At one time, Sliema, the largest city in Malta, had many very affordable guest houses. This was before the «discovery» of Malta as a tourist destination. Unfortunately, guest houses have disappeared; the tourism department does not think they contribute to a positive image of the island. I do. They are not only considerably less expensive than most hotels, they are much more fun.
We stumbled on to the Soleado Guest House on Ghar-id-Dud Street on our first trip to the island in 1994. The whole trip was something of an accident because we parlayed a two-hundred-dollar round-trip fare to London with one to Malta for a similar price. We didn’t have much time to make sleeping accommodations and we reserved through the internet at a hotel in Qowra, at the northeastern end of the island. It was nice, but too remote, and really not our kind of place. Read: too expensive.
We found another hotel on The Strand in Sliema and made a one-night reservation. That evening we went out to see the town and wandered into the Snuggy Pub (yes, that was the name) that was part of the Soleado Guest House. It was loud and friendly and everyone seemed to be having a great time. The walls were lined with photos of the bartender/hotel manager, Joey Bugeja, with guests. While we were sitting with our beers, a matronly, white-haired English lady came to our table and asked if we wanted some tea. She would make it for us. Who could resist?
She disappeared and returned from the hotel kitchen with a tray with a teapot and three cups and sat down with us. We found she was from York and a guest at the hotel. She introduced us to a Scottish couple. All three of them suggested we stay there.
The next night we moved in. We were grateful for our good health because the balky elevator chose that night to groan a bit, then quit. Joey had a full house so we got «a room with path» to the community bathroom. He promised us a better room for the next night. The first night’s lodging was a minimalist’s dream: a bed, a tiny nightstand, a few drawers and a wooden wardrobe. But the bed was comfortable and we were pleased with our choice. True to his word, the next night we had a room with a private bath. We stayed there for the rest of the trip.
The next day we had breakfast with the other guests. Along with our three new friends we met people from Great Britain, Australia, Germany, and France. They filled us in on their favorite places to see. Many had made yearly pilgrimages to stay at the guest house, visit the island, and renew acquaintances with Joey. We invited Dora, our British friend, to accompany us on a day of sightseeing, and she turned out to be a delightful companion; we exchanged Christmas cards for several years. Would that have happened in a four-star? I had my first experience with Maltese bread. Fantastic. (I later learned that the original starter for San Francisco sourdough bread came from Malta.)
I have stayed at the Soleado on my eight trips since. The guest house became the setting for my novel, The Cellini Masterpiece. Its name changed to the Bellestrado and Joey became Josefina, but if you read it, you’ll find the bar and meet some guests a bit like the real-life ones. I would recommend the Soleado to anyone who plans to visit the island and prefers adventure to luxury.
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