It’s the top of the world, but not as you know it
Mdina might be the place where Game of Thrones was famously filmed, but the village of Gharghur is the closest thing Malta has to a real-life King’s Landing. This ancient settlement, protected by the warm embrace of two valleys, is situated at one of the highest points of the island. Gharghur’s residents will tell you stories of cave-dwelling devils and miraculous driftwood, and even if they’re not completely true, there’s definitely a fantastical feel about this place.
Gharghur is best known for its awesome vantage point on Madliena hill, known as ‘Top of the World’. At about 150 metres up, it’s not exactly Mount Everest, but you do get lovely views of the island, its golden fortifications, and the Mediterranean beyond. It’s only a 15-minute walk from Gharghur village to the summit, and you’ll be rewarded with a healthy dose of fresh air, blooming wildflowers, and the sound of cicadas celebrating the sunshine. Bring a picnic with you, as there are plenty of benches to sit and enjoy this refreshing vista from.
Look down into the valley below, and you’ll see a limestone wall that cuts through the scrubland. Gharghur marks the start of the Victoria Lines, a late 19th century fortification built by the British to defend their precious bases in southern Malta. However, they were found to be of little practical use, so they were abandoned. Nowadays, the Victoria Lines serve a more peaceful purpose – guiding ramblers from the east coast of Malta to the west. They’ve become such a popular hiking spot that there is talk of the Victoria Lines becoming the nation’s first national walkway. Gharghur possesses one of the most picturesque spots on the route – the Madliena arched bridge over the Wied id-Dis, a tear along Malta’s Great Fault.
Those with curious minds will want to visit St Patrick’s Cave. Local lore has it that demons once infested the cave, and plagued Gharghur’s citizens. Until one day, a portrait of Christ on a piece of driftwood washed up on a nearby beach. Fed up with the bothersome demons and desperate for a solution, the villagers took this painting to the cave, and the pests promptly vanished. Apparently, you can still see the portrait today, but you might be a bit late for the demons.
The blend of religious iconography and wood continues in the Church of St. Bartholomew. Pass under the watchful eye of the preachers past, and enter the inner sanctum. With its Doric marble columns, rich red drapes and gorgeous gilding, it’s like being inside a treasure trove. Your eyes will rapidly be drawn to the church’s main attraction – an elaborate wooden statue of its patron saint, artfully hewn from a tree trunk. Donning a golden shawl and holding a bloody knife (with which St. Bartholomew was skinned alive), this 18th century depiction has been painstakingly preserved in all its gory glory.
Take a short stroll down the narrow Triq Mons Luigi Catania. If you come at the right time, the golden townhouses (covered in flowers, of course, for this is springtime) are just ripe for a photo. With their colourful shutters and intricate wrought-iron balconies, you won’t need a filter to transform them into the perfect Instagram picture. This road will take you to another fantastic photo opportunity – the chapel and miniature church on Triq Għaxqet l-Għajn.
As with many landmarks here in Malta, this quirky landmark is thanks to the hard work and devout beliefs of a villager. In the 1990s, the local fireworks manufacturer Bertu Fenech decided to turn a part of his field into a centre of devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows. He and his family scoured the local area for pebbles, boulders, and seashells, to build the stunning chapel and mini St Bartholomew’s Church you see today. When he’d finished, he invited the whole village to a feast – complete with fireworks. Fenech’s nephew continues this Gharghur tradition every year, on the first Friday after September 8th.
Considering Gharghur is only a 2km-squared patch of hilly land, it truly packs a lot in. It’s the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of the island – instead, you can look down upon it with a picnic in one hand, and a cold Kinnie in the other.