[Photo: Dragana Rankovic Photography]
Travelers these days thirst for ‘positive experiences’ and want to take home fond memories of authentic local life from their chosen destination; individual moments that set their holiday apart. Malta, an established holiday destination since the ’60s, may not strike you as a place to offer still those special gems of local life.
Is it possible then on a holiday of a few days to a couple of weeks maximum to actually ‘live like a local’ in Malta? We argue that it is, and from the first day of your stay, if you know what to look for.
Just take note of the everyday routines of the Maltese islanders. No need even to seek out or coincide with our high days, holidays or events like festas. A truly insider look at local life on Malta and Gozo isn’t the preserve of the exclusive ‘cultural’ holiday either. As they say, some of the best things in life come for free! So if you’re opting for a cheap holiday and the ease and convenience of deals offered online by companies like First Choice, you’ll won’t need to factor in much spending money to enjoy some of the richer experiences Malta has to offer.
Here’s our round-up of local experiences for both the first-time and repeat traveler; five simple, cheap ways to discover, and participate in, authentic slices of Maltese life.
Holiday Tips to Living like a Local
Listed in no particular order, so cherry pick the vignettes of Malta that appeal to you:
1. Play Boċċi
[Photos: Liz Ayling]
Boċċi is a game of Mediterranean bowls – similar to French ‘boules’ – that you’ll find played across Malta and Gozo. A pitch you’re bound to come across is on the main Bugibba seafront promenade, but hunt out other clubs that are hidden away in villages and town back streets or pop up in local beauty spots like this one above at Ghar Lapsi.
The Maltese version of the game uses ‘pellets’ or cylinder-shaped boules and it’s thought to date back to the time of the Knights of St John. Head to the Bugibba pitch, chat with the teams and before you know it, you’ll be thrust forward to ‘have a go’! Lots of spectator seats at Bugibba too, if you don’t fancy your hand at it, or worry about ‘letting the team’ down.
[Photo: Liz Ayling]
2. Spend an evening in a band club bar
With names like ‘The King’s Own’, who wouldn’t be curious about Malta’s Band Clubs! While they do indeed play home to brass bands, they are more like community centres where local life is played out. Each village and town has at least two band clubs (Valletta, with its many parishes, has far more). Often rivals in musical prowess and on account of their traditional (dare we say) political party affiliations, band clubs are objects of local pride even in modern-day Malta. Pop in for a drink in the bar of a band club – don’t expect fancy decor – and pass the time with its members and regulars. Band Clubs often offer some superb cheap eats of local dishes, so check their menus too.
3. Sit in a Pjazza at sundown
Winter or summer, come late afternoon til sundown, you’ll notice benches in town and village squares start filling up. Usually, it’s the older, retired men who frequent the square (pjazza) to meet mates and chat the remains of the day away. Women are busy shopping or getting supper! Choose a suitable bench, wait for some ‘movement’ and before long, you’ll be in the midst of animated conversation – and probably be drawn in to chat too. If the chat is in Maltese only, don’t worry, you’ll just need some skill at Charades! It’s an age-old scene that has taken place every day for centuries. A slice of living history to watch or take part in.
4. Power walk or jog a seafront promenade
This is a very popular activity for Lycra-clad locals and expats alike. And where better to get fit than on holiday in the Mediterranean? Find a suitably long seafront such as the Gzira to St Julian’s stretch passing by Sliema, or head to Bugibba, Marsascala or Zurrieq seafronts and get some air in your lungs at a pace to suit. Start at crack of dawn in peak summer months or you’ll expire, but winter is the perfect climate for power walking or jogging. Of course, if you don’t meet your personal best time, you can chill out en route at the many cafes if you opt for more urban seafronts. The Zurrieq headland is worth visiting for its some amazing sea views and is a rural option.
