Island Explorer Vol. 15

St. Julians

Written by Juan Dingli

After last week’s Mosta expedition, I’ve decided to take you to a busier and more modern part of Malta. If you had to ask any random tourist or foreigner about a place they’ve visited whilst in Malta, most would definitely reply with St Julian’s. A definite feast for the senses and synonymous for its nightlife, this town continues to attract thousands of tourists year after year. San Ġiljan (Sann Jill-Yann) as the town is known locally is spread out on a mere 1.6km2 stretch of land located to the North of Valletta and flanked by Sliema and Pembroke. The shoreline makes up for a big part of St Julian’s spanning from Balluta close to Sliema till a bit beyond St George’s Bay. Despite the town’s small size, more than 10,500 people can call St Julian’s home, a good chunk of which are foreigners and expats. St St. Julian’s seems to be currently undergoing a major overhaul as buildings being demolished to be replaced by high-rises and luxury apartments is quite commonplace. This town isn’t for everyone but it seems that St Julian’s charm is desirable enough to become home for many, I can definitely see why. St Julian’s is quite the colourful little seaside village. One can still see traces of the old way of life interlaced with the fabric of a fast paced society. You just have to sit down for a coffee, look around and let the atmosphere blend in to one harmonious backdrop.

What most would notice is that the houses in St Julian’s are quite diverse and just like any other town or village, St Julian’s is also divided into various zones and each part has its own redeeming factor. You’ll also find that each zone has its own specific architecture and house style. Some areas feature high and imposing residential blocks with multiple storeys of flatlets whilst the older parts of St Julian’s feature typical Maltese townhouses complete with the traditional Maltese balcony. You might also chance upon a few villas and typical, suburban houses with little front gardens. The most well-known zones in St Julian’s are the Spinola (spin-ow-la) area, Ta’ Ġiorni (Ta Jorr-nii), the luxurious Portomaso area and last but not least, Paceville (pa-ʈʃe-vill). Going back in time as we always do in Island Explorer, St Julian’s was originally a quaint seaside fishing village, incomparable to the St Julian’s of today. Up to the 19th century, the most prominent building here was the historic Spinola Palace which was built around 1688. This town was only home to a couple of fishermen and farmers that had fields in the still existing valleys of St Julian’s. Throughout the years, the seaside continued to be favoured by locals as a summer residence and by time St Julian’s became the sprawling urban jungle we know today. In reality though, it was only in the last couple of fifty years that St Julian’s really saw a boom in construction and development. Today St Julian’s outer facade is a fast paced cultural melting pot full of flashy lights, restaurants, casinos and hotels. The inner core of St Julian’s has remained quite laid back but is not immune to the construction boom.

Earlier on I had mentioned what a typical tourist’s reply would be when asked which town they would have visited while in Malta. Ask them what they did in St Julian’s and four out of five times they’ll tell you that they’ve been to Paceville. A big percentage of young tourists only come to Malta to stay in this area believe it or not. It’s a shame that they limit themselves to a small quarter of the island but I guess these people would be just looking for nightlife and entertainment. Paceville is the hub of nightlife, chock-full of bars, discos, nightclubs and all types of entertainment one might wish for. It’s really the district that never sleeps. I tend to avoid the area altogether since I consider myself more inclined towards quiet evenings and relaxed atmospheres but I find myself going back to Paceville every so often. Fortunately St Julian’s has much more to offer than nightclubs and discos. There are multiple other things to do whilst in St Julian’s so that’s why I chose to focus solely on Paceville in a future article. The promenade is quite the highlight in itself and walking along the promenade never gets old. Why not book a romantic boat tour of the various inlets around the St Julian’s area? This activity can easily be followed by dinner at one the various restaurants that line the seafront.

St Julian’s is quite the dynamic little town, I find that it really changes as the sun goes down and the lights are turned on. During the day you can enjoy a pleasant walk around the promenade, stopping once in a while for a spot of sunbathing and a well-deserved ice-cream. If it happens to be spring or summer, you’ll surely be tempted to jump into the sea for a quick dip. I recommend swimming at St George’s Bay, Balluta Bay or the outskirts of Spinola Bay. Once the sun has set and the lights have all come on, St Julian’s takes a whole new shape. The streets become filled with people of all ages sharing the promenade for a stroll. All of the lights reflecting into the sea make for quite an interesting atmosphere and would also evoke an air of romanticism. Imagine a calm summer’s eve walking next to the Love monument on your way to one of the various restaurants along the coast. Some restaurants even have tables set up just metres away from the sea. You’re always spoilt for choice here since one can find a good variety of cuisines including fresh fish that would have been caught the same day. Who knows, you might be seated next to the actual fishing boat that your tuna steak was caught from.

Another fun activity is to walk around the artificial harbour that is Portomaso, beneath the shadow of Malta’s current highest and only skyscraper. I said current because there are plans to build many more skyscrapers, some even double the size of the Portomaso tower. What was once a stretch of rough garigue has now been excavated and transformed into a super luxurious port complete with hundreds of high end apartments and a massive hotel. Some of these apartments belong to famous celebrities and stars from around the world. The port itself makes for a quite a nice atmosphere surrounded by fancy yachts. Most come here in the evening after dinner for a quiet walk away from the hustle and bustle. My favourite spot in St Julian’s though has to be the garden of Balluta. Since my mother was from the area, we used to spend most summer evening’s here. I can still recall ordering food from the kiosk followed by a game of tag with the other children of the area. This garden featured quite prominently in my childhood and so I make it a point to visit this area once in a while. Thankfully this area remained unchanged.

St Julian’s is also home to various chapels and celebrates two feasts throughout the year. The main churches are the architecturally interesting church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel next to Balluta and the church of St Julian located close by to Spinola Bay. The feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is celebrated on the last Sunday of July, this year being the 29th of July and the feast of St. Julian is celebrated on the last Sunday of August, specifically the 26th of August this year. The St Julian’s feast also features the Ġostra (jos-tra) which is an old traditional competition to see who can run up a greasy pole and take the flags. This event is quite a comical one as it takes a while for the competitors to get close, resulting them in falling into the sea every time. Whilst the statue of St Julian’s is being taken out of the church, hunters fire blank shots into the air as a way of showing respect to St Julian who himself was also a hunter. Both feasts are quite anticipated and the fireworks displays are quite spectacular. The seaside setting here makes for an interesting backdrop for the Catholic feasts.   

There is much more to see and do around St Julian’s. Why not walk from Balluta to Spinola next Sunday and stop for lunch at one of the restaurants close to the shore? Head over to the Love monument and add another padlock to the collection of hundreds of padlocks that have been placed here to symbolize everlasting love.

I’m sure you’ll find St Julian’s to be a charming place and ideal for all of the family. Till next time fellow island explorers.