Eau du Malte – A Guide to the Smells of the Maltese Islands

An olfactory tour of all things Malta

This Nose Smells

Nose. Schnozz. Sniffer. Snoot. Whatever you want to call it, that thing on your face has some pretty amazing powers. While we may not be able to sniff out explosives or cancer cells (kudos to our four-legged, butt-sniffing comrades for that), our sense of smell is closely tied to memory and emotion. A familiar smell can trigger powerful recollections and feelings. It’s the closest we can get to time travel. Science says so.

Despite its importance, smell is probably the hardest sensory stimulus to preserve. Just ask the guy in that movie Perfume, who went to great lengths to capture these elusive odours and ended up being eaten by a rowdy mob.

Cannibalism not withstanding, here is a list of odours so utterly Maltese, one whiff could transport you, body and mind, back to the ancestral home of milk, honey, and the inability to use turn signals on a roundabout. 


Crunchy. Holey. Sand. Salt. Canned tuna. Mint. School lunches. Olive oil. Crumbs absolutely everywhere. Tearing a loaf open before getting home and hollowing it out.


Construction sites

Yellow stone. Dust. Humidity, then later a sun-warmed powdery-ness. Trucks. Men with filthy wife-beaters. Builder’s tea. Builder’s buttcrack.



Grease. Burning hot ricotta. The crunch of pastry. A paper bag slowly becoming soaked in oil. Church (anyone else used to buy these by the dozen after Sunday mass?) Picnics and parties. Cholesterol.


The sea

Sunburn. Barbecues and those awesome/terrible pink pork sausages. Gozo. Summer. Cisk. Soft-serve ice cream with sand in it.

Azure Window

Imqarrun il-forn/ Ross il-forn

Family lunches. Fighting over the crunchy bits. Metal baking dishes so worn they were polished to a shine by decades of use. Nanna.


Sun cream

Tourists. Cramped busses. Waiting ages while the bus driver breaks a twenty for change. Socks and sandals. The Upper Barrakka in August.


Fireworks smoke

Cotton candy. Dubious fast food. Cheap plastic toys, sold from stalls with epilepsy-inducing neon signs. Faqqaturi. Donuts. That amazing donut-making conveyor belt that would look great in your living room. Beer. The risk of injury from stray pyrotechnics. Teenagers making out in the garden behind the church.