Tag Archives: Walk

Viñales, Cuba

When we were planning our trip to Cuba, we’d decided to skip the green valleys of Cuba’s primary tobacco growing region as we’re non-smokers, we’d see two other national parks in the east and we’d read other travellers’ reports that the weather is unpredictable.

However, once we arrived in Cuba, everyone we met, and I do mean everyone, said that we simply had to fit it in because it’s so beautiful.

We did, and they were right!

Finding ourselves firmly on the typical tourist trail, we were able to try Cubanacan who are the other state-run coach company, which transfers from a lot of the swanky central hotels in Havana and is a lot more convenient (and cheaper) than getting a taxi to the Viazul bus station. The coach trip was pleasant and uneventful, until the final descent into the Valle de Viñales and we caught our first glimpse of the unique mogote strewn landscape..

View of the Viñales countryside from the bus

Our first glimpse of the unique Viñales landscape, lush fields strewn with limestone karsts called ‘mogotes’

From what we could make out, the little town of Viñales exists almost entirely for the service of tourists. The main street is lined with cafes and restaurants, a handful of shops, a bank, and a money exchange, while the rest of the town is comprised of casa particulars – we varied our route through the town’s back streets and it seemed like every house had a room for rent!

View of the church and town square in Viñales

The pretty little church in Viñales

Once we’d settled ourselves into our casa and had a spot of lunch, we picked a direction and went exploring. The main street isn’t very long and we soon found ourselves down a dirt track between the deep red fields dotted with tobacco drying sheds.

A typical trail through the countryside of Viñales - deep red earth and pointed roofs of tobacco leaf drying sheds

We could see from the hoof prints that we’d found one of the popular horse trails. These steep-roofed huts are tobacco drying sheds, the leaves are hung inside like kippers!

Horseback riding is a very popular activity in Viñales, and while we can see the appeal of letting the horse do the work so you can appreciate the scenery, we favoured the cycling option and arranged to hire a couple of bikes through our casa.

Julie and I with mountain bikes in Viñales

Just about to set off with a vague plan in our heads. Delightfully, my rental mountain bike was a ‘Flying Pigeon’!

No sooner had we set off than I attempted to change gears and the chain snapped! While a friendly gentleman helped me look for the missing link in the road, Julie made her way back to our casa to get in touch with the lad who’d rented us the bikes, who just happened to ride past, came over and simply swapped the disabled ‘Flying Pigeon’ for a double suspension ‘Mongoose’. I thanked them both, met up with Julie and we set off again..

Viñales national park entrance, a road heads off into the distance between two large limestone karsts

Just north of the town is the striking official entrance to the Parque Nacional Viñales

Not having intended to visit Viñales, we hadn’t done a lot of research about the area and the bike rental was simply that – here’s a bike, see you later! – no maps, hints, or suggestions! We used a combination of the Lonely Planet and the offline maps of Cuba on my phone to plan out a rough loop that took us past the Cueva del Indio, through a town called the Republica del Chile and the recommended Valle el Silencio.

Viñales countryside

The lush valleys of Viñales – as well as tobacco, the Cubans grow coffee, sugarcane, oranges, bananas, pineapples and avocados here

Julie cycling in the Valle de Viñales

Cycling was a fantastic way to explore this amazing countryside

Viñales is a lovely place to cycle. It’s pretty flat, the scenery is varied and interesting, there are plenty of trails and when we were on the roads there wasn’t much traffic. Outside of the town there are a few places to stop for refreshments and lunch dotted here and there, though the further we travelled they were fewer and farther between. The second half of our route took us out into the wilds and it had gone 3pm by the time we found somewhere for lunch. We’d consumed all of our snacks and 4 bottles of water cycling through the heat of the day, and we hadn’t realised how ready for a break we were!

A glass of sugarcane juice in the Valle el Silencio

A well earned glass of sugarcane juice at our rest-stop in the Valle el Silencio

The eco-farm we found in the Valle el Silencio is very much on the independent tour guide itinerary as it’s well set up for small groups of tourists. We shared a main meal between us which was plenty, and included in the price was a tour of the adjacent organic farm which we were a little reluctant to do at first as we feared it’d be a hard sell. Our bottoms weren’t quite ready to get back onto the bikes so we relented to the tour and it turned out to be really interesting.