5. Eat Pastizzi
[Photo: Andrew Galea Debono]
Once you’ve power walked or jogged, you’ll have earned your right to the ultimate local Maltese savoury snack – pastizzi! At their best, they come straight from the oven on old metal trays, their flaky pastry crisp and their centres of mushy peas or ricotta melting in the mouth. Crystal Palace bar on the outskirts of Rabat near the car park is one of the more famous pastizzi eateries and open nearly 24/7 with a brief few closing hours over night. Join the locals sipping tea and coffee in glass tumblers and don’t worry about leaving a heap of pastry crumbs all over the floor!
Learning English in Malta may seem, as we say in colloquial English, a ‘no-brainer’. Malta has all the ingredients for mixing a fun, leisure holiday with English language learning for all ages and levels. Malta and its sister island Gozo offer an established, cosmopolitan destination bang in the middle of the Mediterranean with plenty to see and do, from water sports to trips delving into the islands’ unique and fascinating culture and history.
Where to study?
When it comes to choosing the right English language school though, the options seem more confusing. Malta and Gozo boast over 40 language schools, most of which at first glance seem to offer the same deal. So, we were curious to discover Maltalingua in St Julian’s; a language school that is not only a relative newcomer to the established ELT scene on the Islands but also one that has already gained a prestigious award for excellence in English language education – the internationally-recognised EAQUALS’ accreditation.
We spoke to Maltalingua Director Mark Holland about the challenges of opening a new school in the crowded local ELT market and the value of EAQUALS in particular. “EAQUALS provided us with a blueprint to work towards which meant we had the opportunity to start with a clean slate and set our standards high. EAQUALS’ membership was quite a challenge for a newly-founded school, however the whole process proved a productive exercise for Maltalingua which wasn’t just about setting the school’s sights on the accreditation alone.”
What is EAQUALS’ accreditation?
In brief, the EAQUALS’ label validates a school’s educational and pastoral standards and confers certain status in various countries’ education systems. EAQUALS’ schools are, for instance, recognised by CSN – the Swedish Board of Higher Education for the allocation of study abroad loans and grants. In Italy, the Progetto Lingue 2000 gives credit to EAQUALS’ courses as additions to school and higher education, while in Switzerland, a number of companies require EAQUALS’ certification for in-company language teaching.
“We chose to invite the EAQUALS’ inspectors during our peak season, summer 2014, because we wanted them to see both our adult and junior programmes in action. We wanted to be confident we were being assessed thoroughly, and during our most pressured time of year,” Mark explains.
Maltalingua was assessed across 12 different categories which measure standards at the school and of its services, covering a range of operations from English language courses and the welfare of students to the working conditions of employees and the standard of the school’s publicity information. Maltalingua was awarded the highest points of excellence in eight of the 12 categories.
What Students Say
Although Maltalingua is a new kid on the block, its management team comprises ELT veterans who understand the stringent quality and standards required to attract language learners who are increasingly savvy online about checking out where to spend their Euros on educational courses. From the school’s video, we get a good idea of Maltalingua’s atmosphere; student feedback is invaluable in fleshing out the formal accreditation.
The Maltalingua Team backstage
“The key team has a wealth of experience and insight into the sector,” says Mark. “I am also the owner of Sprachdirekt, an international language school agency in Munich which represents over 40 international schools worldwide. Over the past 12 years, I have visited over 100 international schools which has given me invaluable insights into what I believe makes for a successful school.
“I wanted to set up a school in Malta, the place of my birth, which encompassed the very best of the schools my agency represents and to maintain the high standards our clients have come to expect. I believe Maltalingua’s unique refurbished 400-year-old historical building with roof-top pool, garden terrace, café and an all-inclusive and lively social programme goes a long way to encourage a positive atmosphere in which our international students can feel welcome,” says Mark.
Mark is supported by Michael Brewster, Director of Studies who has over 16 years’ experience working for schools in London, Japan, South Korea and now Malta.” Michael’s prior experience with EAQUALS’ accreditation for a prominent in central London was of immense value in guiding Maltalingua’s foundation and our ongoing development. His steady hand and leadership skills have developed an education programme of excellence and built up a team of highly-qualified and devoted teachers,” explains Mark.
