Have you ever felt that you spent half your summer holiday physically travelling on planes, trains and automobiles - obsessively packing in the ‘must see’ sites, sitting for hours on a bus and then being told, when you arrive at a ‘must see’ spot, that you only have ten minutes to take photos, have lunch, walk around and ‘enjoy’ the atmosphere?!
This is why I loved Malta – at only 25 miles across, my husband and I found we could leisurely explore the whole island in a week.
We stayed in Sliema - this is a lively town with many modern buildings and restaurants - but the reason I adored it was due to the wonderful views across the Marsamxett harbour to the mystical capital, Valletta. From every point on its east coast, we could see the (understandably) much-photographed Carmelite Church dome in the distance, its colour transforming from a Mediterranean sand to a beautiful orange-pink at sunset. I found that features such as this give Malta its personality – old meeting young, tradition meeting innovation, ancient meeting modern, everywhere you look. I was impressed by how the island has cleverly embraced the modern while valuing traditions in a way that still makes it popular with all ages – young 20-30 year-olds love the new ‘American-style’ malls, but they have been designed to blend in with the surrounding buildings in a way that won’t upset traditionalists. Menus in the majority of restaurants also reflect the mix of old and new – the Maltese loved it when we ordered their traditional dishes (rabbit is a particular favourite on the island) but they are very passionate about the modern presentation of dishes also.
For such a small island I found endless activities to take part in and places to visit. I was particularly eager to see the co-cathedral at Valletta (which people often wrongly assume is the Carmelite Church dome) - this houses Caravaggio’s famously severe The Beheading of John the Baptist. I thought the cathedral was attractively simple outside, but jaw-droppingly intricate within – I think Sir Walter Scott put it perfectly in his description that it was “the most magnificent place I ever saw”.
Our time in Mdina, the old capital, was definitely the most peaceful part of our trip. In this ‘silent city’ I gained a true sense of Maltese life before the innovative (but arguably disruptive!) Knights of St John arrived. We certainly entertained all members of the family in Mdina – my husband’s parents enjoyed getting peacefully lost in the grid-like street pattern (as the town is only mile across, it’s impossible to be lost for long!) while children (in this case, my husband and I!) enjoyed the drama of the Mdina dungeons (think the London dungeons, Maltese-style). There are a set of ‘olde-worlde’ stocks outside which we used to take some comical photographs – I may have left my husband in these slightly longer than he expected!
We adored Malta’s passion for embracing tradition together with the modern, fun side of life.
Incredibly ancient monolith that pre-dates Stonehenge by a couple of thousand years. In process of minor restoration but usually few visitors and a perfect visual representation of history itself.
Triq It Tafla, Xaghra XRA 2161, Malta
+356 2155 3194
Google map: bit.ly/tCEu4D
Indulgence Divine is a beautiful boutique house in the heart of pretty, sleepy Birgu - a short water taxi from the capital Valetta. The house is immaculately presented, with care and thought put into every detail - don't miss the roof terrace on sunny mornings and the secret room (!) A quirky treat, excellently managed by Aldo based in the UK and his father based in Malta, who went to great lengths to help us from picking us up at the airport to recommending restaurants via email and generally being lovely to deal with. Five stars!
Mdina, the old capital of Malta, is located on a hill in the centre of the island. The city is confined within its walls - several points on the walls offer stunning views down to the lowlands. The city centre itself is built of impressive medieval buildings that are still in a very good condition. Find my photos of Mdina and other places on Malta on www.fm1721.com/experience/malta for getting a general impression.
Google map: tinyurl.com/3y44hml
Visited here last august and it's a really wonderful place. Why haven't I been here before? What history! What weather! What people! If you have not been, then you're really missing something special and it's on the doorstep of Europe.
Good site with lots of information : www.trymalta.net
A website for visitors that provides detailed street maps of the main Malta holiday resorts plus info on places of interest, bars, restaurants, scuba diving, car hire and much more. A comprehensive Malta guide, very user friendly and you can even ask them a Malta holiday question and they will get back to you.
The ferry from Cirkewwa on the island of Malta to Mjarr on next-door Gozo is a 25-minute journey. It costs less than five euros return for a foot passenger and about 15 euros for a car.
Gozo is airport-free, rural, quiet and slow compared to the manic desire Maltese holidaymakers seem to have for entertainment. You will find plenty of great places to eat and many deals on converted, self-catering farmhouses. Wonderful sea swimming and diving, bustling markets (if you can't resist a crowd) and fine sites and views, especially from the citadel in the capital, Rabat.
Small journey; big difference.
The cathedral of Order of the Knights Hospitaller of St John.
Trust me. If you go nowhere else in Malta then go here.
From the gravestones on the floor to the gilt ornamentation of the chapels. It is absolutely awesome. On a par with St Marks.
There is a chapel for each country in the order (other than those countries that adopted the Protestant faith).
And then there is The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist (1608) by Caravaggio.
This tiny island in the middle of the Mediterranean has commanded the attention of invaders for centuries. Romans, Turks, Knights and even the British have all had a foothold on Malta’s shores at one time or another.
Now invaders of a different kind flock to Malta - tourists!
Drawn by the year round warm weather, the fact that most of the islanders speak English and drive on the left (after a fashion), Malta is a haven for the British sun worshipper.
But, there is so much more to do here. Despite the arrival of the 5 star luxury resorts, it remains a living slice of history. Famous for its two sieges, the first in 1565 when Soleyman the Magnificent was resoundingly beaten by The Hospitallers (or Knights of St. John).
