At the beginning of the records, the Punic, the Romans and the Arabs rule the island. Then, for almost three centuries, the Order of Malta holds sway. There follows a brief interlude of the French, before Malta belongs to the British Crown for 160 years. Independence came in 1964, followed by accession to the European Union in 2003. Each era has left its mark.
The Maltese language is also an expression of the island’s history. Arabic in structure, written in Latin letters, enriched with loan words from Spanish, French and English. However, all islanders are also fluent in English, which has made the island a popular destination for language travel for decades.
Malta also offers a colorful fusion of many cuisines. Everywhere you can buy pastizzi, puff pastry pockets filled with cheese, minced meat or pea puree, reminiscent of Spain’s tapas culture. Pizza and pasta are set by the proximity to Italy. The typical local dessert helwa, a paste of sesame seeds, almonds and honey, is reminiscent of Arabic desserts.
Among the many stories Malta has to tell, there is also one about salt
The salt pans of Xwejni Bay (pronounced Schweijni) on the north coast of Gozo were carved into the limestone sandstone by the Romans and are still used for salt production today. Emmanuel Cini’s family is the fifth generation to farm the salt pans and in 2019 they celebrated their 50th anniversary.
The salt harvest takes place between May and September. The salt from Gozo is particularly soft, easily soluble and rich in magnesium. Apart from the good taste, the salt pans look simply beautiful with the bizarre rocks in the background and are a popular photo motif on Malta’s small neighboring island of Gozo. Salt from Gozo has a high, natural mineral content and is among the best in the world. Emmanuel Cini is the owner of 300 salt pans, some over 160 years old. Hardly anyone likes to do the craft anymore. During the season, one can observe the work of the salt sweeper. In the off-season, the salt pans lie fallow. However, the salt of Gozo can be bought in a small village store.
The method of salt extraction has remained more or less unchanged for centuries. On the flat limestone-sandstone coast of Gozo, the Romans and later the Maltese Crusaders carved basins into the soft stone and extracted the precious salt by evaporation during the hot summer months. Once it was even means of payment, later the crusaders put the secret salt extraction under punishment.
The production process of sea salt in relatively simple. It consists of the same steps during the harvesting period between May and September of each year. All salt pans are filled with salt water starting in May. The Mediterranean Sea has a salt content of 3 percent. The salt water evaporates in the pans for seven days. The salt slurry that remains after these first seven days of evaporation is swept into shallower pans. This salt slurry obtained is again left for seven days. At the end of this second drying phase, small piles of salt can be swept together. These piles of salt are exposed to the hot Mediterranean sun until they crystallize. Then the salt is filled into baskets by the salt farmer and transferred and packed in the limestone cave directly on the coast.
The extraction of sea salt on Gozo is pure manual labor. The salt is not artificially heated and it has no additives, but contains valuable minerals extracted from the very clear water on the north coast of Gozo. During the summer months, the Emmanuel Cini salt factory sells the sea salt directly from a cave carved into the limestone, where the salt is also bottled and stored. Gozitan people use their salt for many of their typical dishes. Also the capers harvested on Gozo and Malta are pickled in sea salt to preserve them.
Natural salt contains many elements important for the vital functions of the body. From the conventional table salt, these elements have been removed (refined) in industrial processes. What remains is common salt (NaCl / sodium chloride), which tastes aggressive compared to mountain salt or sea salt. Sea salt is excellent for seasoning fish, meat and vegetables. It contains no artificial or other additives or anti-caking agents.
Island hopping strongly recommended!
If you are ever in Malta, you should definitely visit the much more rural neighboring island of Gozo. With a rental car you can make a nice day trip and cross the island with the regular and reliable ferry. Car and driver pay about 15 euros and each additional person another 5 euros. Payment is made only when leaving the island, at a kind of toll booth right at the port. It is thereby one of the most uncomplicated ferry connections. If the plans are implemented to connect Gozo with the main island of Malta by tunnel, it could be over with the idyll on the neighboring island. However, the project, which is to be paid for from EU funds, is still in the planning phase. So get there fast and take advantage of the perfect ferry connection!
Malta and Gozo – hiking islands in springtime
In spring, often as early as February, it is green on Malta and Gozo and many areas are covered with flowering wood sorrel. Temperatures are moderate. Over the small Gozo you can walk very well. Beautiful villages alternate with rugged coastal stretches, making hikes very varied. There are well developed and described hiking trails. For example, a hike from the capital city of Victoria to the salt pans in Xwenji Bay. In the small restaurants on the island, the selection of dishes with fish and seafood is recommended.