Collage of produce growing at tiny organic farm. Green coffee beans, a beehive and cocoa pods

Just some of the organic produce this tiny farm grows. Clockwise from the top: coffee; a beehive for pollination of their fruit trees and honey, of course; a cocoa tree

Our young guide explained that what they grow and harvest here is primarily used in the restaurant and to feed the family. They grow a little bit of everything, I lost count of the different types of fruit but something we hadn’t seen in our travels thus far was cocoa growing on the tree.

The tour also included one of the farmers demonstrating how cigars are made in the countryside and as we’d seen them made by hand in the Partagas factory in Havana, it was fun to spot the differences in their technique and unlike in Partagas he was happy for us to take pictures..

Cigar rolling demonstration

Before the final wrapper leaf is applied, the cigar would be tightly rolled in a scrap of paper for 2 days, a step that he skipped for the purposes of demonstration. And of course they’re for sale, any quantity you like for 3CUCs (£2.10) each

Apart from a short and deeply rutted part of track immediately after our late lunch stop, the remaining trail was easy going and we slowly descended through the Valle el Silencio back to Viñales. We tracked our ride on Strava and logged just over 20 miles!

For our final full day in Viñales we hiked in the other direction from our bicycle ride, notionally in the direction of a large, outdoor painting on the side of a mogote that depicts evolution and is totally panned in TripAdvisor reviews. How bad could it be? Could it be so bad that it’s actually good?

Mural de la Prehistoria, Viñales

Fortunately there’s no entrance fee to stand in wonder at this almost undecipherable eyesore as it’s unmissable from the road

Moving somewhat swiftly on, the farm tracks circled round the defaced mogote and made for a fairly long but gentle walk through peaceful farmland. No noisy polluting engines, just the rustle of the gentle breeze through the fields.

Viñales countryside

Caballo, dinero, por favor

The track eventually met up with the main but not too busy road back into Viñales, and before we knew it we were back. Thank you to those that convinced us to change our plans – we’re really pleased we went – it was a peaceful, un-hassly, nature filled and relaxing change after our time in Havana.

Tour de France

When we were in Mongolia we made friends with two French couples. Thomas and Jess were on our tour to the Gobi desert, and their friends Max and Armelle met up with them afterwards and then were in Beijing at the same time as us. As often happens when you get on well with someone on the road, details and invitations to “come and stay if you’re passing our town” were swapped. After our stay with Heidi and Olivier in Switzerland, the south of France seemed a logical direction to proceed and so we invited ourselves for a visit…

Aix-en-Provence

Max and Armelle live near Aix-en-Provence (that’s pronounced ‘eks’ like X), a pretty town in south-eastern France. We had the Friday afternoon to explore the historic centre before meeting them for dinner. The food was excellent and we were amused by the amount of discussion with the restaurant manager over the choice of wine (much longer than was taken over the food!). Max assured us that it wasn’t usually so long but I think we’ve got them rumbled…

Aix-en-ProvenceAix-en-Provence (clockwise from top left): Cathedral of the Holy Saviour; this fountain on Cours Mirabeau is fed by a hot spring hence the thick covering of moss; the historic centre is full of elaborate doorways; lavender is a popular product of the Provence area

The following morning we set out on a clifftop hike around some of the calanques on the coast south of Aix near Marseille. These steep sided inlets into the limestone rock are a unique feature of the Mediterranean coast. The path was pretty steep at times but the views were beautiful and it was nice once again to be out in the sun and fresh air.

Yachts in Calanque de Port MiouYachts docked in Calanque de Port-Miou near Cassis

Beside Calanque d'En VauMax, Armelle, Andrew and I on the pebbly beach beside Calanque d’En Vau

Next day the weather wasn’t so good so we had a relaxed morning, a leisurely Sunday lunch and a short walk before going to the cinema to watch ‘Citizenfour’, the documentary about Edward Snowden and his path to making the revelations about government surveillance. Even knowing the story we found some of it was very shocking and it’s definitely worth a watch if you get the opportunity.