The second came during World War II when again, the Maltese and their Allies drove off the German attempt to capture the island. History faces you on every corner, making the capital city Valletta a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Maltese are a friendly enough people, if a little gruff. They do seem to welcome the British more readily than any of the other visitors that descend on their shores annually. The attractions are obvious and the new resorts on the island are springing up continually.
Five star recommendations include,The Portomaso Hilton, Dragonara Palace and The Corinthian. There are plenty more, however, including some wonderful boutique hotels.
Gozo, Malta’s smaller sister island is an altogether quieter neighbour. The hotels here are smaller and more Spa orientated. Well worth a visit.
If you have the time, why not take a day trip to Sicily? There is a catamaran that visits daily or why not travel in style and use the helicopter service?
Maltese restaurants are doing their best in a world where fine dining is king. While they still have a lot to learn, fish is where they excel. Also, local specialties are worth trying. Hobz biz-zejt with fresh Maltese bread, tomatoes, olive oil and (depending on the maker) capers, olives, tuna and salt and pepper. The cheesecakes (savoury rather than sweet) stuffed with ricotta cheese are delicious whilst the cannolli from the Busy Bee bakery are stunning. The bread too is a wonderful treat.
Being the jewel of the Mediterranean, don’t forget the beaches. The only sandy ones are in the north of the island. The rest of Malta is rocky outcrops straight into deep water. No children here!
Snorkelling along these shores is a must as is a visit to the Blue Grotto. So called because of the turquoise blue of its waters and because it’s a erm...Grotto. Other attractions include Malta Glass, a visit to Comino and the capital Valletta. Malta has survived the centuries relatively unscathed by foreign invaders though all have left their mark. After visiting Malta yourself will it have left its mark on you?
Just gorgeous place to stay for a vacation: beautiful, romantic interior, all the amenities you may need, great grocery shop just around the corner, nice neighbours, and of course the magnificent city of Valletta around you! But note: it seems you often have to book it well in advance (and no kids or pets are allowed).
This is quirky, class and comfy accommodation, situated in the heart of Valletta. The owner gives the house and your holiday a very personal touch and it was far better than any of the many hotels I have stayed in. Valletta has many fabulous attractions and great restaurants and is a must!
A restaurant which is a cut above the pizza/pasta joints. We ate there five nights running. Could not fault the food or service.
Pioneer Road, just off Bugibba's (round) square. Phone 2157 1604, mobile 9984 6767. Book because it's always busy!
Gesthers is simply the best restaurant in Gozo. Serves traditional Gozitan dishes, the recipes having been handed down from generation to generation. Opens only at lunchtime, Monday through Saturday. It is very reasonably priced. The decor IS very basic...don't let it put you off. Bragioli and spaghetti with rabbit sauce come highly recommended. I've been going there for the last 12 years and have never once been disappointed.
21st September Street in Xaghra. Street at right angle to main church....or ask any local!!!
I stayed at the San Antonio Hotel in Qawra for a week in December 07 and will definitely return. The owners and staff deserve a lot of praise, considering their excellent service and cleanliness of the hotel, our room and the facilities.
We got a very spacious room at a very reasonable price (booked through their website - cheaper) and were pleasantly surprised by the look and feel of the lobby and common areas. Very tastefully designed and a very homely feeling.
There's a bus terminus nearby and, with public transport (buses only), you can pretty much get anywhere you like. The sea is just a five-minute walk away too, and the area is a good place to be, albeit a little touristy.
This elegant hotel is superbly located just outside the old city walls, overlooking the harbour.
It offered easy walking access to historical sites, and its proximity to the central bus depot allowed us to make many memorable journeys to other parts of the island (beaches and/or historical places of interest).
We greatly preferred our independent trips to a couple of organised ones we paid for and would recommend being as independent as possible.
The accommodation was very clean and comfortable, with white towelling bathrobes a super accessory for early morning walks down to the pool and back.
The pool itself was beautifully located overlooking the harbour, and had a bar serving food and drinks all day (our only disappointment here was when we were forced to leave one evening because a wedding party had booked the location).
We booked B&B, with the delicious and varied buffet-style breakfast keeping most of us going until dinner. The local restaurants, often family run, were fun to discover each evening and never disappointed (and were much better value than the hotel restaurants).
Our family (ranging in age from 8 - 70 years of age) stayed for one week, which was ideal - any longer and we would probably have started to run out of new things to do. During our stay we celebrated the 70th birthday of one of our family members and the hotel staff added to the occasion by baking a special cake and delivering a birthday card!
If you wish to visit Gozo and/or Comino Islands we would recommend doing this independently. We found the organised trip to Gozo expensive and disappointing.
The Mall · Floriana · Valletta VLT 16 · Malta
Phone: (356)(21) 225241
This is a vast, three-level underground limestone necropolis that was in use from about 3600 BC. The 50-minute archaeological tour is excellent and must be booked in advance, as only 10 people are admitted at a time. It is a climate-controlled state-of-the-art facility built with UNESCO assistance.
It is in a small street, Triq-ic-Cimiterju, in the Valletta suburb of Paola, accessible by city bus. Book at www.heritagemalta.org
A place to be alone, bar a couple of fishermen, with your thoughts. As the sun sets, its orangey light setting off the majestic honey hued walls of the city.
Go down the steps by the Mediterranean Conference Centre (once the Knights' "Sacra Infermeria")
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