Dingli is one of the most beautiful Maltese villages, perched on the most spectacular cliffs on the island. It is also blessed with well-watered fields fed by freshwater streams that percolate above the clay layer making it one of the few Maltese settlements that is still characterised by rural activities all year round.
Dingli’s rural character led to the development of one of the most interesting and professional sustainability projects in Malta. The Dingli Sustainable Development Strategy – a venture that allowed the Local Council to tap EU funds for sustainable development in rural areas and publish a strategy that is currenly being implemented.
The first part of the Heritage Trail that forms the backbone of the sustainability project takes the visitor to a number of important historical and environmental landmarks.
The statue of Francis Ebejer, Malta’s leading playwright and writer greets the visitors’ eyes as they alight off the local bus. Ebejer is one of the most distinguished Maltese citizens and walking towards the Parish Church of St. Mary reveals the town’s centre of devotion. The Church’s belfries provide the highest place in Malta and offer spectacular views of the surroundings to visitors.
The Heritage Trail leads the visitor to a number of chapels, all of which have their own history and traditions. The same area also has a number of bars where a visitor can sample traditional pastizzi and have a home-made cup of tea or a glass of wine.
Walking beyond St. Mary’s Parish Church visitors arrive at Dingli Cliffs, some of which are over 200 metres high and offer an incomparable panorama of the small islet of Filfla, especially during sunset!
St. Mary Magdalene Chapel which was rebuilt on the cliff edge in 1646 is a historic attraction. Perched above cliffside fields, it shows the problems Maltese farmers have to face when tilling the windswept land.
Visitors wanting more information on the attractions of Dingli and its surroundings, and at the same time sample some Maltese cuisine, should visit the new Interpretation Centre, which is promising to be the inofficial information office on Dingli and its attractions.
Back to the other side of Dingli, just before entering the town proper is one of the most interesting places that has also been recently rehabilitated. This is the freshwater spring locally known as L-Għajn tal-Ħassellin or the washers’ stream, where housewives used to gather to do their laundry. The path leading to one of the few permanent streams that flows during summer is heavily festooned with mulberry treesand further down, maidenhair ferns (Tursin il-Bir). It is also an area steeped in myth and tradition and forms an important landmark on the Heritage Trail.
For those visitors interested in the biodiversity of the area, the cliffsides offer excellent bird-watching views, but to experience the beauty of a Maltese valley, a visit to Wied Ħażrun is a must.
The valley is important for two reasons. Freshwater flows all year round, irrigatingsome of the oldest cultivable fields on the island as well asa very rare stand of relict Holm Oaks, whose ancestors date back to Neolithic times. The area also contains swathes of garigue and maquis that are festooned with plants and flowers in Spring.
These are only some of the highlights of what Dingli offers. The Heritage Trail provides detailed information and directions on all the sights described and more.
By David Pace
Winter flowers on the windswept cliffs of Dingli
The Dingli Cliffs in the west of Malta rise over 800 feet above sea level and contain the highest points on the island. Due to their height and exposure the cliffs usually bear the brunt of the prevailing north-west wind, the Majjistral, which generally tends to be a cruelly cold wind in winter and a welcome cool one in summer.
This evening, I managed a quick 60 minute dash to the cliffs in search of some early flowering species before the spring riot of wild flowers and was rewarded with a beautiful variety of species, including three new ones that I had never managed to observe before.
The first floral species I chanced upon was the wild clary sage (Salvia verbenaca) known as salvja selvaġġa in Maltese. Although it is classified as a separate species, it is obviously a wild “cousin” of the domestic sage grown in our gardens. This was my first ever observation of this tiny but beautiful plant whose leaf and flower are used to enhance salads in nearby Italy.
Walking along the uneven karst surface of the garigue, I passed numerous clumps of the very common Mediterranean heather (Erica multiflora), known as erika in Maltese. The pale pink, dark tipped floral clusters of this low bushy plant provide a beautiful spectacle in the relatively bleak wintry landscape. This richly flowering plant is reputed to be very attractive to honey bees.
Crossing the coastal road to a stretch of garigue which was once an enclosed field which has since lost most of its soil cover, I came across my first ever experience of the delicate white flowers of the Mediterranean hartwort (Tordylium apulum), known in Maltese as the haxixet it-trieraq. This plant is related to the carrot family and although common I had never managed to notice it in my countryside forays. The ground in the degenerated field was teeming with these beautiful specimens which are best enjoyed close-up as in the picture above.
My big surprise of the day came in the form of a solitary Brown orchid (Ophrys fusca), known in Maltese by the highly descriptive if not demeaning name of dubbiena or fly due to its similarity to the winged pest. Maltese orchids are not huge in size and tend to be very elusive to the point of being missed by most. But once you adjust your eyesight to the relevant scale you start seeing them where there was nothing before. Although the brown orchid is apparently a relatively common species, this was my first ever observation of its kind: a joyful experience reminiscent of the reaction of a collector who has just added a rare item to his collection! My search for other specimens of this orchid were fruitless so I consider myself very lucky to have witnessed this tiny but beautiful plant when I could have just as easily bypassed it.
The last floral species I witnessed on this short sojourn to the cliffs was another type of orchid, of which there were numerous specimens scattered around the landscape. This orchid, which is either the Conical or Milky orchid (due to their almost perfect similarity) is known in Maltese as the orkida tat-tikek or the spotted orchid due to its beautiful pattern of pink dots on the delicate white petals. Of all the photos of the different specimens I captured on this trip, my favourite is the one above with the full cluster of flowers contrasting against the backdrop of a lichen encrusted rock.
So all in all quite a rich harvest of beautiful and natural works of art at a time of the year when most of our northern neighbours are still weeks away from even dreaming of flowers re-emerging from their cold and desolate landscapes.
By Leslie Vella