Sunday lunchSunday lunch – “helping” Armelle make lemon meringue pie while Max roasts sea bream

Carcassonne

Next stop was the small medieval town of Carcassonne. Being big fans of the board game we had to check out the real place. We thought that we’d taken just about every possible mode of transport during our two years on the road, but getting to Carcassonne added to the list. The train links from Aix-en-Provence are not very direct and Max recommended that we look into car sharing where you pay for a seat in the car of someone already doing the journey. It turned out to not only be faster but also much cheaper.

Carcassonne La CitéLa Cité, Carcassonne

The old walled fortress known as La Cité appears to be almost completely medieval, but what we see today is largely due to heavy restoration works carried out in the 19th century. We enjoyed wandering the quaint streets, spotting details like wall plaques and nosing around in the heavily tourist oriented shops. Across the River Aude lies the less old but still historic Bastide area which was a walled town in its own right formed in the 13th century.

Chateau ComtalChateau Comtal is the castle within the fortress city

Carcassonne cathedralCarcassonne’s gothic former cathedral in La Cité, Basilica St-Nazaire, is small but filled with stained glass and decorated on the exterior by ugly gargoyles

Because the town is so small it was easy to get out into the countryside and put some miles under our boots. We did a very long round trip walk to the Lac de la Cavayere, past still sleeping vineyards but with the lanes lined with blossom, spring was definitely in the air. The lake is artificial and obviously heavily used for water sports in the summer but we saw practically no one else and found it a peaceful place to stroll around.

Vineyard near CarcassonneLooking across a vineyard towards La Cité

Toulouse

From Carcassonne it is a short hop to Toulouse. Known as the ‘Pink City’ because of the distinctive colour of its many brick built buildings, it is also the home of our friends Thomas and Jess.

Toulouse - the Pink CityThe ‘Pink City’ (clockwise from top left): Basilica of Saint Sernin; even the half-timbered buildings are pink; the magnificent Capitole is home to the town’s government; Place Saint-Étienne

After a first evening spent catching up and sampling Aligot, a kind of extra cheesy mashed potato that can be pulled into very long strings when it’s hot, and yes it is just as tasty as the description sounds, we headed into the city for a walk around its sights. We began on the top floor of the Galeries Lafayette department store for a bird’s eye view of where we would be walking…

Beside the River Garonne in ToulouseWith Jess and Thom beside the River Garonne, with La Grave Hospital in the background

We weaved through the picturesque streets passing both of the city’s UNESCO World Heritage sights, the Basilica of Saint Sernin where we also caught part of the organist’s practice, and the Canal du Midi which runs from Toulouse to the Mediterranean Sea. By the time it started to rain in the late afternoon we’d covered a lot of ground and were ready to collapse into the corner of a well chosen bar to watch the England vs France Six Nations game. Thom is a big rugby fan (and player) whereas we didn’t even know who the favourite was, nevertheless it was a very exciting game with lots of tries, though we kept getting distracted by the highly amusing drunk man on the next table who kept asking us questions and promptly forgetting the answers!

Church of the JacobinsReflections inside the Church of the Jacobins. A mirror is installed around one of the pillars to make looking at the ceiling easier

Our timing was impeccable not just for the rugby but also because the Toulouse Exhibition Hall was hosting a Salon Vins et Terroirs, a big wine fair. We rented a glass for a euro and then went around the different stalls tasting the wines. Ostensibly it’s so you can decide whether to buy or not but no one takes your credit card details so we had a merry old time guided by Thom whose wine knowledge is far superior to ours. As an added benefit, a quarter of the hall was taken up with artisan food producers so we bought some meat and cheese plates to make a picnic of it. Heaven!

Salon des VinsCheese, meats and samples of red wine at the Salon Vins et Terroirs

Dijon

Paris is the most logical northwards step from Toulouse but we’ve already been there and, much as we love the city, we fancied something different. There is a slow but direct train north-east to Dijon and we read that it was an interesting place so we bought tickets. When Max heard our plans he was really pleased as Dijon is his hometown and when he found out we hadn’t yet arranged accommodation he promptly rang his parents to see if they could host us. Serge and Edwige not only graciously agreed to allow two almost strangers to stay in their spare room but also fed us extremely well and gave us lots of information on what to see in the town.

