An Apiary on Malta’s Xemxija Heritage Trail

Since ancient times, the Mediterranean island of Malta has been renowned for its splendid honey. There’s even some speculation that the country’s name has its origins in honey. The ancient Greeks, for example, referred to Malta as “Melite” (Μελίτη), which translates to “honey sweet.” And during the Roman period, the island was called “Melita.” In Latin, “mel” means honey.

It’s believed that the Phoenicians first introduced domesticated beekeeping to Malta. The Phoenicians, known for their maritime trade and sailing know-how, settled in Malta around 800 BCE.

Apiaries are places where bees are kept for honey production. Remarkably, several ancient apiaries still exist in Malta. Originally, Malta’s bees would’ve been kept in earthenware jars.

Some historians speculate that Malta’s existing apiaries might date back to the time of the Carthaginians or the Romans, who came after the Phoenicians. However, other apiaries on the island are considerably newer.

The apiary pictured here is located on the Xemxija Heritage Trail in northern Malta. This apiary, as well as others in the area, might have served varying functions during different time periods. First, it could have been used as a burial site. Later, it might have been transformed into human dwellings, an animal shelter, and even a WWII-era bomb shelter.

Other points of interest on the fascinating Xemxija Heritage Trail include:

  • prehistoric cart ruts
  • once-inhabited caves
  • a centuries-old carob tree
  • tombs
  • Roman baths
  • structures that were used by farmers in more recent times.

For more details, see this Xemxija Heritage Trail brochure, written by the Malta Tourism Authority.

Since we lived in Valletta, Malta for one year, Shawn and I visited the Xemxija Heritage Trail several times. Midway through our 12-month stay, we were even invited to a Maltese beekeeper’s apiary to see how honey is produced. The honey made from autumn flora was our favorite, for sure!

When it came time to bid farewell to Malta, we left the island with a greater appreciation for bees and the role they play in pollinating our food. By some accounts, they pollinate about 80% of crops!

Where in the World?

Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

Published by Tricia A. Mitchell

Tricia A. Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. Born in Europe but raised in the United States, she has lived in Valletta, Malta; Heidelberg, Germany; and Split, Croatia. An avid globetrotter who has visited more than 65 countries, she has a penchant for off-season travel. Tricia has learned that travel’s greatest gift is not sightseeing, rather it is the interactions with people. Some of her most memorable experiences have been sharing a bottle of champagne with distant French cousins in Lorraine, learning how to milk goats in a sleepy Bulgarian village, and ringing in the Vietnamese New Year with a Hanoi family. She welcomes any opportunity to practice French and German, and she loves delving into a place’s history and artisanal food scene. A former education administrator and training specialist, Tricia has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in international relations. She and her husband, Shawn, married in the ruins of a snowy German castle. They’ve been known to escape winter by basing themselves in coastal Croatia or Southeast Asia. Her writing has appeared in Fodor’s Travel, Frommer’s, and International Living.

25 thoughts on “An Apiary on Malta’s Xemxija Heritage Trail

  1. Tricia and Shawn, Thanks for the interesting history about Malta and Honey. It sounds like a sweet place. Perhaps you can send me some Honey. Thanks, Dad

    1. Dad, thank you for stopping by. :) Glad you enjoyed this little piece about Malta. Speaking of honey, I remember that there’s a beekeeper in Oberammergau who produces some wonderful honey. It would be fun to compare honey from different places. If you’d like, we can bring some back from Croatia for you.

      Love, Tricia

  2. “The honey made from autumn flora was our favorite.” I never thought about this variation of taste of honey in regards to the season it is made. I mean it’s obvious, but it never really crossed my mind. And it’s also interesting to learn about the possible origin of the name of this country. I’ve been really enjoying your posts on Malta, Tricia.

    1. Hi Bama, until we visited the apiary on Malta, I hadn’t thought about seasonal honey variations either. Malta’s summer honey came from thyme, thistles, and the flora found in the garrigue, whereas the autumn version was made from eucalyptus and carob trees.

      Do you know what kind of flora bees use to make honey in Indonesia?

      It sure would be fun to be able to do a honey tasting with samples from around the world!

      1. In Indonesia, honey is made from all these different kinds of flowers, depending on each island’s climate and topography. The blooms of longan (Dimocarpus longan), Indian jujube (Ziziphus mauritiana), and plants of the Calliandra genus are among the most common sources of nectar.

