Malta is one of those countries where the traditional and the contemporary live side by side. There is definitely a more modern feel in the north compared to the south. The northern part of the island is more urban and populated while many southern parts have a distinctly rural feel to them. With the majority of the population living in the northern region, the quietness and rural tranquillity of the south can be really welcoming for those seeking peace and calm.
There are many locations in Malta already favoured by expats; you can find what suits you best, be it a lively colourful city, a marvellous beach destination, or a truly quiet and peaceful old little fishing village.
Valetta, also known as Il-Belt (the City) in Maltese, is the smallest capital in Europe. You can probably cross the whole city in less than half an hour. However, Valetta is incredibly charming.
It’s one of those cities that were expertly planned and designed from the very beginning. Every stone that went into the foundation of its walls, every building and every street was a part of a master plan, lovingly crafted by the Knights of St John in the 16th century.
Despite being a capital city Valetta is pretty quiet and tranquil. Interestingly, young people mostly prefer to live outside of Valetta, as the city is not “dynamic” enough for them.
The thing is, that although Valetta is a perfectly functioning city with all the amenities, it gets a bit quiet by night. There is no active nightlife to speak of – being a UNESCO World Heritage Site imposes certain obligations and restrictions after all. Which might be a great thing if you don’t love too much noise and buzz in the evenings.
However, the city still feels quite bohemian and is certainly culturally rich – it has been named European Capital of Culture for 2018.
Valetta is not the most popular choice for expats; the expat population in the capital, although growing, is still relatively small. But if you are into culture, history and arts – that’s where you go to find it all. Manoel Theatre, Royal Opera House, National Museum of Archeology, National Fine Arts Museum, etc., – all of these and other cultural sites are available in Valetta.
The Auberges, the former residences of the knights of St John, are probably the most visited buildings in Valletta. Many of them now house museums or government departments and have lovely traditional wooden balconies, a characteristic feature of Valletta architecture.
Although the capital, Valetta is not the most expensive location in terms of property. But the choice is good, from small modest one-bed apartments in one of the older apartment blocks, to opulent and luxurious converted palazzos.
The Harbour Area
If you’re after a more active social life, then look around the Harbour Area.
The Harbour Area is also known as Greater Valetta and is situated around the Grand Harbour, one of the most fabulous natural harbours in the world.
It is a very lively and cosmopolitan place to live, full of shops, bars and cafes. It is built-up, often congested with traffic, and busy all year round. Nightlife flourishes along the seafront.
Most sought after locations in the harbour are St Julian’s and Sliema and the three cities off the Grand Harbour: Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua.
The three cities are a truly wonderful neighbourhood: there you will find family homes side by side with historical buiildings and fortresses all flanked by an upscale yacht harbor. The area is full of old ship warehouses and fortifications that have been converted into modern housing with a historical touch.
One should keep in mind that the Grand Harbour and the areas around it are very much beloved by tourists and young people, so if you’re looking for a quieter place to retire abroad, it is worth looking elsewhere.
West of St. Julian’s, lying inland, is a little town of Swieqi. It is a quiet residential area just 15 minutes by bus from Sliema and within a walking distance of Paceville and St.Julian’s.
It’s a perfect location for those who prefer to live in a peaceful community, but within a short distance of a thriving town.
Due to its location and quiet character the area is very popular with local upper-middle class. It also has all the necessary amenities and facilities to make life there comfortable and convenient.
To the north of Swieqi lies a coastal town of Pembroke. It is conveniently close to Paceville, too, giving the residents of Pembroke the opportunity to enjoy the facilities of both neighbouring towns.
The coastline of Pembroke is relatively undeveloped and rocky and there are numerous paths for hiking available along the coast. There are also trails leading to the historical Madliena watchtower.
Pembroke used to be a British military base lined with a set of barracks and buildings constructed for officers. Most of these buildings are still in use, with many having been transformed into residences. To the south and east, a small residential area has sprung up, with large terraced houses and some more recent apartments dominating the scene.
Terraced houses, villas and maisonettes are the main property types found in this location.
Mellieha, St Paul’s Bay and Buġibba
Mellieha, St Paul’s Bay and Buġibba (pronounced ‘boojibber’), the towns in the north of the island, also attract a lot of expats.
Mellieha is very popular with British retirees and famous for its beaches and picturesque scenery which epitomises old-style Malta. The town neighbours Il-Majjistral Nature and History Park and has a ferry connection with the island of Gozo.
Buġibba is a busy and vibrant place, which offers a lot of night time entertainments, while Mellieha and St Paul’s Bay are quieter towns.
Properties in these towns are generally cheaper than in the Harbour area.
All three locations offer a good choice of various properties, both older houses and new developments, suited to various tastes and budgets with Buġibba and St Paul’s Bay being generally more affordable than Mellieha.
A little west and inland is a lovely little town of Madliena, which is situated at a high elevation and has fabulous views of the northern bays. Being in close proximity to both St Paul’s Bay and St. Julian’s means that Madliena residents can take advantage of the beaches of the former, and entertainment and shopping of the latter.
The town of Madliena owes its origin to the 15th century Chapel of St. Mary Magdalene. The Victoria Lines, Madliena Fort and The Batteria San Giovanni are considered to be local attractions.
Madliena is mainly a villa residential area where you will find detached villas, semi-detached villas as well as bungalows. Villas are quite an expensive type of property on the island due to the natural lack of land. It is possible though to buy a cheaper villa built in the seventies and then refurbish it.