Dijon Museum of Fine ArtsOur highlights of the Museum of Fine Arts were the Tombs of the Dukes of Burgundy and the room dedicated to the Burgundian sculptor Pompon

Dijon’s Museum of Fine Arts is one of the oldest museums in France but has been recently refurbished and it shows. The exhibits are well placed, the information boards are useful and it’s an all round pleasurable experience for a half day visit. The first few rooms are themed around the Dukes of Burgundy who lived in the palace which now houses the museum, after that there’s a bit of everything with a highlight for us being the animal sculptures by François Pompon, a Burgundy born sculptor who lived a century ago despite the modern look of his works.

Dijon market buildingDijon’s market building on the afternoon before market day

We’d fortuitously planned our visit over one of the market days (held on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday) and you know how much we like markets. The market building, called Les Halles, was designed by local boy Gustave Eiffel (he of the famous tower) and a few years ago was slated for demolition by the local council until a massive outcry from residents earned it a restoration instead. We’re very glad as it was a fascinating place to walk through, full of fresh vegetables, meat and fish, cheeses, cooked meats and baked items. We picked up a baguette and some of the local specialty jambon persillé (ham terrine in a parsley jelly) for our lunch.

Dijon marketFresh goods for sale inside Les Halles

After the market we picked up the ‘Owl’s Trail’, an enjoyable walking route linking the town’s most significant sights. It’s named after an owl carved into the external wall of the Notre Dame church.

Owl trailThe ‘Owl’s Trail’ – a pavement marker and the statue that the trail is named after, it’s good luck if you touch it with your left hand and make a wish

Mustard ProductionIt wouldn’t be a visit to Dijon without mustard. The Edmond Fallot shop had a production machine set up as well as tasters of traditional Dijon mustard and all kinds of strange flavours, from pain d’epices (a bit like gingerbread) to cassis (blackcurrant liqueur)

It felt like a bit of a whistlestop tour but we both really enjoyed exploring some of France away from the capital city. From Dijon, we’re ready to move on to our fourth country this month!

Andrew’s Switzerland Highlights

We’d always had the idea to travel overland through Europe in the back of our minds so we could visit friends, making a nice, slow end to our two year trip. Our first stop was a few days with long-time friends Heidi and Olivier in Bern, Switzerland. There’s a bit of overlap with Julie’s highlights, but here’s the list of my favourite moments..

Old Bern and the Bears

After meeting Heidi and Olivier for coffee, cake and lunch when we first arrived in Switzerland, we had a few hours to ourselves in the afternoon to explore the UNESCO listed old town of Bern.

Bern old town, Switzerland

The main street that runs the length of Bern’s beautiful old town is full of things to see: clock towers and fountains separate the traffic, lined with old buildings

We loved aimlessly wandering through the cobbled back streets of the old town in the cool, crisp snow-filtered mountain air. We popped our heads in the cathedral whose spire dominates the skyline, and we also found the Rathaus or town hall.

The Bern Minster, Bern Switzerland

Bern Minster’s mighty tower reaches high above the old town, here viewed from the River Aare

Heidi was very keen that we visit the bears, and we weren’t quite sure we’d heard her correctly.. bears? did she mean the grizzly kind? in Bern? really?

Bern Bears, Switzerland

Yes, there are grizzly bears in Bern! A very excited woman explained that this was the first day of the year that all 3 bears had come out together after their winter hibernation. Just like Julie after a long sleep, they were a little bit grumpy!

Sledging in Grindelwald

It made Julie’s list and had to make mine too because it was so much fun! Sure, pulling a heavy wooden sledge uphill for 3 hours was tiring (and I nearly gave up after a particularly steep bit near the top), but the gruelling climb made the descent all the sweeter..

Sledging in Grindlewald, Switzerland

The 3 hour uphill hike was pretty tough, but just look at the views!

Julie sledging, Switzerland

I think we’ve found Julie’s winter sport!

