Recently I decided to go for a walk to discover the island’s hidden beauties with my seven-year-old nephew.

Before heading out into the ‘wilderness’, I surfed my way to the website of the Malta Tourism Authority for some advice and recommendations: I needed an easy walk through spring-green countryside and with a number of historical points of interest.

The authority provided a walk which seemingly fit the bill: the Tas-Silġ trail. And so we set out, guide downloaded and in hand, to follow this tranquil route through peaceful and refreshing greenery.

What a terrible idea it turned out to be! Apparently, the island’s gems have become adept at hiding behind a thick cloud of smog.

The walk is mildly interesting at first, with the salt pans providing an interesting feature against the beautiful backdrop of the Mediterranean Sea. The 17th century St Thomas Tower a few metres ahead looks entirely abandoned, enveloped as it is in thick vegetation, but is still a sight to behold. Ironically, one of the most interesting sights during this trail is one not mentioned in the brochure: the ruins of the old Jerma Palace Hotel.

Beyond this initial part however, the trail takes an ugly turn.

I decided to follow Route A, and whereas the guide does warn about vehicular traffic, I could never have expected what was in store: it was wild all right, but not as I had imagined. The whole route is a trudge through heavy traffic, most of it through a heavily congested road with barely any pavement, quite dangerous (especially for kids) and, with the vehicular pollution one breathes throughout, decidedly unhealthy and definitely not rural.

Most of the drivers looked at us as if we were crazy, and I don’t blame them: one has to be to go on such a walk. One has to be even crazier to actually suggest it as a “fairly easy one”.

Perhaps it is time for our country to have car-free zones, especially in rural areas

I was constantly worried about the never-ending stream of cars, and even when we reached the “small hamlet” of Misraħ Strejnu, a place that certainly de­serves less urbanisation, the cars were an constant reminder of our vehicular dependency.

Even here, there was no rest to be had from the continuous traffic, and, given the lack of pavements in what used to be essentially country roads (possibly before being discovered as a ‘convenient’ shortcut), it was just as dangerous. How can one relax and appreciate the ‘Maltese rural heritage’ when one is wholly consumed by the somewhat unpleasant thought of being run over?

Most of the pinpointed sights are found along these busy roads and one cannot really take in the view without risking one’s life. The archaeological site of Tas-Silġ, also encumbered by this perennial and seemingly ever-growing vehicular problem, is not reward enough for the perils undertaken.

Even our unintentional little detour towards Delimara could not save us from the congestion: along this route, the trucks and daily commuters are replaced by rental cars, undoubtedly driven by tourists on their way to St Peter’s Pool, in their quest to witness the beauty of the Maltese natural landscape while aiding in its destruction.

We did find a relatively quiet spot to rest and soak in the view, but this had been conquered by a group of Maltese who, perhaps having realised that the only sounds of nature to be heard here were the rumbles of naturally aspirated engines, de­cided that the musical hits of the 80s constituted a better alternative.

Perhaps it is time for our country to have car-free zones, especially in rural areas. Access to heritage sites or popular landscapes and landmarks could be provided by other means: electric vehicles (and not merely electrically driven: I’m referring to tiny golf cart type of vehicles), or through group excursions only – anything that limits the amount of cars and pollution.

Most cars had one passenger, and some had only the driver – it is absolutely unnecessary and selfish to spoil the fun of everyone, not to mention the landscape itself, for one’s own convenience.

Car-free zones are normal in other countries with much more land to spare: why shouldn’t there already be such zones on our congested tiny island? Some areas should be free from vehicular access and from the problems, dangers and pollution vehicles bring about.

My nephew and I had set out for some beautiful views and fresh air but we ended up breathing the clouds of exhaust fumes spewed by countless cars. Ironically, we would have had a greener experience in some town centres.

It is absolutely ridiculous and irresponsible on the part of the tourism authority to propose such a route as a “rural walk”, especially considering the dangers that it involves.

I think it is time for the Malta Tourism Authority to revisit the walking trails listed on their website under their “Malta Goes Rural” section, or at least transpose some of the walks to a new section entitled “Malta Goes Urban”.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece


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