The third member of the core management team is Susanne Schalch, Director of Operations who joined the project from Sprachdirekt in Germany. “Susanne has proved a very popular and invaluable member of the team and is responsible for the successful provision of all non-academic aspects of the school. In a nutshell, Susanne is glue that holds it all together,” Mark notes.
While there may be well over 40 English language schools on the Maltese Islands, it’s clear that the successful ones need strong, enlightened and experienced management like Maltalingua’s. The ELT industry is not one to get into lightly, and certainly not in the online age where the customer’s voice will most definitely be heard by all, EAQUALS’ assessors included.
Maltalingua – further info
Are you one of the lucky ones who chose Malta as his or her expat destination? If so, you may like to know about InterNations, an active, diverse community of expats who’ve settled in Malta for all sorts of reasons. It’s free to join and easy too!
InterNations is now the number one expat network worldwide, with over 1 million members in 390 cities all across the globe. Of these members, almost 3,000 have chosen Malta as their expat destination.
InterNations gives you the opportunity to:
- Connect with like-minded people in Malta in an online and offline environment
- Learn about expat life in your new country by browsing through the Malta Expat Guide on InterNations
- Attend top-class events and activities to meet fellow members in person
Alessandra Cresti, an Italian expat in Malta, explains how the community helped her: “Being an expat is not always easy, even in a small and friendly country like Malta. InterNations gave me a worthwhile chance to spend my time getting in touch with a lot of people, mostly expats but not only, suggesting and receiving tips and good advice to enjoy this period of my life and discovering this country better. InterNations gave me a deeper and wider meaning to be an expat.”
Exclusive events are organised on a monthly basis. Next Tuesday, 30 September 2014, more than 70 people will meet at QEII in Valletta to celebrate InterNations Malta’s 7th Birthday. Stay tuned to find out the theme for the upcoming event in October!
Are you a foodie, sporty, interested in culture or simply just social?
The Activity Group consuls in Malta organize regular activities to satisfy your interests and for you to meet great friends along the way! Below is a list of the three most popular activity groups in Malta, make sure to sign up to InterNations today to join these following activities! :
- DinnerNations Malta – Enjoy great food in the most beautiful parts of Malta.
The next get-together is planned on Friday, 3 October 2014 at a stunning location.
- Malta Social Nations – Get to know the Maltese culture by becoming part of this activity group.
Recent get-togethers included an exhibition of classic cars of the Valletta Grand Prix at Mdina’s main square and visiting ROCKESTRA; which is a rock concert by the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra. Keep your calendars open on Saturday, 11 October 2014. Live Bands and delicious food will be awaiting you!
- Sports & Social Club – A mixture of being active and exploring Malta’s culture.
On Sunday, 5 October 2014 InterNations is taking part in a charity walk in aid of Action for Breast Cancer.
To stay updated on all events and activities, register with InterNations today!
Born and bred in Malta, Alexia and Steve, the founders of Hen Club and Stag Club are planning to get married in 2015. While probably not organising their own hen and stag nights, as that will fall to their nominated seconds, the two are not newbies when it comes to knowing a thing or two about planning the ultimate bachelor or bachelorette party.
By profession, Alexia and Steve are lawyers in Malta, but setting up a travel agency together had always been a dream of theirs. Steve has been in the entertainment industry for the past five years organising some of the biggest parties in Malta (Sunglasses at Night) and thought it only natural to ask Alexia to head this new project on account of her passion for entertaining and organising.
We asked the enterprising duo to give us an insight into what makes a memorable (in the best possible sense) hen and stag party, and why Malta makes the ideal venue in which to hold one.