I was surprised how little control I had – I remember trying to stop pretty soon after we set off as it’s the first thing you do when learning to ski or snowboard, and I couldn’t! It was easier to turn than to slow down or stop, perhaps that’s why it’s so much fun!

Gruyères and the H.R. Giger Museum

Sometime before we started this trip I’d read an article about the Swiss artist H.R. Giger whom I’m pretty sure you may not have heard of either, but whose vivid surrealist dreams were the inspiration for all of the alien elements of Ridley Scott’s 1979 science-fiction horror masterpiece Alien, which I’m pretty sure you have heard of.

HR Giger Museum, Gruyeres, Switzerland

The entrance to the museum is just inside the walls of Gruyères castle and while there is a sign and some artwork outside, if you didn’t know what it was you might miss it! (Photo credit: Limping Cyclist)

Giger worked on the sets for the movie Alien, and was part of the team that won an Academy Award for Best Achievement in Visual Effects. I’d read quite a bit about his work and the museum so I knew what to expect, and it didn’t disappoint.

Entrance foyer, H.R. Giger musuem, Gruyeres, Switzerland

The entrance foyer of the H.R. Giger musuem. Understandably we weren’t allowed to take photographs. (Photo credit: Josie Borisow)

Giger was a prolific artist, and most of his work explores the same biomechanical otherworldly evolution – the organic forms resemble a distorted or contorted humanity often augmented or shackled by machinery. Always dark, usually foreboding and sometimes sexually explicit. Olivier remarked that Giger might have had problems with women which was an astute observation given Giger’s early life.

We all liked the museum, but I think it’s fair to say that I enjoyed it the most. I remember the first time I saw Ridley Scott’s Alien, and even knowing there’s an alien in it (because of the title), the suspense, special effects, and feeling of being hunted by something so much more adept still frightens me when I think of it.

One question that isn’t answered by the museum is this – why is it in the grounds of the idyllic Gruyères Château St. Germain? Because Giger bought it in 1998!

Cheese

Yes, it made Julie’s list but it was a highlight for me too! Olivier was especially happy that we’d asked to share both fondue and raclette with them, though he suggested not on the same day..

Raclette, Bern, Switzerland

The modern apparatus for raclette where everyone gets their own “coupelle” or small pan to grill the cheese with. You know it’s done when you can easily pour the cheese over boiled potatoes and pickles. Delicious!

It’s a wonder to me how the Swiss retain their athletic figures, but then I quickly remember that the country is perfect for winter sports and summer hiking..

Hiking from Wattenwil to Thun

Speaking of which, on our last day with them, Olivier took us south for a hike through the rolling hills of Wattenwil to Lake Thun.

Hiking in Wattenwill, Switzerland

Spectacular views of the Alps, and not too far from where we were sledging just a couple of days before

Hiking in Wanderweg, Switzerland

Swiss Alpacas

We even made some new friends with these curious alpacas!

It was an overcast day but that didn’t spoil the views or our enjoyment.

Geneva Motor Show 2015

The main reason for stopping in Geneva for a day or so was to visit CERN as we’re both fascinated by science and discovery, but as soon as we arrived in Bern I saw posters for the 85th International Motor Show. A quick check of the entrance fees and I found the tickets are half-price for the last 4 hours of the day, which is probably Julie’s limit of looking at cars!

85th International Motor Show, Geneva, Switzerland

The lower halls of the 85th International Geneva Motor Show 2015

Koenigsegg Regera, Geneva Motor Show 2015, Switzerland

The first car we saw was the brand new Koenigsegg Regera and was Julie’s favourite. I hadn’t heard of Koenigsegg until the 2014 movie Need for Speed where the Agera R is the central supercar and this is their latest model – it’s so new that this is the first one they’ve made and it’s only about 85% complete!

Porsche 911 Turbo S, Geneva Motor Show 2015, Switzerland

Nothing new from my favourite marque Porsche at this year’s show, but plenty of Porsches throughout the floor demonstrating body kits and performance upgrades. This is my dream car – the 911 Turbo S (991)

Edag Light Cocoon concept, Geneva Motor Show 2015, Switzerland

We really liked the concepts on display, like this Edag Light Cocoon, which has lights inside and a waterproof fabric stretched over it. I wonder if it’s hand wash or dry clean only?

