide promenade from the far end of Sliema to St. Julian's and beyond to Paceville, the suburb of St. Julian's best known as the nightlife Like most other resorts in Malta, St. Julian's doesn't have any beaches but as the town huddles around the bay, climbing up the hills, it is at least slightly more picturesque and still has, to a small degree, a feeling of the fishing village it used to be.

Other than the businesses that are there to service the tourist trade, there's not a lot in St. Julian's. In the village of St. John's, an outlying part of the resort, there are a couple of historic sites of limited interest but St. Julian's is best regarded as a base from which to explore the rest of the island. It's well served by Malta's fleet of distinctive yellow buses that cover the whole island so getting around is no problem at all.

St. Julian's clusters around Spinola Bay and looks quite nice at first glance. It's spoilt by the busy road that separates the shops and restaurants from the water and cars and buses whizz up and down at all hours. If you are looking for something to eat there are loads of places to choose from; the disappointment for me was that there are so many chains with Pizza Hut, Wagamama and the ubiquitous McDonald's. Coming from Sliema, the nicest of the independent restaurants are situated on Spinola Bay's northern side; several have nice terraces which are likely to be quieter than those directly on the road; the terraces are at first floor level, the fishermen keep their nets and sometimes their boats in the sheds underneath them. In summer it would be a nice place to sit and watch the colourful 'luzzus' - traditional Maltese fishing boats - bobbing on the water.

On a Saturday evening in February it was busy enough but I'm sure most places are packed out in the summer. Although there are a few nightclubs as you get nearer to Paceville, the nightlife in St. Julian's is mostly bars and drinking tends to spill outside regardless of whether there's a dedicated terrace or outdoor seating area. Smoking is not allowed inside public places and Malta is just like everywhere else in having smokers congregate around the doorways. Put off by some of the noisier places, we accepted the invitation posted in the window of the Labour Club - "Tourists welcome" - and went inside for a beer. (We also did this in Valletta and would thoroughly recommend that people go inside that club for a look around).

Getting off the main drag and into the residential areas is a bit like walking into Brighton, or at least some genteel English seaside town. It was the British that were responsible for the development of the previously insignificant settlement of St. Julian's (named for Julian of the Knights Hospitaller) into a popular resort. Those with money came to St. Julian's and had built impressive residences. Some of the houses have been made into small and medium sized hotels but many are still residential properties for well to do Maltese families. The larger hotels start in Paceville and beyond, spread out up the coast. There are smaller, more personal scale hotels, including some stylish looking boutique hotels, in the centre of St. Julian's.

Cultural or sightseeing opportunities in the town itself are few. One place of note, however, is the Spinola Palace and its gardens. The palace was built towards the end of the seventeenth century by an Italian knight, Raffaele Spinola. It stands overlooking the sea between St. Julian's proper and the suburb of Paceville but views of it are unfortunately not great because of the walls surrounding it. It was originally intended to be a recreational centre for the public but has, over the centuries, been rather versatile, serving several purposes, including that of military hospital during the First World War, and, later, as a place of refuge for Maltese families bombed out of their homes during the Second World War. The palace is not open to the public, but the lovely gardens are.

The other "attraction" and I use that word guardedly as it is really of limited appeal and there are examples all over Malta, it being a very rocky place, are a set of cart ruts ground into the stone near St. John's, a suburb of St. Julian's. There has been much speculation and research into these ruts and experts believe that they actually are unlikely to be made by some kind of carts, but probably a kind of sliding car system on which rocks or soils were moved around. If this kind of thing interests you then the best place to see them is Clapham Junction, near Buskett, so called because there are so many of these ruts there.

There's not much here specifically targeted at children, but if you start walking round towards Sliema, there are a couple of places with rides and mini golf along the sea front.

The problem with St. Julian's is that, like much of Malta, there aren't really any beaches where one might want to swim or lie in the sun so you'll be on your hotel's roof terrace, or by its pool, if it has one. If you don't mind this, and have come to spend your holiday basking in the sun all day then this won't be a problem and St. Julian's will be just as good a place as any other resort. If, on the other hand, you want to do lots of sightseeing, then St. Julian's doesn't have much to offer. However, it is in a good location for getting around the island to where there are things worth seeing and once you return in the evening, there are plenty of places to eat and drink. Better still, there's a good mix of chains and independent restaurants, a huge choice of cuisines from around the world and lots of places to try some Maltese specialities too. There is a also a decent selection of places to go for a drink, with the very noisiest places being set apart in Paceville, leaving St. Julian's that bit quieter.

I'd consider staying in St. Julian's if I went back to Malta but it wouldn't be because of the exciting sights.

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