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Strawberry Festival in Malta?
Oh yes, and I will explain why! Even if the strawberries had been mentioned in the ancient Roman literature for their medicine “value”, it was not until the mid of the 18th century when the hybrid “garden strawberry” was bred following the popular demand for more and more strawberry fruits. One of the most favourite fruit worldwide, strawberry, has its own festival in Malta! It sounds weird but in fact, the Maltese variety is considered pleasantly sweet and delicious! It is not clear when the fruit was introduced in the Maltese islands but the first time strawberry is mentioned in the local dictionaries by De Soldanis, a historian and linguist, was around 1760. So, let’s talk about the strawberry festival, one of the lesser-known-touristic things to do in Malta!
** For 2023 the Strawberry Festival will be on the 16th of April**
Once upon a time, the original Maltese strawberries were even sweeter and… tinier; the leaves of the plant were much smaller as well. Around 1930 strawberry plants from the UK were imported in Malta, their fruits were bigger, softer, and less sweet, and by 1970 the tiny Maltese strawberry was forgotten! The first time, I tried the local strawberries, was in a frozen sorbet from a Gozitan company (= Gozo is the sister island of Malta for which I wrote extensively in my Gozo guide). The taste was ideal and I instantly fell in love with them! I can only imagine how much better the tiny original one would have been! As expected, I got even more excited when I found out about this strawberry festival, or Festa Frawli as the Maltese say!
Where and when does the festival take place?
Mgarr (Imgarr) is the local council that cultivates the majority of Maltese strawberries; therefore the festival is held at its picturesque central square around the Parish Church of the “Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Heaven” – such a long name! The festival is held annually for one and only day but the date varies from year to year as the picking season of strawberries starts in spring and it can keep going until August! For example for 2019 (festival 13th version!) it was planned for March but it got postponed due to the weather and finally, it took place on the 28th of April. Throughout the day, Mgarr Council tries to raise awareness about the tiny strawberry and (why not?) bring it back to life; consequently, do not be surprised if local people talk about it / hand in informative leaflets to the visitors.
What to expect in the festival
As abovementioned, the festival is just for one day, usually from the morning till early evening hours. People from all over Malta and Gozo attend it along with some tourists (it is not that famous yet but this is one of the main reasons for this post!). It can get very busy as the area is quite small but the atmosphere is vibrant, and full of festive vibes! There are many local stalls and vendors scattered across the square and the surrounding roads selling strawberry-inspired products, handcrafted and most of the time eco-friendly too! The local school may display the students’ drawing work in an informal exhibition having as the main theme… what else? Strawberries! Generally speaking, this festival is definitely a kid-friendly activity! Should you visit Malta with kids around that season please include the Strawberry Festival in your itinerary.
But we all know why you are here, right? To eat as many fresh strawberries as we can! Oh yes, me too! You won’t be disappointed at all, please arrive with an empty stomach here! The local cafes and restaurants create special recipes for the day – we even found a smoked strawberry savoury sauce! Of course, apart from the freshly-picked strawberries available by kilo/ pot in the local stalls, the menu includes but is not limited to strawberry buns/loaves of bread/ cakes /cannoli/pastries/cheesecakes/smoothies/liqueurs/muffins/ice creams/doughnuts… the list is endless! For your reference I have included in the post some photos with the price lists :
So much choice here, right? And these are only two of the countless stalls! In case you haven’t been convinced yet… some photos of the… actual treats!
In the main square, one can find a huge strawberry dessert that will be offered to visitors on a donation basis. Also, an orchestra will be playing music and people will dance (traditional or not) dances! In case you didn’t know it Maltese people LOVE music and each locality has its own music band (sometimes more than one!) that usually performs in local fiestas/celebrations or festivals like this one! Happy faces are everywhere thanks to the strawberries and the people behind them!
What else to do in the area since I am here?
As the festival is small and it can be “done” in just a few hours (especially if you don’t plan to have a proper meal in one of the restaurants around) you can combine your visit with other Maltese attractions around. For example, a few minutes away you can find the Ta’Hagrat Temples where the larger of the two buildings dates from the earliest phases of megalithic construction – the Ġgantija phase (3600 – 3200 BC)! It is a very small site and during the festival day, the authorities offer special guided walks at certain times and reduced admission fees to encourage more people to visit it.
A bit further on the west (25 minutes on foot), the Ta’Lippija Tower is located. A watchtower was built in the year 1637 with lovely views and a nice trek around guaranteed!
Since you are on an island you may be interested in a beach anyway! Gnejna beach is a small sandy one, located a quick 30-minute walk from Mgarr centre. You can either swim there or just follow the surrounding paths for some additional hiking. Ta’ Marija Cave is worth visiting too and it is not far from the beach either (you can rent a canoe from Gnejna Watersports kiosk if you don’t feel like walking). Moreover, Malta is a famous place for Game of Thrones fans- if you are of them it might be worth having a look at the GOT locations scattered across the island too!
Last but not least, how to get to the festival!
Such a piece of vital information! There are few buses starting from Valletta central bus station – no. 44 and no. 238. The route usually takes 45 minutes but, throughout the festival, you can expect delays and a lot of traffic, along with full buses that may not even stop to pick you up! This is a common problem in the public transport of Malta though, even not during festival days! Moreover, the buses will terminate a handful of stops before their usual final one as the main festival area is not accessible by bus/cars during the day.
If you drive you will find free public parking around the square but the closer you get to the festival area the trickier it will be!
As you might have noticed I love Maltese fruits even if this time it is not just about a recipe but an entire experience! What do you think? Would you plan your itinerary/ trip around this season in order to attend the local strawberry festival in Malta?