BMW and Jaguar staff dancing, Geneva Motor Show 2015, Switzerland

At the end of the show some of the larger stands turned it up to 11 and put on a little dance show! BMW at the top and Jaguar at the bottom

I visited the London Motor Show with my dad and my brother a few years ago so I knew largely what to expect, but I think the variation and the concept cars surprised Julie and in the end she enjoyed it as much as I did.

We had a fun-filled, jam-packed, cheese-fuelled week in Switzerland. Thanks again to our good friends Heidi and Olivier – we can’t wait to see you both again :o)

Appian Way, Rome

You’ve heard the phrase “All roads lead to Rome” and indeed in the days of the Roman Empire the notoriously straight Roman roads all led to (or fanned out from depending on your perspective) the Miliarium Aureum, or golden milestone, in the centre of the city, and all distances in the Empire were measured relative to that point. One of these Roman roads, the Appian Way, is relatively well preserved as the area around it has been declared a national park. We decided to explore it one sunny Sunday.

Porta San Sebastiano, RomePorta San Sebastiano in Rome’s ancient city walls is now home to the Museum of the Walls

We started at the point where the Appian Way crosses the Aurelian walls, the Porta San Sebastiano, which has now been turned into a small museum telling the history of Rome’s city walls. The Aurelian walls were the second set of encircling walls to be built around Rome, they were constructed in the 3rd century AD to protect the expanding city and extended for 19km (12 miles). We’ve seen quite a lot of sections in various places around the modern city so it was interesting to find out how they were used for defence and how the gates changed over time, for example, to accommodate new war machinery.

First milestone on the Appian WayJust beyond Porta San Sebastiano is milestone one of the Appian Way

Construction of the first part of the Appian Way began in 312BC and eventually its course ran as far as Brindisi in south-eastern Italy, the heel of the boot. Its name comes from the man who ordered its construction, Appius Claudius Caecus, a Roman censor and its initial purpose was to enable fast supply to the Roman army in a war with the Samnites in south-central Italy – an aim which was successful as the Romans won the war.

Appian WayThe first stretch of the Appian Way outside the Aurelian walls

We’d chosen to visit on a Sunday as we’d read that all but local traffic was banned on that day. If that’s the case, we’re glad we weren’t there on a normal day as a steady stream of cars seemed to be flying past, rattling noisily over the paved lane. The first monument that we had hoped to visit was the Church of San Sebastiano but, as we arrived, mass was just beginning and we didn’t really want to join in so we sat in the nearby car park to eat our lunch.

A little further along we came to the Maxentius complex. A large area containing the ruins of three buildings built by Emperor Maxentius; his palace, a large mausoleum which was built for his son and the remains of a circus or chariot racing track.

Ruins of Circus of MaxentiusThe remains of the Circus of Maxentius, our imaginations were really fired up to find out that the ruins here were the starting gates for the racing chariots

Circus of MaxentiusWe walked a full circuit of the chariot track as far as the arch at the end and around the dividing central wall, but I think chariots would have got stuck as the ground was pretty boggy

We learnt in Pompeii that Roman law dictated tombs should be outside the city walls and there are plenty of remnants beside the Appian Way. One of the most complete is the Tomb of Cecilia Metella. It’s a huge cylindrical building dating to the first century BC and looks more like a castle than a grave. Actually the battlements were added in the 14th century when a fortified building was built behind the tomb.

Tomb of Cecilia MetellaTomb of Cecilia Metella

Beyond the Tomb of Cecilia Metella is the first section of original road which Wikipedia describes:

The Romans built a high-quality road, with layers of cemented stone over a layer of small stones, cambered, drainage ditches on either side, low retaining walls on sunken portions, and dirt pathways for sidewalks. The Via Appia is believed to have been the first Roman road to feature the use of lime cement. The materials were volcanic rock. The surface was said to have been so smooth that you could not distinguish the joints.

Nowadays the cement has eroded out of the joints leaving a very uneven surface to walk on.

