Written by Juan Dingli
By mid-February I am already craving Malta’s summer. That smell of sea salt, the warm Mediterranean sun, long days out and about and the lovely sandy beaches Malta has to offer. All of this instantly reminds me of no other village than Mgarr (mM-jar) located on the upper west coast of Malta. Why you might ask? Mgarr is home to some of my favorite beaches around Malta and Gozo, namely Ghajn Tuffieha (aayn – Tuff-feee-ha) and Gnejna (j-nay-na). Both beaches are located very close to each other and are only separated by a plateau on a tiny peninsula. This image is surely synonymous with a holiday advert, tantalizing prospective tourists with an unforgettable holiday. Thankfully, Mgarr and its beaches always deliver. Saying this, Mgarr is also exceptionally beautiful during the colder months and spring. Flowers blooming, endless vistas of green fields and fragrances of nature are all commonplace during spring.
Though all of this sounds nice, Mgarr actually has much more to offer. In this week’s edition of Island Explorer I’ll be sharing with you, readers what makes Mgarr such a great destination, be it a day at the beach, a panoramic hike or even Sunday lunch at one of Mgarr’s well-known traditional restaurants. The area of Mgarr itself has to be one of Malta’s bigger areas, coming in at a whopping 16.1km2, even bigger than the whole area of St Paul’s Bay and yet smaller than Rabat. The village is home to about 3,900 or so residents. Just like Qrendi from last week’s Island Explorer article, the majority of the land in Mgarr is purely agricultural. I estimated that only ten percent of Mgarr is actually built up which is mainly in the center of the area itself. Adding to this, Mgarr is also split into various zones that you might have already heard of before. Bingemma (Bin-jem-mah), Zebbiegh (zeb-beeh), Fomm ir-Rih, Dwejra (Dwey-Ra) and Fawwara (Faww-wa-ra), are all amazing places to admire nature at its best.
Cultural visits to Mgarr are always more interesting if initiated from the village square, next to the familiar looking parish church. Spending ten minutes in this lovely square will give you a good idea of what you can expect to see all over Mgarr. Farmers and their tractors or utility vehicles are always a common sight here. What you might also notice is the fact that the air in Mgarr feels quite a bit fresher than in other towns due to the geographical location of this town, altitude and distance from congested spots. Conveniently located close to the village square are various restaurants and coffee shops, a primary school, a children’s playground and various grocers. I always enjoy having a tea at the old bar in front of the church whilst seeing the sun set after a long day of hiking. Most residents share the same sentiment as many can be seen congregating in the village square to catch up after a day’s work. Moments like these highlight the community feeling that is slowly fading away from the town centers around Malta. Interestingly enough, Mgarr seems to have another village square located in an area close by called Zebbiegh. This area is the modern part of the Mgarr as can be observed from the architecture, especially that of the church. People from all over Malta usually use this other village square as a meeting point before heading down to the beach. Classic cars and other interesting vehicles can often be seen parked here next to each other on Sunday mornings. Certain car club communities often make use of this square as the starting point or even a pit-stop mid tour.
The actual church of Mgarr, back in the main village square, itself has a lot of history behind it. This particular parish church apart from looking like a scaled down version of Mosta’s Rotunda features a unique oval shaped dome. Funding was made possible thanks to a community effort to raise the sum required for the construction of the church in the early 20th century. It is said that more than 300,000 eggs were sold apart from live poultry in the effort. All of this also instilled a high sense of appreciation for the parish church since it was something that all the village had worked hard for. An interesting myth surrounding the style of dome implies that the dome itself was constructed in a way that it would look like an egg. If this is true, it surely symbolizes the whole story of the large scale egg sale to fund the construction of the church. The church as we know it was completed in the year 1946 and has ever since been dedicated to the Assumption of our Lady. As not to clash with the other nine feasts dedicated to St. Mary on the 15th of August, the feast of Mgarr is celebrated on the first Sunday after the 15th. This year, the feast will be celebrated on the 19th of August.
The first Sunday of April, sees Mgarr hosting one of Malta’s best fruit festival, the Mgarr Strawberry Festival. It is quite known that Mgarr is the ideal place to cultivate strawberries and in fact, most strawberries sold around Malta come from Mgarr. Visited by hundreds, if not thousands, on the actual day of the festival, this event is all about strawberries. You’d be surprised by the amount of creative desserts that can be made using this delicious fruit which is also grown locally. There is definitely something for everyone in this event. Keeping with the topic of food, Mgarr is also well-known for the excellent half-a-dozen family run restaurants serving delicious and traditional Maltese dishes. The most common item on the menu is surely Malta’s national dish, stewed rabbit. Apart from this, one can expect to find cooked snails as starters and main courses featuring horse meat and even quail meat. Even though all of this might sound strange and controversial to most outsiders, I recommend trying the above dishes at least once in your life. You cannot dislike something before trying it and certainly not these traditional dishes.
When it comes to historical and archeological sites, Mgarr is not lacking. Remains of ancient civilizations always indicates that the area was ideal for settlements. This is quite true in the case of Mgarr as the land is quite fertile and even quite elevated from sea level. Apart from the various defensive towers located around the coast of Mgarr, the most interesting historical attractions have to be the two megalithic sites. These sites are known as the Ta’ Hagrat (Haj- raat) temples and the Ta’ Skorba temples. Unfortunately these prehistoric sites are not given as much recognition as they deserve despite being both listed as UNESCO sites. Various excavation works revealed that both sites date back to 3600 B.C., quite a long time ago. Both sites are now managed by a local heritage organization and can be visited only by appointment. These temples can still be seen from the distance from behind the fence.
One would definitely need more than one day to fully explore Mgarr but this article attempts to capture the general element of this village of strawberries, traditional Maltese dishes and amazing beaches. Be it summer, autumn, winter or spring, Mgarr is always worth a visit. Make sure you add Mgarr to your list if you have not visited yet, it will definitely be worth your time. If you have already been to this lovely village, feel free to share any feedback or personal experiences in the comments section below.