Island Explorer Vol. 7

Bugibba and Qawra

Written by Juan Dingli


Synonymous with British expats and extensive pub crawls, both Bugibba and Qawra have a lot to offer for everyone. What most don’t know is that these two seaside towns are actually part of St Paul’s Bay, one big town divided into various zones. Spanning an area of 14.5km2, St Paul’s Bay is made up of Bugibba, Qawra, Wardija, Burmarrad, Xemxija and other smaller zones. Since no one really knows where the roughly 1.7km2 zone of Bugibba starts and where Qawra ends, I decided to combine both of these zones in one article. I will be talking about St Paul’s Bay and its other zones later on in future articles. So what makes Bugibba and Qawra two of the most sought after places up north? Why are hundreds of expats relocating to these two highly touristic zones? Is it the close proximity to all amenities and the never-ending rocky shoreline? Take my hand, let me show you what Bugibba and Qawra really are.

As always, we’ll be going back in time to find out how these zones came to be. The first recorded settlement was from the temple period, we’re speaking of about five thousand years ago. These ancient settlers had settled in the area and had even built a temple which can still be seen today in the present site of the Dolmen Hotel, Bugibba. Traces of Roman presence were also found in the St Paul’s bay area. More noticeable historical remains are the various towers that dot the entire promenade. These watchtowers were built during the time of the Knights of St John as a means of seashore defense against the enemy forces. Another use for these towers was as a way of communicating from Gozo to Valletta. Since the towers were all in sight of their neighboring tower, smoke and fire were used to alert the closest tower of imminent attacks and relay other important messages. Quite an ingenious idea, reminds me of the smoke signals of the Native Americans. During the 20th century, these towers were also used by the British as a form of defense against the attacking foes. After the war, the area of St Paul’s bay started becoming really popular with the Maltese as a summer residence, away from the inland villages. By time, locals started even settling in permanently and a sudden construction boom was underway. Hotels, apartments, townhouses, villas, beach houses and abodes of all shapes and sizes started popping up which resulted in the zones of Qawra and Bugibba in the St Paul’s Bay we know today.

Officially St Paul’s bay has a population of over 21,000 residents. Bugibba and Qawra contribute highly to this amount. If you had to speak to any random expat in the street, chances are that they reside in Bugibba or Qawra. Many expats have relocated to these two zones throughout the years and many more are yet to come. Here one can find a true melting pot of different cultures, cuisines and nationalities. Apart from the thousands of Maltese that live in these two zones, one can find hundreds of retired British expats, communities of Eastern Europeans, Africans and Arabs. These highly diverse communities live symbiotically with one another. Evidence of this is the high number of ethnic and specialized shops and restaurants such as the Bulgarian and African grocery shops and the numerous Eastern European restaurants. Maltese and Mediterranean restaurants are also commonplace in this area.

Spending a day running around Bugibba and Qawra can be enjoyed all throughout the year. The winter months are slightly calmer but the streets are never empty. My favorite thing to do in Bugibba and Qawra is to walk along the promenade, stopping occasionally for a coffee or a quick peak inside the dozens of souvenir shops that line the main street. High end fashion outlets are also common here. Dining out is never a problem as one is easily spoilt for choice here. A quick kebab or a lavish dinner is always a corner away. Definitely a great place for a seafood meal. Once night time settles in, the countless bars, pubs and discotheques come to life and open their doors to a night of pub crawls and revelry. Many of these bars have different themes going on. Expect to see many British and Irish pubs amongst the Maltese ones. Here’s a bonus tip, some of these bars even serve free mouthwatering appetizers to their patrons. Make sure you book a table though as these places are really sought after. I’ll leave it up to you to discover which these bars are. Also, if you’re a football fan, you will surely not be disappointed as live screenings of the most highly anticipated football matches can be viewed on big screens. How convenient.

Located next to the Fra Ben coastal tower of Qawra, one can access a tiny island by foot if the water levels are adequate. An interesting feature of this little rocky island is an open sea cave located in the middle. Here, one can jump in and swim out to the side of the island and back into the open sea. You’d have to climb back up on the island though but this all makes for good fun. What baffles people the most are the strange circular markings that can be found on this island. These are only visible by air or using satellite images. No, it wasn’t the aliens that made these markings but the British during their stay in Malta. This island was used for aerial target practice back in the day. Do not worry as this island is quite safe now.

Whilst in Bugibba, make sure you visit the landmark square located next to the promenade. Here the main streets of Bugibba converge into this large open space, surrounded by the tall palm trees that have become synonymous with this square. This has to be the main attraction of Bugibba and the place to be. Children are often seen playing in this square while their parents rest on one the benches. Close by, one can find a little shop specifying only in chocolate that is made on the premises in their kitchen/factory. The promenade itself is also home to a lot of activity, day and night. Restaurants, cocktail lounges and other places of interest can be found next to each other here. An interesting place to visit is the “Bocci” ground. Here one can see the traditional game of “Bocci” being played by the skilled locals. Very similar to lawn bowling, “Bocci” is a traditional pastime for the Maltese that has been enjoyed for many years. Also spanning the entire length of the promenade are small monuments that represent the planets in our solar system. See if you can find them all. Quite an interesting feature which is both educational and fun.

Bugibba and Qawra are also ideal for family outings with kids. In summer the promenade is transformed into an amusement park with many bumping cars, trampolines and other various rides being set up for the enjoyment of all. A recent instalment is the water park which opens only in summer, a great way to cool down in the hot seasons. Boat rides and scuba sessions can be easily booked from the promenade in case you’re feeling quite adventurous. Lidos are also usually packed offering great packages that include use of pool and a meal as well, do book in advance. During the colder days of the year, one can even watch a movie at the cinema in Bugibba, showing the latest, popular movies.

Both Bugibba and Qawra have so much more to offer. The classic car museum, glitzy seaside clubs, the Malta National Aquarium, the annual carnival show and even a casino. I invite you to spend a day exploring these lovely zones located in St Paul’s Bay. If you have been to these two places, kindly leave a comment below. If not, visit these places and report back to me with your experience, you will not regret it.