There are also luxury apartment developments as well as maisonettes available in the area. Some of the views from these properties are stunning and go as far as St. Paul’s Bay.
Ta Xbiex is a posh end of Malta. It is a small town in the eastern part of Malta that overlooks a beautiful Marsamxetto harbour and is mostly known for its stunning marina, and the number of foreign embassies including those of Egypt, Italy, France and the British High Commission. And embassies, as you can imagine, do tend to occupy some very special locations.
The town is a very sought-after place to live, popular with both locals and expats, and one of the most expensive places in terms of property in Malta.
As a result of its upmarket status, Ta Xbiex boasts an exquisite villa area with some unique villas worth millions of euros, and is beloved by yacht owners because of its modern marina. So if you are into yachting, this is definitely the right location for you to call home in retirement.
Msida and Ta Xbiex Marina is certainly the star of the town. This absolutely stunning place, sheltered in the heart of Msida Creek, creates a postcard-perfect scene that inspires leisure, peace and relaxation. What can be more pleasant than taking a slow relaxed stroll along the Marina in the evening, having a pint in one of the bars followed by a superb dinner in one of the many harbour restaurants.
For those who cannot imagine their life without sailing, Ta Xbiex is a paradise on earth. The Middle Sea Race – the major sailing regatta – takes place in Ta Xbiex each September. The route goes around the island of Sicily and back to Ta’ Xbiex. There is also an opportunity to join the Royal Malta Club, located right on the water at the Ta’ Xbiex Marina. The club is a member of the Malta Sailing Federation that unites fans of yachting and organises a full programme of racing and social activities throughout the year.
Marsascala (or Marsaskala)
Northeast of Valetta along the northern coastline is a little seaside town of Marsascala, set around a gorgeous inlet called Marsascala Creek. Originally Marsascala was an ancient fishing village.
Today the town stretches on both sides of the bay.
Marsascala’s bay has an amazing promenade continuing all the way to St Thomas Bay with views of low shelving rocks, colourful fishing boats and saltpans. The local expat community uses the promenade as their favourite meeting place.
In summer, the village is buzzing with life and the population rises, for not only tourists but also many Maltese families come to spend summer months in this gorgeous little town.
Marsascala has a range of modern leisure facilities, banks, restaurants, small shops/supermarkets, bars and restaurants. The newly opened family park (free to the general public) is great for all ages.
Further down the coast is the pretty fishing village of Marsaxlokk, where some of the best seafood restaurants on the island can be found.
Marsaxlokk is famous for its big Sunday fish market and its many decorative “eyed” painted boats called Luzzus.
If you want to find a fine beach destination away from tourists and holiday makers Marsaxlokk is the right choice. Tourists don’t usually flock there because of the shipyards and a power station. Malta’s main power station is located there and Oiltanking Malta Ltd. also operates from Marsaxlokk.
Marsaxlokk has a small sandy beach on the east side. There is also the amazing St. Peter’s Pool located at Delimara within a 20-minute walk. The pool is framed with smooth, weathered limestone ledges, which make good sunbathing spots.
The waters of St. Paul’s bay are perfect for diving, snorkelling and cliff jumping.
Siggiewi and Qrendi
Both Siggiewi and Qrendi are quiet southern villages, full of rural Maltese charm and character.
Siggiewi is a little village just 10 km away from Valetta. It is a lovely place with a unique L-shaped church square, typical narrow village streets and lots of character with locals mingling in the many bars around the square.
One of its many attractions is the Inquisitor’s Summer Palace, which today serves as the Maltese Prime Minister’s official residence. The Limestone Heritage Park and Gardens are also one of the main attractions of Siggiewi. Just outside the city lies the famous Malta Falconry Centre.
Another famous spot, Ghar Lapsi, a little rocky inlet below a stretch of Dingli Cliffs, is a popular beauty spot, used by divers and rock climbers. It is also a natural swimming pool attracting numerous snorkelling enthusiasts, divers and tourists. This natural cove offers extraordinary blue-green waters safe for a sheltered swim.
Qrendi is a small southern village famous for two well-known Neolithic temples, a number of lovely traditional Maltese houses “with character”, a few old towers in and around the village and numerous chapels.
The village, although small, is popular with new settlers, and there are modern suburb developments being built offering a choice of properties to potential buyers.
Both places have a small mostly British expat community.
Gozo is the small island just north of Malta, easily accessible via regular ferries.
It is full of charm and natural beauty, with baroque churches and old stone farmhouses dotting the countryside.
The island features rugged landscapes and spectacular coastlines with some of the Mediterranean’s best dive sites.
Gozo offers clean air and a traditional rustic way of life. Popular areas of Gozo include Marsalforn, Xlendi and the historic capital Victoria.
Gozo is very quiet and life there has a slow rural feel to it. Gozo is rather popular with retired people; it has all the amenities one would normally need for everyday life. The road network on Gozo has recently been improved to a high standard and there are regular ferries to Malta.
However, it can feel a bit isolated there and unless you are looking for that kind of lifestyle, Gozo might not your perfect place to retire. It is brilliant, however, for weekend trips and long walks. Nothing helps you better to regain your inner peace and calm than a couple of days in Gozo
Exploring Malta can be a wonderful experience. However, finding a place to live demands a more serious approach – from trying out different locations to finding out about the local infrastructure and amenities, to researching the local property market and talking to other expats living in the area to get their opinion.
So if you are looking for a sunny climate, beautiful beaches, a somewhat exotic touch and an exciting mix of cultures, – Malta can be a great country to retire to, you just need to find out the exact location that ticks all your boxes.