Hen & Stag Parties in Malta: the insiders’ view
Growing up and living in Malta definitely helps a great deal when planning unforgettable hen and stag parties. First-hand experience in organising parties, coupled with our knowing Malta like the back of our hand, means we can put our local, insider knowledge to work in devising itineraries as action packed, or as leisurely, as the brides and grooms to be and their friends desire. We’ve a long spec of exciting activities, top-notch dining venues, ‘in’ watering holes and party places on the island to choose from.
Our Hen Club and Stag Club websites make the organisation and planning of hen or stag parties in Malta easy. We’ve devised them as one-stop-shops to get the celebrations rolling. The reason behind our venture is simple… we know that planning a stag or hen party for one of your best friends can be a rather overwhelming experience and accommodating all of your mates may be a daunting and stressful mission. Organising and booking activities, dealing with any food and accommodation issues, and booking transport – even fixing the budget – can prove quite a task. This is where we come in, taking up the challenge so you can relax and enjoy your friend’s ‘party of a lifetime’ as much as they will.
In recent years, Malta has established itself as an entertainment hub in all respects but it truly excels in nightlife. With top DJs and clubbing brands flocking here, these tiny islands in the Mediterranean are giving some other top, party islands a run for their money.
While other well-known destinations like Ibiza are becoming more and more expensive, Malta remains an affordable place to enjoy a short holiday with your friends. If you’re here in the summer there is literally something going on every day from MTV’s massive, free, flagship event, Isle of MTV, to Malta’s very own clubbing brand Sunglasses at Night.
What to expect
When planning a short trip abroad for a stag or hen do it is easy to get distracted by the fact that you are travelling to a new destination and consequently forget to plan the trip to make it that extra bit special. It’s a cliche’, but who doesn’t think of strippers when there’s the mere mention of planning a stag party! But there are so many different activities that can be planned and which could make your trip so much more memorable. Zorbing and archery, for example, are just a few of the activities that can add novelty factor.
Our dedicated team of party organisers is there to ensure you have a smooth, problem-free stay. You can simply choose from the easy-to-book packages but if you’d like to add or tweak anything just let us know and we’re happy to accommodate your requests. No matter what kind of stag or hen do you’re looking for, we’ve got it covered. You may also opt to create a personalised stag or hen package by filling in the Booking Request Form and simply choosing a la carte style from the list of activities listed on our websites.
Planning your party in Malta couldn’t be easier; all you need to do is book your trip, sit back, relax and enjoy!
As many folk who tread the boards of Malta’s theatres know, it can be tough sustaining a two-, let alone a three-weekend run of a show. Rare indeed then for a totally home-grown production to not only return but also to have done so via the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and the London stage. Porn – a Maltese-made musical – is making its comeback this weekend (22-24 August). If you missed its previous runs, head to Valletta’s Pjazza Teatru Rjal (open-air theatre) to find out why it took you so long to see it.
First produced in Valletta in 2009, ‘Porn – the Musical’ is a locally written comedy that tells the story of the hapless Stefan Bugeja, a young Maltese man who goes off to America hoping to follow his dreams and start a new life. What he finds though isn’t entirely what he was expecting. It soon becomes clear that Stefan got far more than he bargained for as he unwittingly finds himself starring in a groundbreaking adult movie.
The show features such songs as ‘Everyone in Malta is Related’, ‘The Kind of Girl I Am’, ‘Naked on a Sunday’ and ‘I got a PhD’. Written by Malcolm Galea, Kris Spiteri and Boris Cezek, the show will star the original Edinburgh cast: Max Dingli, Sarah Naudi, Louis Cassar, Toni Attard, David Ellul, Eliza Borg Rizzo and Malcolm Galea.
Tickets: purchase from ticketline.com.mt
Following its original production, ‘Porn – the Musical’ went on to be performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2009 before transferring to London in 2010. The show garnered a great many positive reviews and in 2011 won the Off West-End Award for Best New Musical.
“A cult classic to rival such shows as Rocky Horror.”
