Exploring the Three Cities
Our host, David, shared some of his secrets about Malta`s Harbourside towns. This article is a must-read for everyone who is planning to visit Malta and the Three Cities.
1. Brief introduction
My name is David, I’m originally from Paris. After many summers of wonderful holidays in Gozo and longing for a change, my husband and I decided to give Malta a try… Which most probably was one of the best decisions we ever took! We’ve been living in Malta for 5 years now.
I’m a meditation teacher by day, and a guest relations host in the afternoon/early evening at The Snop House, a luxury design boutique hotel in the city of Senglea. In a nutshell, let’s say my work field is to make people feel good!
2. Which are is the Three Cities exactly?
The Cottonera area is composed of Birgu (Vittoriosa), Bormla (Cospicua) and l-Isla (Senglea). It’s a place of history. The oldest of the Three Cities is Birgu, which has existed since the Middle Ages. The other two cities, Senglea and Cospicua, were both founded by the Order of Saint John in the 16th and 17th centuries.
With Valetta just across the water, they’re the pillars of the Grand Harbour area.
3. What makes the Three Cities unique?
The Three Cities are almost untouched by recent construction. It’s a quiet area. A lot of expatriates like me chose to relocate here because there’s a feeling of authenticity. Just walking around, enjoying the architecture, being greeted by the neighbours makes you instantly feel welcomed and at home. Senglea, where I live, is a unique place with a truly distinctive charm because of its peninsular characteristics (an island into the island).
4. What type of traveller is it suitable for?
I like to say that it’s the Paceville kryptonite! It’s perfect for travellers who want to discover Malta on a slow pace. Every street corner presents an historical feature and you can almost follow the steps of the knights. In Spring and Autumn, when the Maltese sun becomes gentle again, the area is ideal for whom wants a dose of old stones, harbour life, grab a sit on the seafront and watch the boats come and go.
5. What are the highlights of the area?
We’re away from the main beaches and a lot of people think you can’t have a swim in the 3 cities, unless you go to Rinella Bay… But there’s actually a swimming area in Birgu (just below Sant Angelo Mansions, on the Kalkara side and another at the tip of Sant Angelo itself. Not a lot of people venture there, but it’s a real privilege when you find it: picture yourself swimming while overlooking Valetta and the breakwater. I go there almost every morning; the water is crystal clear and the fort brings a nice shade until midday. Most of the time there’s barely anyone around. In the late afternoon, there are usually more people, and it’s ideal for a picnic while the sun is setting.
6. If you are limited on time, what are the must-see places?
Just a day in the area? Go see Fort Sant Angelo, recently restored, and walk around the paved streets of Vittoriosa. Cross the bridge to visit Senglea and make sure you go up to the Gardjola Garden for a breath-taking view of the harbour. Then just go down for a drink, lunch or dinner by the sea on the seafront. The Senglea Promenade boasts some of the island’s most delicious seafood restaurants in Malta.
7. Where can one grab an authentic local bite?
Honestly, the 3 cities are filled with very good restaurants, I wouldn’t know which one to pick. There’s a less known place I like in Senglea though: everyone goes on the seafront overlooking Birgu, but if you go on the other side, just before the tip, the Regatta Club is an amazing place to grab a beer and a very nice dish. The view is over the Marsa side of the Grand Harbour and I have a thing for industrial landscapes. A harbour is not just a place of leisure, part of its history is also the work that were (and are still) carried out there. The sun sets behind Valetta in the evening, you can watch the cruise liners leaving and the kids jumping in the sea for a last swim. Oh, and you get to see the rowers training.
8. How is transportation/connections to other areas from the 3 cities?
The ferry service is amazing. There’s one every 30 minutes, until midnight in summer, and in just 5 minutes you’re in Valetta! From there you can go basically anywhere on the island by bus. For the tourists, the traditional taxi-boats (dgħajsa) are also a wonderful experience to discover the Grand Harbour.
A bus is also an option especially if you want to head South: there’s a direct route to Marsaskala and Smart City/Xgħajra.
9. Is there any nightlife in the area?
If you’re talking about clubs and loud bars, not really. Again, this is the anti-Paceville! It’s more an area where you meet your friends on a terrace after a too warm day and just chill. In summer the xatt is packed with people gathering for dinner and drinks or just to catch up with the latest news.
10. As a foreigner, did the locals welcome you? Are they open-minded?
Oh my, people have been more than welcoming. As I live and work in Senglea, I spend most of my days in the area. It’s a place where you get to know your neighbours, and there’s always someone to talk to when you go from one place to another. And it’s not just that people are open-minded, it’s they just don’t care. As a gay couple moving here, not once did we feel anything negative towards us. To be fair, it’s a feeling I experienced all over the archipelago, but maybe even more in the 3 cities.
11. Your favourite feedback from a guest?
We can’t be more proud than when we hear “I felt just like at home, I can’t wait to come back”. We enjoy sharing our love for Malta, the 3 cities and especially Senglea so much… We love to give tips and share what we know about the area (and as we all live around, we’re quite well informed!) It’s such a pleasant and fulfilling feeling when you welcome guests and they leave as friends.
12. Where is the best place to stay in the area?
There’s a lot of very nice places where to stay, and one can find for sure something that will match their taste, whether you’d rather be in a nice hotel, a private apartment or a guesthouse. But let’s say you like art, authenticity, genuine love for Malta, a very personalised service (and funny French accent) but also one of the best views over the Three Cities and the Grand Harbour… Well, The Snop House is probably for you!