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A swift glance at a map of Malta will be enough for you to see that the majority of the major settlements are on the northern side or towards the middle of the island. You’ll see very little in the way of serious towns on the southern edge … and there’s a good reason for that – cliffs!
Yes, the southern edge of the island is largely made up of sheer or inaccessible cliff faces, which also explains why there are so few beaches along there. You’d need to be some sort of Mexican high dive champion to go for a swim here and the climb back to your towel is a bitch!
Of all the cliffs on the southern reaches of Malta, the most sheer, scenic and well-known are the charmingly-named Dingli Cliffs. So if you want some panoramic coastal views and attractive scenic walking routes or somewhere picturesque to run or abseil, then this is the place for you.
It’s also a good place for nature lovers to come to discover and catalogue wild flowers, butterflies and even varieties of snails – well those that have not already been taken away for the tasty traditional Maltese dishes of aljoli or stuffat.
The cliffs get their cute name from Had Dingli – a nearby village where the phrase ‘time has stood still’ fits very well. A walkabout in the whole area to discover traditional ‘old skool’ Malta is a rewarding trip to tack on to a visit to Rabat, with its public gardens, early-Christian catacombs and Roman remains, or the old capital, Mdina, a stunning hill-top fortress that is also known as the Silent City. Both of these are only a short drive from Dingli.
Between Dingli and Rabat is the island’s largest wooded area, a haven for nature-lovers known as Buskett. This was once used as hunting grounds by the notorious Knights of Malta, who livened up their trips by releasing a selection of exotic animals to give them something more interesting to track down and shoot at.
Thankfully, you won’t be stumbling across any of fearsome beasts these days because they have long since disappeared. Instead this beautiful green spot specialises in peace and serenity as well as unexpected sights like natural springs, orange groves, castles - one of them with a resident ghost - and lodges owned by former grandmasters of Malta.
Back on the Dingli Cliffs, you can watch the farmers extracting shockingly healthy crops from impossibly baked, dry earth. Off the coast you’ll see the deserted isle of Filfla and its baby Filfoletta in the middle of the inky blue sea – both a mere five kilometres off the coast but seldom visited … and for very good reason.
Two good reasons in fact! Firstly, Filfla is surrounded by 60m tall cliffs, which must be scaled to get to the heart of the island – a crumbling limestone pavement plateau. And secondly, and more importantly, the most convincing reason not to go there is that until 1971 Filfla was used for target practice by the British Royal Air Force and Royal Navy. Suffice to say that live ammunition was used but not everything that hit the island exploded!
It’s been decreed a nature reserve since 1980 and you’ll need special prior permission from the Government to visit. Fishing is also prohibited within a mile of the island for fear that the boats and their nets might dredge up some unexploded surprises and it is reputed that sharks enjoy the peace and quiet of the boat-free surroundings.
It’s easy enough to get to Dingli Cliffs if you have a car and also on public transport but the latter will require you to do some walking to take in the magnificent lofty views. There’s a regular bus service and you can get more information by logging on the Arriva Malta website.
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