“Take it in the spirit in which it’s intended and you’ll laugh your rocks off.”
Time Out London (Critics’ Choice)
“Thoroughly entertained its audience from foreplay to the final money shot.”
“Revels in its lack of depth and budget, sending up musical conventions, breaking the theatrical ‘fourth wall’ on occasion, and turning the crass dial up to 12.”
“A great musical, for a wider range of audience than you would think.”
“The fusion of seedy smut and puckish comedy is divinely inspired, and the show gleefully mocks every target available, including itself.” The Spectator
“This new musical … has all the right ingredients for a hit.”
When a hi-tech dental clinic sets up in one of Malta’s most prestigious new business locations, Skyparks, right outside ‘arrivals’ at Malta International Airport, it’s clearly a sign of the interesting times in one of the country’s sectors earmarked for growth – health services and bio-medical technologies.
Savina Dental & Implantology Clinics opened its door around a year ago at Skyparks realising a long-held ambition of Dr Joseph Xuereb, Savina’s Principal and founder dental surgeon. Having started out in Victoria, Gozo, where the first clinic still operates, Dr Xuereb was always driven by a desire to see his practice keep at the forefront of dental industry advances. Importantly, he wanted also to make a mark on how dental services are delivered in Malta, not only to local residents and expats, but also to the growing number of overseas patients.
The airport business park location and Savina’s professional team, which includes speakers of French, German, Arabic, Italian, are key to gaining overseas business. However, to compete internationally takes more than providing convenience for prospective clients. For a dental practice in Gozo to make the leap of faith took serious professional and financial commitment. We spoke to Dr Joseph Xuereb about his passion for his work, the aims of Savina at Skyparks, as well as his deep fondness for Malta, and especially his home island of Gozo.
Q. What attracted you to dentistry in the first place as a career?
I had always been inclined towards the caring professions, but to be quite frank, had never relished the prospect of pursuing a career in medicine. A word of encouragement from my father nudged me in the direction of dentistry.
Q. What has surprised you most about the dental industry over the years?
Right from my first involvement with dentistry, I was amazed at the rate of progress and new developments in the sector in the 1980′s. The introduction of new materials, techniques and equipment was happening at a steady rate back then, but is nothing short of frenetic now.
Q. And what avenues has dentistry opened up to you that you couldn’t have imagined in the early days?
To name a few, but perhaps among the most important fields dentistry is now unrecognizable in, dental implants, CAD/CAM and 3D dentistry and the myriad applications of lasers in dentistry must rank right up at the very top of innovation in our discipline,
Q. You are Gozitan born and bred and launched a successful career from Gozo managing to attract not just local but also overseas patients. What drew people to Savina as a clinic based on a tiny island?
It is difficult to reply to this without sounding like a trumpet-blower! I was always fascinated by the new developments in dentistry and was quick to implement them at Savina. In the late 80’s we introduced porcelain laminate veneers to the local scene, quite a revelation in those days.
Over the years, we introduced new ways to administer dental anaesthetics, became a mercury-free dental practice, pioneered gum surgery as an alternative to losing teeth and were among the first practices in the Malta to provide tooth whitening and dental implant treatment.
More recently, in 2009, Savina introduced stem cell banking from teeth to Malta, in 2010, installed the first-ever 3D Cone-beam CT scan for dental practices in Malta, in 2011 started implementing digital shade-taking for optimum aesthetic dentistry, in 2012 we were one of only three practices to adopt 3D digital impression taking for same-day porcelain crowns and bridges. In 2013 we invested in laser technology for use in periodontal (gum) and implant surgery as well as inaugurating our new practice at SkyParks Business Centre at Malta International Airport.
Q. Technology aside, what else do you think is important in giving patients, particularly overseas clients, the confidence to opt for Savina Clinics?
