I admit I am normally wary of heritage trails. The amount of walking between points of interest doesn’t seem to warrant the effort required to explore them – especially if the bits between the points of interest consist of bland or ugly expanses. So the Xemxija Heritage Trail comes as a bit of a surprise in that way. It is set in lovely landscape, is easy to follow and packs quite a punch of interesting features.
First problem is getting there. The trail starts just off the bottom of Xemxija hill near a bus stop called Roti*. There’s a signpost marked Roman Road and just climb the short street Triq ir-Ridott to find the start of the trail.
The trail sets off with a winding cobbled road – one of the more ancient routes in this area and reputably a couple of thousand years in use. Along this short road one can find an ancient Roman apiary, a menhir and one of Malta’s most venerable trees – a thousand year old carob tree.
The cobbled road soon levels out at the top of the hill and there’s a straight path to the other end of the ridge. Along the way and to your right there are a few interesting Punic tombs and troglodyte caves. At the end of its straight run the path splits in two directions. The way to one’s left is in fact an old Roman road that goes all the way to Manikata some two kilometres away – a lovely walk bordering the Mizieb woodland. But the right turn has more of historical interest and leads, after some 500 metres, to the remains of a Roman bath complex.
Sadly not much remains of the original complex – certainly no mosaics which one usually comes to expect in such places. What there is is a couple of rock cut rooms (a tepidarium and a caldarium – hot and cold bathrooms respectively) which pleasantly retain some atmosphere. Otherwise interpretation is difficult, made more so by the fact that the baths themselves seem to occupy an earlier Punic burial site. The addition of a 17th century outer wall which turned the bathhouse into a farm dwelling further complicates matters. Near the baths stands a World War II pillbox – abandoned but retaining its camouflage stone cladding on its upper floor. Also in this part of the trail is a very visible set of the strange Bronze Age cart ruts.
Helpfully most of the features on this trail are adequately signposted in some detail. This helps in the appreciation of this highly interesting (if somewhat bewildering) trail. The lovely natural garigue landscape of the trail is an added bonus and if nature is what you’re looking for, the trail is at its best in the winter and spring months with a mix of low shrubs, aromatic herbs and hundreds of wild flowers.
(*Note: Buses 41 and 42 from Valletta, 221 from Bugibba and 222 from Sliema all stop at bus stop Roti)