Juniper Francalanza is a teacher and a mother of four who loves to read, cook and travel
Bringing our children out into nature has always been important to my family and I. Ever since our children were very young, we would carry them in a back pack or front carrier for a walk to get some time in the fresh air and peacefulness of the countryside. This weekly ritual has been something we both conscientiously chose to try and pass on to our children, the love and respect for nature and wilderness.
We started these weekend walks from when we were new parents living abroad, walking along beach fronts or rivers banks back when our children were only toddlers. One of my favourite parts was the feeling of calm contentedness when coming home after a good few hours out together, coming in to cook, sit down to a mid-day meal and nap. We carried on this weekend tradition when we moved nine years ago to Malta where my husband hails from. At that time with three young children, a three year old, two year old and our six month old baby. Having our youngest in a carrier made the walks much simpler as we did not have to worry about taking a pushchair with us and could manage any terrain. For we found that much of the scenic parts of the island were located off the paved road.
We try to keep it simple, taking only a back pack, some sandwiches, fruit, a bottle of water and maybe a picnic blanket, frisbee or deck of cards depending on our length of time. If we are really short of time but envision a stop along the walk, we stop by a grocer and get some fresh bread, cheese and sliced meats from the counter. The children have come to occasionally pack their own bags which can mean a book, a ball, coloured pencils or a camera. Myself and husband have been known to bring the weekend newspaper paper or a magazine with. Leaving household chores and work stress behind is good for all of us.
Walks in Malta which are good for younger children are:
1. Selmun Palace – Walk along a winding road starting from the back side of the Salmun Palace, this is very family friendly for young children and grandparents as the road is not very steep and offers pretty views. There are not many places to stop for a picnic however, apart from the very start or the end near the coast.
2. Mistra Bay – Starting just upwards from the bay there is a small building, park near this. Walk upwards and over the rocky area and the path winds down into a green valley, you can then continue upwards. This is pretty especially in spring with wildflowers blooming, there are many good areas for a picnic and the views are nice. If with young children take the path not along the coast to the right but slightly more directly up and over.
3. Żebbuġ – A walk along the valley past a picturesque chapel, starting point is a right turning off of the road leading to Siggiewi , park and walk under the road following the paved path to the left, this path leads along farms and then along a small gorge. It is relatively flat and good for all ages.
4. Victoria Lines and the Punic tombs walk – It is also not very steep and ends with a picturesque bridge and small chapel overlooking the gorge and the remains of Punic tombs/caves below. Good for children of all ages, and pregnant women.
5. Mtahleb – Mtahleb hike past Rabat offers beautiful views but is a bit steep, not always ideal for pregnant women or 2-3 year olds.
6. Majjistral – A recent favorite but more challenging walk, good with children aged 7 and up, Majjistral hike starting from just beyond the Golden Bay parking area.
7. Pwales – Two or three hike options exist in Pwales. The main two starting points are directly along the road behind the Xemxija fruit stall.
The main (straight) ahead one offers a pretty meandering path leading alongside farmers’ fields along tiny chapels and past a small cave and then cuts down near a tiny stream and then up through a small forest of low trees. There is a small stretch which is next to a road, this is after the stream before the forest when walking uphill. This path is good for picnics in early spring. If one takes a sharp right after parking and goes very steeply up the hill, there are paths through more pine type trees and offers some pretty views but this steeper walk is not good for young children.
8. Gnejna bays – Starting from the beach, cutting up behind the small boat houses on the left one finds a small paved path which zig zags somewhat steeply up the hillside and around the bend, this hike is a bit strenuous but offers beautiful views.
9. St Thomas Bay – A walk starting from St Thomas Bay following the coast from the furthest beach area, (this may be a little challenging for young children as part of it follows along the sometimes steep cliffs).
10. Għarb – There is a hike starting from Għarb which winds down through a valley and along the coast, past sandstone blown away areas and with pretty views of the cliffs in the distance but takes 3 hours or so.
11. Light house walk – A pleasant short hike with views is the hike starting from just beyond Ta Pinu up towards the light house. This is a bit steep so not idea for 2- 4 year olds. But offers beautiful views of the island.
Now days we have four children, our oldest three are starting the teenage phase and our youngest is a rambunctious six year. Because we tend to go for walks on a Saturday or a Sunday morning we do not find crowds on the roads. This can be quite handy when you have teens who are embarrassed to be seen having a picnic with their parents. Over the years our forays into the Maltese and Gozitan countryside have been a main stay and one of the aspects of keeping a healthy (mental and physical) lifestyle that we stand by. Somehow this unstructured time to wander and explore is something they are all used to and breaks us away from the after school activities, screen and homework intensive days of the week. This touch of quiet greenery brings balance and togetherness as a family. Sometimes it is a three or four hour hike with a picnic in tow, sometimes just an hour walk through a quiet valley and the chance to let those tucked away thoughts and worries have some airing.