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Published: March 19th 2018
They say Malta is doing pretty well. To be precise, our local guide told us that Malta’s unemployment is at Europe’s lowest – a meagre 4%. He was also quite eager to point out that Malta is “like Germany” in economic terms. While I have no empirical evidence for that, I can tell you that the archipelago is visually way more pleasing that good ol’ Deutschland and 20 degrees Celsius in March are also not bad for the European Union.
What is more, Malta is the third most crowded country in the world, after Hong Kong and Macau. What a lucky man I am, I have spent most of my last 5 years in the most densely populated places on planet earth. Most of Malta’s population concentrates around their southern island (which is called Malta in fact) and the area around Valletta and Sliema. Comino, the smallest of the 3 islands, I could only shortly glimpse upon from our fairy to the northernmost island of Gozo. Comino is permanently inhabited by 3(!!) people and the only thing I noticed is a fortified tower built by the knights of St. John.
Gozo itself is quite different from the main island.
St. John's knights' tower
Less populated, Gozo is greener and hillier than Malta and focuses on agri-tourism, events and small-scale cultural tourism. I got told that the island really wants to remain a niche, also considering that there is no airport and the only way to access it is through a 20-minute ferry from the north of Malta island. Although quite low-profile, the now collapsed “Azure Gate” (a rock formation in the Gozo sea which was destroyed about a year ago by a violent storm) and surrounding coastline, the stunning citadel city of Victoria and the lush, green hills of the Gozo countryside a truly a sight to behold.
All good in Malta it seems. Guess what, not all is good. Malta is struggling with suffocating traffic, as the crowded islands are clogged with cars and public transports are not keeping up with the demand from tourists and locals alike. The narrow, winding streets of the old, Mediterranean villages are also not made for car traffic as they were built long before we decided to roll around in 4-wheeled metal cans.
The resort town of Bugibba in the north of Malta, where I was based, is another indicator for the trouble that
the tourism-industry is facing. Gentrification has resulted in increasing house prices as tourists buy up the holiday houses on the coast line, while poorer residents moved inland to crammed apartment blocks. Speculation on increasing housing prices (yes, even the Chinese are investing now) has led to plenty of properties being kept in place for the value of the land they are built on – sometimes clumsily disguised, such as a hotel with obviously barricaded windows in Bugibba. Apparently, the government did think hat the abandoned house on the seafront looked bad, so they decided to just close the windows with bricks so one could not see inside. Whut?
Malta is also continuously shifting its image, or trying to do so – away from the sun, sea and sand image towards a more cultural destination. To be fair, Malta’s probably weakest attributes are its almost non-existing sand beaches, although the diving and snorkelling in the crystal-clear Mediterranean is supposed to be great. The traditional English tourist market still dominates, although increasing numbers of Italians, Germans and Polish are being added to the mix.
This has also led to a larger number of inbound flights, whereas Malta’s tiny airport is
now serving destinations from near and far on a daily basis. Again, this contributes to the traffic and crowding on the tiny archipelago. In addition, I should mention that I have only seen the mess in low season – and I am not envy of the local Maltese driving to work in the soaring hot summer months.
Enough with being the negative Nancy, let’s talk about the good things. Malta is truly stunning. Its small hill town forts such as Rabat, Mdina and Victora are among the most beautiful I have ever seen. A medley of Arabic, Italian, English and indigenous culture creates a spectacle which is truly a miracle to behold. Malta’s monolithic temples are the oldest in the world, predating the pyramids of Giza and Stonehenge by centuries. Probably Malta hast the mildest winters in Europe and suffers from much less seasonality than its neighbours. Also, the country is incredibly safe, street crime being almost totally inexistent.
Would I recommend you to come here? Absolutely, yes! Is Malta underrated? Hell yeah it is! And there is a good chance that, wherever you live, there will soon be a flight to the tiny airport on the main
island where prickly pears, rabbit stews, hill forts and clogged-up traffic streets are ready to welcome you.
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