      2. Interesting that the bees collect nectar from longan blooms, Bama.

        I look forward to getting back to Southeast Asia and trying more “new” types of fruit (at least new to me). We enjoyed eating longans at our homestay in Cambodia.

        Is it common to put honey in tea in Indonesia?

    1. Hi Cornelia, when we lived in Valletta, Shawn and I loved getting out of the capital city and exploring spots like this. Can’t believe it’s been almost 4 years since we lived there.

      We’ve been in Croatia since before the pandemic started, but our original plan was to visit my parents in Germany this past spring. Have you been able to enjoy some nature time in California these past months? Sending hugs your way too!

      1. Thank you Tricia, wish you well during your stay in Croatia, so sorry that you couldn’t visit your parents yet. I have been stayed put pretty much, but had gone for so many walks and discovered places around where I live. And also focused more on my Floral Art Photography, which is a blessing to me. Stay healthy, safe and happy my friend from afar.

      2. Cornelia, I’m glad to hear that you’ve been able to enjoy your surroundings and that you’ve had more time to dedicate to your photography. A silver lining of this pandemic (for all of us, I think) has been a renewed interest in exploring places close to home. Sending you hugs and happy wishes your way, too!

  3. Very cool, Tricia! ᐧ

    On Sat, Aug 8, 2020 at 6:13 AM Travels with Tricia wrote:

    > Tricia A. Mitchell posted: ” Since ancient times, the island of Malta has > been renowned for its splendid honey. There’s even some speculation that > the country’s name has its origins in honey. The ancient Greeks referred to > Malta as “Melite” (Μελίτη), translating to “honey sweet.” >

  4. Dearest Tricia,
    Reading this post made me even happier I gave up half the vegetable garden to grow flowers for bees – and visiting butterflies and hummingbirds. It’s wild and unruly but the bees love it. XXX Virginia

    1. What grateful bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds you must have this season, Virginia! What kind of flowers did you plant?

      It’s fig season here in Croatia, and I just learned about how the fig is pollinated. I never knew that some species of figs have a mutualistic relationship with fig wasps.

      Have a splendid Saturday. :)

      1. It’s a bit like Christmas Tricia – the garden for the bees etc. The seed packages are a mixture with the names of the flowers in tiny print. Definitely surprised by joy when they start to bloom. Thank goodness for Goggle images and a magnifying glass. Enjoy your weekend and stay safe.

    1. Hi Darlene,

      It’s nice to hear from you! Speaking of Malta, did you finish the Malta book in your Amanda Travel series?

      Visiting this heritage trail is something to look forward to the next time you visit Malta then. This site isn’t as well known as the temples, Mdina, or Valletta. When we first moved to Malta, we thought we’d get “island fever” if we didn’t leave the country at all during the year. But thanks to the country’s multilayered history, there’s so much to see there. We got out and explored every Sunday. However, when it came time to move, we still had places left on our list that we hadn’t gotten to explore.

      Are you still in Spain?

  5. How fascinating, Tricia! I’ve never seen – or maybe I’ve never recognized – an apiary like that. It’s beautiful. I’m particularly intrigued that you preferred honey made from autumn flora, and I’m curious what was distinctive about the flavor. Here in Kentucky the bees are particularly fond of the blooms from the Tulip Poplar tree. It seems to have a hint of spice to me.

    Are you and Shawn still in Croatia or have you been able to be more mobile? ~Terri

    1. Hi Terri,

      I’m with you — I’d never seen apiaries like this until we moved to Malta. As for the autumn flora honey that we so adored, it was made from eucalyptus and carob. This gave it a deeper color, an almost caramel-like consistency, and a richer flavor that’s unlike any honey I’ve tried before. In saying that, I’d happily try Malta’s summer honey again (it was made with thyme, thistles, and other garrigue flora).

      As for Kentucky honey with Tulip Poplar notes, I’m intrigued to hear it’s rather spicy. Wouldn’t it be fun to do an international honey tasting and compare the unique textures and flavors?

      The last few years, I’ve been substituting honey for sugar in things like banana or fig bread. That reminds me that I should try to get my hands on some locally produced Croatian honey. And yep, we’re still in Croatia, but we’ve not grown bored keeping things local. We are fortunate to have the archaeological park of Salona nearby for evening strolls. Last week, we also hiked up to the mighty Klis Fortress. Did you visit these spots when you were in Croatia?

      Also, I imagine those foals you were watching earlier this year are getting quite big!

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