Grand Master Von Hompesch dubbed it Città Ferdinand. British troops unable to wrap their tongues around its curious cluster of syllables reduced the name to the ludicrous Siggy-Wiggy. Whatever you decide to call it, the village of Siġġiewi (pronounced ‘sidge-jee-we’) remains a beautiful part of the island, especially ideal for hiking and walking in Malta’s rubble-walled countryside.
While Siġġiewi’s village core, with its sloping piazza, winding lanes and traditional houses of character, is certainly worth a bimble around, it’s the outskirts that are the real attraction here.
The village is flanked by two valleys – Wied il-Ħesri and Wied Xkora – which have injected the area with a lushness that is quite rare in Malta. A quick Google search will yield many a hiking map with routes stretching from the unspoilt pastures of Tal-Fawwara and il-Girgenti all the way up to the hushed woodlands of Buskett Gardens. There is even a magical torch-lit climb up a nearby hill to take during Holy Week.
If you are visiting Malta around Easter-time then Siġġiewi should definitely be on your itinerary. Every year on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, the parvis of the parish church of St Nicholas is lit up with rows and rows of fjakkoli (flaming lanterns) and candles. From here, hundreds of locals and tourists gather to begin a pilgrimage to the Laferla Cross.
Known in Maltese as is-Salib tal-Għolja (the Cross of the Hill), the Laferla Cross is a religious landmark that was erected in the early 20th-century on a hill lying close to the Chapel of the Annunciation and the Cemetery of St Theodore. At the summit is a 16-metre-high iron cross standing upon a limestone pedestal housing a tiny chapel and altar.
During Maundy Thursday, the pathway and shrines along the hill are illuminated by thousands of torches and candles. Devout Catholics undertake this steep uphill walk in honour of Jesus’ own gruelling cross-bearing climb up the mount of Golgotha. Many walk in silence, others pray and sing hymns out loud, some even go barefooted. Processions last throughout the night and it’s a stunning spectacle to behold.
Maltese falcons and Siberian tigers
Meet a national icon with a visit to the Malta Falconry Centre set in the limits of Siġġiewi. This family-run aviary is in possession of several Peregrine Falcons, also known as the Maltese Falcon of Humphrey Bogart fame. As well as being home to a variety of birds of prey, the centre is on a mission to keep the ancient tradition of falconry alive in Malta. The experienced team of falconers put on fascinating shows that proudly demonstrate the majestic sight of the birds in free flight and visitors are also given tuition on how to handle the birds themselves.
Even more animal encounters await in Siġġiewi at L’Arka ta’ Noe. This small park was founded by animal lover Anton Cutajar who has a fierce passion for tigers. Dana, a magnificent 320kg Siberian tiger, is undoubtedly the star of the mini-zoo and from time to time the park even organises tiger cub petting sessions, where families can meet month-old cubs and have their photos taken with them. Elsewhere in the park are alpacas, llamas, leopards, parrots, peacocks, panthers, monkeys, and zebras.
Descend for ascension
Driving out of inner Siġġiewi towards the southern coastline will lead you to a steep road that snakes down to a rocky inlet carved in the limestone cliffs. Għar Lapsi, meaning Ascension Cave, was formerly the site of a fishermen’s shrine. Today, it’s a popular swimming and shallow dive spot that boasts a 40m-long cave system illuminated by plenty of sunshine. Various caverns, swim-through walls and reefs – including the quirkily named Finger Reef and Black John – are home to octopus, cuttlefish and the elusive seahorse. There’s even an underwater nativity scene made out of plate metal to look out for.
After dipping your toes into Għar Lapsi’s limpid waters, stop at Ta’ Rita’s for a taste of retro Malta. This family-run restaurant has been cooking up traditional fare since the 1930s when Frenċ Azzopardi opened up a boathouse saloon frequented by Royal British Marines hankering for booze and freshly caught rabbit. Frenċ’s daughter Rita took up the reins in the 60s, lending the business her talents in the kitchen as well as her name. Don’t let its tumbledown façade put you off. Head inside for a cheap and cheerful menu peppered with Maltese home-cooking staples, including octopus stew, fresh catch, and keeping with the longstanding family tradition, spaghetti with rabbit sauce.
Article written by Dean Muscat for Il-Bizzilla magazine April 2020