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Five unusual things you can do in Malta

Malta may be a small island but size can be deceiving. From an entire ‘village’ full of cats to a neolithic necropolis, there’s much more to Malta than meets the eye.

Five unusual things you can do in Malta
Diving at the site of the Azure Window. Photo: Visit Malta

Presenting five unusual things you shouldn’t miss in Malta.

Explore a prehistoric tomb

From mythological Atlantis to the lost city of El Dorado, hidden or lost places have always captured the imagination.

In Malta, you can explore an underground burial site that went undiscovered for thousands of years. The Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum is a neolithic necropolis nestled under the streets of Paola, also known as Raħal Ġdid. The large underground burial chamber is a UNESCO World Heritage site, one of seven on the island. Dug directly into the limestone, the prehistoric complex, which was in use for up to 1500 years, dates back to 4000 BC. Carved with Stone Age tools like flints and antlers, the subterranean chamber, complete with stellar acoustics if you feel like a chant, paints a fascinating picture of prehistoric life. Make sure to book in advance, numbers are limited with just 10 people admitted per hour.

Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum. Photo: Visit Malta

Cosy up with the cats

Malta is a country where you’ll find The Three Big Cs of Tourism: culture, cuisine…and cats.

Yes, in Sliema, a town on Malta’s northeast coast, is Cat Village, a park that’s home to many (well-fed and healthy) homeless cats. There’s also a giant multicoloured cat statue because what cat village would be complete without one? It’s an essential pitstop for all visiting ailurophiles (that’s ‘cat fans’, to you and me).

Test the waters

Malta went into mourning when its famous Azure Window, a 28-metre-tall rock arch, collapsed in 2017. But where one door closes (or one window collapses), another one opens.

The arch itself is no longer there but under the water a new tourist lure has emerged. Where the limestone formation once stood has become a popular diving spot that is quite literally swimming with marine life. With a depth-range of five to 52 metres, it’s suitable for divers of all levels who are keen to explore this underwater playground.

It’s a spectacular sight at the moment but won’t stay this way long. Soon, the sharp-edged chunks of white rock will be smoothed down by the ebb and flow of the Mediterranean and blanketed in plants — so there’s no time to waste if you want to catch it in its current condition.

Delve into the ‘Dark Cave’

Ghar Dalam. Photo: Visit Malta

Malta has more prehistoric sites than a caveman could shake a club at. The island’s oldest prehistoric site, of which the lowermost layers are over 500,000 years old, was discovered in the second half of the 19th Century. Għar Dalam (the ‘Dark Cave’) has gifted palaeontologists, archaeologists and ecologists with the bones of Ice Age animals, remains and artefacts from the first human settlers in Malta and many geological features including stalactites and stalagmites. There’s also an interesting little museum at the entrance where you can read about how the cave was formed and see some of the treasures its turned up.

Take a bite of Maltese history

Food is to culture what eyes are to the soul. It’s the window into a country’s history and the simplest way to understand local culture. There are plenty of restaurants where you can try modern Maltese fare, but if you really want to get a taste for the island’s past then try Heritage Malta’s new concept ‘Taste History’. Join professional historians, curators and chefs and sample traditional dishes revived from the 17th and 18th Centuries. From what would have been typical peasant snacks to a merchant’s decadent dinner, it’s a unique opportunity to discover Malta and its eclectic past through your tastebuds.

Photo: Taste History – Heritage Malta

Click here to start planning your trip to Malta

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by Visit Malta.

 

TRAVEL

Explore Austria: Mauer, a charming wine-hiking spot on Vienna’s outskirts

Catch the very tail-end of the wine season and autumn foliage in one of the lesser-explored corners of the Austrian capital: Mauer.

Explore Austria: Mauer, a charming wine-hiking spot on Vienna’s outskirts
Beautiful views and cosy taverns await you on the edge of Vienna. Photo: Catherine Edwards

Wine-hiking is an autumn must-do in Austria, and although the official Wine Hiking Day (Weinwandertag) that usually draws crowds has been cancelled two years in a row during the pandemic, it’s possible to follow the routes through beautiful scenery and wine taverns on your own.

Mauer in the southwest of Vienna is one of the routes that is mostly frequented by locals.


The footpath takes you through scenic vineyards. Photo: Catherine Edwards

You can reach this part of the 23rd district using Vienna’s public transport, and you have a few options. From the Hietzing station on the U4 line, you can take the tramline 60 or bus 56A. The former will take you either to Mauer’s central square or you can get off earlier at Franz-Asenbauer-Gasse to start the hike. If it’s too early in the day for wine just yet, you could start your day at the small and charming Designo cafe (Geßlgasse 6).

Otherwise, the residential area itself doesn’t have much to see, but keep an eye out as you wander between the taverns later — there are some beautiful buildings.

To start the hike, head west along Franz-Asenbauer Gasse, which will take you up into the vineyards, growing some red wine and Vienna’s specialty Gemischter Satz or ‘field blend’, which as the name suggests is a mixture of different types of grapes.

Photo: Catherine Edwards

The paved road takes a left turn, but the hiking route follows a smaller path further upwards. Here you’ll have magnificent views over the whole of Vienna.

If you stick to the official hiking route (see a map from Weinwandern here) you can keep the whole route under 5 kilometres. But more adventurous types don’t need to feel limited.

You can also follow the Stadtwanderweg 6 route (see a map here) either in full, which will add on a hefty 13 kilometres, or just in part, and venture further into the Mauerwald. If you do this, one spot to aim for is the Schießstätte, a former hunting lodge offering hearty Austrian meals.

EXPLORE AUSTRIA

In any case, you should definitely take a small detour to see the Wotrubakirche, an example of brutalist architecture from the mid-1970s built on a site that was used as a barracks during the Second World War.

Not far from the church is the Pappelteich, a small pond that is not only an important habitat for local flora and fauna, but a popular picnic spot for hikers. Its only water supply is from the rain, and due to climate change the pond has almost dried out in recent years, prompting the city to take action to boost its water supply by adding a permanent pipe.


The church is made up of over 150 concrete blocks. Photo: Catherine Edwards

What you really come to Mauer for, though, are the Heuriger or Viennese wine taverns. 

The most well-known is Edlmoser (Maurer Lange Gasse 123) which has previously been named as the best in Vienna. Note that it’s not open all year so check the website, but in 2021 it should be open between November 5th and 21st, and is also serving the goose that is a popular feature on Viennese menus this time of year.

Tip for translating Heuriger opening times: look for the word ausg’steckt, which is used by those taverns which aren’t open year round. They will also often show that they’re open by attaching a bunch of green twigs to the sign or front door.


Buschenschank Grausenburger. Photo: Catherine Edwards

Also worth visiting are cosy Buschenschank Grausenburger (Maurer Lange Gasse 101a), Heuriger Wiltschko (Wittgensteinstrasse 143 — located near the start of the hiking route, this is a good place to begin your tour) and Heuriger Fuchs-Steinklammer (Jesuitensteig 28).

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