11 Family friendly countryside walks

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:

North

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.

Central

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.

South

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).

GOZO

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.

I want to ride my bicycle! Safe cycling routes for kids in Malta

Dr. Marie Briguglio is an environmental economist, academic, mother and author of No Man’s Land.
Suzanne Maas is a PhD candidate in sustainable mobility and an environmental activist.
Both Marie and Suzanne are avid cycling commuters.

It’s another perfect-weather-sunny-day with zero chance of rain. Another day ideal for bicycling. Images of happy families cycling though rugged country lanes or empty scenic roads immediately come to mind. Only to be quashed by the harsh reality that there seem to be none in Malta. Fact 1: Malta has one the highest rates of cars per person in Europe.  Fact 2: The present infrastructure is heavily geared towards vehicles and cycling infrastructure is pretty terrible.  Fact 3: Maltese children are among the most obese and starved of open spaces in Europe.

Happily, we have found some time to present to you with a new fact! There are some places where you can actually cycle with children (for more than 10 minutes) and feel relatively safe.  Here are some of them.

The Pembroke Cycle Path (4 km both ways)

The Pembroke Natura 2000 area is a great place to start cycling! It has a network of paths that are safe and easy to use plus has the added bonus of finishing near Pembroke playground. It’s compatible with driving as it’s easy to park the car close by too, so it is also suitable for those not yet confident cycling on roads. The cycle path starts right behind the football ground and includes segments in cement, tarmac and even metal grid to allow the flora and fauna to continue to thrive, as well as rocky parts that can be a bit rougher terrain. You will cycle past the Reverse Osmosis Plant, through fields and garrigue, with sea views all the way up to Madliena Tower. There are several paths and tracks you can explore, for example going up to the Pembroke BMX track to admire or try out some tricks.

The Isla-Kalkara promenade (8km both ways)

Starting from near the Isla regatta club, on the road passing underneath the Gardjola, admire the wonderful views across the Grand Harbour towards Valletta. There’s a wide pavement on which little ones could cycle. Follow the promenade flanking Isla until you reach the buildings along Dock 1, cross the bridge over to Bormla and continue following the pavement along the waterfront. Cycle until reaching Fort St. Angelo and find your way to the other side of Birgu from the path underneath St. Angelo mansions. You have to dismount and take this short path on foot – cycling is not allowed. But on the other side you are rewarded with a wonderful view of restored Villa Bighi and the Esplora Science Centre. Follow the local road alongside the water until Kalkara. Keep an eye out for the local ducks at the slipway, where sometimes you even find horses bathing! In Kalkara follow the promenade and pavement until reaching the boatyard, or make the short climb up to Esplora, where there is a playground and a cafe to reward the whole family for reaching the finish.

The Marsaskala promenade (5 km both ways)

For younger children, the promenade along the bay of Marsaskala may be a suitable place to practice their skill. You can start all the way from Zonqor point and follow the pavement and promenade until Jerma palace, or for a shorter trip, start from the Marsaskala church. There are plenty of nice spots to stop along the way: the playground, several ice-cream shops, or the rocky coast and saltpans just before reaching Jerma. Along the coast there are also several places suitable for a swim.

Xgħajra to Smart City (and beyond, between 3 to 6 km both ways)

Starting from the far end of Xgħajra (where the coastal walking path towards Zonqor starts), enjoy the wide promenade along the coast. There are a few short climbs here, but nothing too strenuous. You can follow the pavement up to Smart City, where kids can cycle endless circles around the fountain. For older and more adventurous children, you can continue following the pavement along the road in Smart City towards Kalkara, and follow Triq Santu Rokku along the coast, past the Malta Film Studios and Fort Rinella until reaching Fort Ricasoli. Fort Rinella could make for a nice stop, or else explore the little chapel near the entrance of the film studios, along with some abandoned tunnels in the fortifications nearby. Following the road up until Rinella bay is also an option, but don’t forget that zooming down a hill means you will have to conquer that same hill on your way back up! However, you can always dismount and push your bicycle to overcome short steep climbs.

Triq id-Dahar, Mellieha (3 km both ways)

The road between the Red Tower, perched high on top of the Foresta 2000 nature reserve, and the Radar Station on the western edge of the Marfa peninsula offers an immensely scenic ride. The road is relatively flat and usually sees very few cars passing by, making it a perfect place to practice cycling, with a picture perfect view! This trip up north can easily be turned into a full day activity by having a stroll through Foresta and/or neighbouring Għadira nature reserves, or some seaside fun at the beach.


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