On a personal level, I think my post-graduate qualifications from the Royal College of Surgeons of England culminating in my Fellowship in 2004 must help in gaining patient confidence. In 2007, Savina Dental Clinic was accorded International Visiting Centre status by Zimmer Dental Implants in recognition of our record and commitment in the implant field. On a human level, our staff surely make an impact on patients with their professional and caring demeanour.
Q. Medical tourism is a term bandied about a lot. It’s clearly a business niche Malta has been exploiting. How new is the concept of dental tourism though? And why do you think Malta – Savina in particular – has a clear offer in this niche?
Way before the Internet and low-cost airlines made it easy for patients to seek dental treatment outside their immediate environment, Savina Clinic was treating the local expatriate community, who responded by encouraging their own friends and family not only to visit them but also recommending us as an alternative – this as early as the late 1980’s. This was a spur for us to keep expanding and investing in technology and training and this experience now serves us well in gauging patient demands and rising to their expectations.
Malta has the advantage of excellent connections with several key European cities as well as a reputation for being a centre of excellence across many disciplines. Our patient base has served us very well in that key aspect of advertising that is word of mouth – their personal and online recommendations are an important source of referral.
Q. Savina Clinic became ‘Clinics’ with the opening last year of a state-of-the-art practice at SkyParks, Malta International Airport’s business centre. Why there and why now?
In the short quest for a suitable location SkyParks entered the scene quite early, and from then on, it was no contest. Where else could be more central, with excellent parking facilities, in a state-of-the-art, iconic building, an address in one word, and above all absolutely perfect for our clients, both local and visiting? SavinaClinic is in a process of expansion and its business plan is entitled “Placing Malta at the Forefront of the European Dental Tourism Market” At a time when we are seeking to reach out to more of these visiting patients, for us, locating our clinic in SkyParks is being at the right place at the right time.
Q. What has Savina at Skyparks meant for your patients?
Designing the new clinic in an open space has given us the opportunity to produce an optimum functional and aesthetic result. The premises have a relaxing yet professional atmosphere, are equipped to provide any service relating to dentistry under on roof, both in terms of equipment as well as staff, with dentists specialising in all fields – surgery, restorative, periodontal and orthodontic – as well as highly-trained multilingual ancillary staff. As far as is possible, patients are treated by one dentist, who is their point of reference at all times but who can draw upon the experience of the entire team should the need arise. This is highly appreciated by patients as they feel secure and pampered and have the peace of mind and security of being treated in the most comprehensive manner under one roof
Q. We sense Savina Clinics is becoming a family business.
My daughter Alison, who graduated last year and joined the practice features prominently in our plans for the future. She will be pursuing her post-graduate education in the UK, but in the meantime forms part of a six-strong complement of dental surgeons and specialists who together run the Savina Clinics. In her own words: “This is what I have always wanted to do. I am sure dentistry will give me the same pleasure and satisfaction it has given my father and I look forward to the ever-present exciting new developments that make it so much easier to give our patients excellent all-round care”.
Q. Talk to us a little about ‘Dr Joseph Xuereb’ when he’s outside the Clinic?
There is never enough time, not enough hours in the day to do all the reading, walking, tennis, swimming, squash, following football and motor racing, eating, tasting exotic food and wine from around the world, travelling, relaxing and spending time with loved ones – but one must adapt and make the best of what time can be planned within the clockwork of the day’s limits. Music oils these wheels perfectly. Most importantly, one’s glass need always be half full!
Q. And finally, what are your favourite places and aspects of the Maltese Islands.
What a fantastic place Malta is to live in. So many magical locations, foremost among which is Gozo! Sailing in or out of Grand Harbour, ambling around Mdina at night, swimming in Comino’s Blue Lagoon, dining on Victoria’s Citadel at sunset, walking around the islands’ southern coastline must rank in my top ten list of all good things Maltese. All this and sampling our excellent produce and hospitality would surely round off any visitor’s checklist.
Savina Clinics – Further Information
Tel (+356) 2165 7323 / 7965 7323