Appian WayOriginal section of the Via Appia near the Tomb of Cecilia Metella

We glimpsed lots of big houses lining the road, mostly behind high walls, and if cars are anything to go by, property prices in this area are high. In the extremely unlikely event that I was the owner of a classic Ferrari I don’t think I would choose a cobbled road for my Sunday drive…

1982 Ferrari 208 TurboAn immaculate 1982 Ferrari 208 Turbo parked beside the Appian Way

After this section the traffic got much lighter and it really felt like we were walking in the countryside, passing goats eating without pause and listening to birdsong. There were far more sections of the original surface here too. We continued for another couple of kilometres before retracing our steps but the final section was definitely the most pleasant to stroll.

Appian WayA much quieter section of the Appian Way

This was how I had thought the whole walk would be, a feeling of peace and quiet surrounded by fields and scattered archaeological remains.

Countryside walks in Malta

After thoroughly strolling our way through Istanbul, we decided to continue this form of sightseeing experience and we were delighted to find the Malta Tourism Authority provide leaflets for varying length walks that cover most of the island. We picked up copies from the Tourist Information offices in the airport and Valletta, but they’re also available online, and in at least 3 languages: English, French and German.

Of the 7 routes, we did 5 of them over the course of our months stay on Malta..

Dingli, Fawwara, Wied iż-Żurrieq Walk

Map: Dingli, Fawwara, Wied iż-Żurrieq Walk
Distance: 11.2km / 7miles
Difficulty: (moderate – long but mostly downhill)
What we liked: Great scenery of the Dingli cliffs, includes the mysterious ‘Cart Ruts’ of Malta and Gozo, goes past the temples of Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra, and it’s downhill
Dingli - Fawwara - Wied iż-Żurrieq walk map, Malta

Dingli – Fawwara – Wied iż-Żurrieq map. Source: Malta Tourism Authority

Looking south over the cultivated fields of Fawwara, from a Bronze Age village site that juts out almost to the sea

Looking south over the cliffs near Fawwara

Inside the first chamber of the South Temple of the Mnajdra temple complex

Inside the first chamber of the South Temple of the Mnajdra temple complex

This was the first walk we did on Malta, and gives a great taste of the megalithic history of the islands as it includes the mysterious ‘Cart Ruts‘ near the start, and ends near the megalithic temples of Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra. We liked that it was largely downhill, and there’s a good variety of sights too. One thing though – bring a packed lunch with you as the route is fairly remote, though there are cafes and restaurants at the end in Wied iż-Żurrieq.

Watchtowers Walk

Map: Watchtowers Walk
Distance: 14.45km / 9miles
Difficulty: (hard – long with some uphill sections)
What we liked: Good variety of sights – watchtowers, beaches, holiday bays, local bird traps and the odd church, and having a beer and a packet of crisps on the Għadira beach at the end!
Watchtowers Walk map, Malta

Watchtowers Walk map. Source: Malta Tourism Authority

The aptly named Paradise Bay is on the route - don't forget your swimming costume!

The aptly named Paradise Bay is on the route – don’t forget your swimming costume!

St Agatha's Tower - otherwise known as the Red Tower, dominates the northern peninsula of Malta and is the final stop of the walk

St Agatha’s Tower – otherwise known as the Red Tower, dominates the northern peninsula of Malta and is the final stop of the walk

This walk circumnavigates the very northern outcrop of Malta, and it took us over an hour to get there by bus from Valletta where we were greeted by an uphill hike! As we were off-season a lot of the little holiday bays and lovely secluded beaches were very quiet though I suspect it’d be very different in the summer. Still, this walk includes a nice variety of sights and the highlight of the Red Tower is saved for the end.

Windmills Walk

Map: Windmills Walk
Distance: 8.8km / 5.5miles
Difficulty: (easy)
What we liked: Spotting the windmills, reading the information boards at the Tal-Ġibjun Garden viewpoint about ⅓rd of the way around
Windmills Walk map, Malta

Windmills Walk map. Source: Malta Tourism Authority

The view across Malta from the Tal-Gibjun Garden viewpoint is worth the visit to Żurrieq even if you don't do the walk!

