The town of Sliema, originally just a church and fishing village, has become one of the most sought after locations in Malta. There’s a definite Italian feel throughout the town, with shopping and cafes drawing visitors and locals year-round.
One of the most popular areas is known as ‘The Ferries’ or ‘Sliema Strand’ – it’s the busiest part of the town as most of the shops are here, with clothing outlets taking the top spots. Various international brands have chosen to make Sliema their base in Malta, and the crowds flock to see what’s new and enjoy a little retail therapy. For those not shopping there are plenty of cafes overlooking Marsamxett harbour, with the capital city Valletta just across the water.
The recently developed Tigne area of Sliema has taken the town’s retail character a step further, with Malta’s largest shopping centre at Tigne Point. Complete with luxury apartments and civic landscaping, Tigne’s fast becoming known as a high-end area of the town as developers angle for rich European visitors eager for their own slice of the island. Tigne, and neighbouring Qui-Si-Sana are also home to a few lidos and a diving centre – diving in Malta being rated amongst the best in the world. Whilst it’s a busy town, it’s never too busy for a crowded coastline come the hot summer months when visitors and locals cool off in the sea.
The area between Sliema Strand and the neighbouring town of Ballutta known either as Sliema Front, or Tower Road, is a long sea-front promenade which stretches all the way on to St Julians. The views over the sea are beautiful year round, with benches lining the walkway so you can just take it all in. This entire stretch of coast is a mixture of limestone and smooth sandstone and it’s all used for swimming and sunbathing from May to late September (and often longer). Part of understanding the Maltese character is understanding the two modes of life which come with the summer and winter. During the colder months, it’s an island of restaurants, car-rides and avoiding any trace of rain – it’s during the summer months when the whole island emerges as if from hibernation, and for six months of the year, people are rarely at home, with the beaches becoming a sort of communal living room. The split between winter and summer obviously happens everywhere, but it’s very pronounced here, with an almost entirely different lifestyle and character accompanying the seasons. It’s not like northern Europe where summer sunshine is intermittent and cloudy, colder days can appear. In Malta the sun gets hot in mid-April and it’s pretty much sunny and hot every day until September. It’s the consistency that allows such a cultural shift each summer – you’ll never even think to ‘bring a jumper in case it gets cold’.
There are lots of self catering apartments and hotels in Sliema, and the cafes and restaurants are well prepared for the influx of visitors the town sees each year. Boat and ferry trips around the Grand Harbour, to the neighbouring islands of Gozo and Comino, and to many other sightseeing destinations leave from Sliema Strand, hence it’s other name ‘The Ferries’. There’s also a small ferry that travels across Marsamxett Harbour directly to Valletta, the capital city of Malta, and it’s a cheap and lovely crossing, taking around seven minutes and well worth the cost at under two euros per person.
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