The view across Malta from the Tal-Ġibjun Garden viewpoint is worth the visit to Żurrieq even if you don’t do the walk!

.. but then you'd miss out on the milling history of the island!

.. but then you’d miss out on the milling history of the island!

First, a confession – we skipped out the Bakkari Remains and stayed in Żurrieq because we’d spent so much time at the excellent Tal-Ġibjun Garden viewpoint reading about the sights, events and identifying the landmarks from this natural vantage point. Of all the windmills, only one is still active, and it sits atop some old burial pits! This is quite a compact walk so we twinned it with a stop at the Blue Grotto to make a day of it.

Girgenti Walk

Map: Girgenti Walk
Distance: 7.7km / 4.8miles
Difficulty: (moderate – some uneven ground and an easy scramble to visit the Big Cave)
What we liked: The amazing start – the complicated collection of ‘Cart Ruts’ nicknamed Clapham Junction (yes, seriously!) and the aptly named ‘Big Cave’
Girgenti Walk map, Malta

Girgenti Walk map. Source: Malta Tourism Authority

A small section of the 'Cart Ruts' at the so-called 'Clapham Junction' - what were they used for?

A small section of the ‘Cart Ruts’ at the so-called ‘Clapham Junction’ – what were they used for?

View from inside part of Ghar il-Kbir which literally translates to 'Big Cave'. It's a cave. And, you guessed it, it's big

View from inside part of Ghar il-Kbir which literally translates to ‘Big Cave’. It’s a cave. And, you guessed it, it’s big

The huge bronze Laferla Cross next to the Assumption Church sits on the edge of the hill with lovely views over the second half of the walk

The huge bronze Laferla Cross next to the Assumption Church sits on the edge of the hill with lovely views over the second half of the walk

This is our favourite of the walks we’ve done on Malta because the detour to the field of ‘Cart Ruts’ just points you at the right place but leaves you to find them. It was really enjoyable trying to actually find the famous ‘Clapham Junction’ and then further up the same field are burial pits and the ‘Big Cave’ that was inhabitanted until 1835. Other highlights for us were the huge bronze Laferla Cross (which we saw from the viewpoint of the previous Windmills walk), the figures surrounding the dome of the Providence Church, and serendipitously visiting on the annual St Nicholas Parish church open day, where they opened up the roof and the organ pit. We got great views from the top of the church, and befriended a local guy who showed us the belfry and invited us to the village festival at the end of July next year!

Maqluba Walk

Map: Maqluba Walk
Distance: 6km / 3.7miles
Difficulty: (easy)
What we liked: The small chapels that bestrew the countryside, getting out into the farming fields of the island
Maqluba Walk map, Malta

Maqluba Walk map. Source: Malta Tourism Authority

The start of the walk is Siggiewi Parish Church. When we tried to enter we were told that the entrance was through the belfry! For a small mandatory donation we got to climb onto the roof and on the way down we were given an introduction to the church's organ!

The start of the walk is Siġġiewi Parish church. When we tried to enter we were told that the entrance was through the belfry! For a small mandatory donation we got to climb onto the roof and on the way down we were given an introduction to the Church’s organ!

Aerial photo of the giant sinkhole that appeared on the 23rd of November 1343 during a severe winter storm

Aerial photo of the giant sinkhole that appeared on the 23rd of November 1343 near Qrendi during a severe winter storm. Photo source: onsite information board

And we end with yet another church - this time Qrendi's St Matthew's Chapel as the sun sets

And we end with yet another church – this time Qrendi’s St Matthew’s Chapel as the sun sets

As this walk starts at the end of the previous Girgenti Walk, we did them both in the same day, stopping in Siġġiewi for a spot of lunch between them. This is very much a rural Maltese countryside walk far from any tourist attractions, but our timing was impeccable as the lovely little Hal-Xluq Church was home to a local artists’ exhibition – which is the only other time of the year the church opens its doors besides the village festivities! The other highlight for us was the giant sinkhole in the Maqluba valley that appeared in 1343, just outside Qrendi, and almost took the then smaller chapel of St. Matthew with it!