Malta already held a special place in my heart intrinsically, purely because it’s the island my late Granddad fell in love with at first sight; where he was adamant on heading back to before he passed. Unfortunately, in the end, he wasn’t well enough so I suppose in a way I was able to experience the understudy role in his self-told storybook spectacle of aesthetic adventure. I remember flicking through the photos developed from my grandparents’ early noughties film camera – albeit lower resolution than the showpieces you can capture in today’s day and age – but they still completely sold me. It was their tourist knowledge that gave me the upper hand when pre-planning both my travelling itinerary and this hefty guide. And it was that which chartered my guarantee of never wanting to leave as soon as I disembarked that budget plane.
Malta is originally derived from the Greek word ‘melite’ literally meaning land of honey, which makes sense for the sweet taste of wonder it leaves. Coincidentally, it also matches up to its renowned status of being the Marmite holiday destination. You either love it or you hate it. Safe to say, my abundance of senses was escorted to the summit of the love scale.
The 17 mile long, 9 mile wide archipelago lodged between Sicily and the North African coast in the heart of Mediterranean magic is home to a wide range of picture-postcard panoramas, crossroads of culture, iconic Game Of Thrones production landmarks, and the nicest, friendliest locals you will ever meet. A bubbling broth of rich, historic architecture, mesmerising monuments, ancient monarchy complexes, certified UNESCO world heritage sites and some of the oldest free-standing structures in the world. As well as some standard sun, sea and serenity tossed into the unique, universal potion. With its rocky beaches, scintillating sapphire seas, famous diving spots, breathtaking views, commercialised coastline packed with shops and restaurants and a cool and composed tropical vibe, it formulates the perfect ideal of everything necessary you need to enjoy a break away from reality. Whether you want to lounge around the pool or explore the depths and density of what the sightseeing excursions have to offer.
For me, Malta was domicile; somewhere I could imagine relocating for good. Amalgamating within a foreign country had never felt so right. It detonated a warm familiar feeling of settled fondness and spread within my soul no matter whether I was Just Chilling or trudging 15,000 steps in 40 degrees sweat filled secretion. I came back to English turf so refreshed because it truly is that understated paradise island which allows you to unwind and restore your disposition in life.
Small country, mighty trip. As I like to remember it by. I spent the first half taking advantage of said paradise and the second discovering the vicinity so I think that qualifies me a position to finally crack on with an all you need to know informative anthology, right?! Buckle up.
Where to stay?
This was a debate my mum and I had for a good proportion of time before we booked. It’s pretty easy to decide in a wee enclave like Malta. There’s not a colossal amount of choice and you certainly won’t be browsing page after page to look for properties with how proximate each area of Malta is situated but we like to make sure we find that balanced all rounder.Santana which is in the St Paul’s Bay/Qawra/Bugibba district. A raved about publicised part and a popular favourite for your typical holiday attractions. So really it was between there and wherever else catered for the essentials when it comes to walking, eating, relaxing, soaking up the landscape, and having reachable access to the main points. We needed somewhere not too busy but still parading that vibrant, lively atmosphere and in the end, we hit the location jackpot. St Julian’s area in the Cavalieri Art Hotel which was absolutely divine both outside and in. South facing the water’s edge it overlooked both Spinola Bay and Balluta Bay with a stunning vista of central Malta. We had a sea view twin double room on the 7th floor and walking out onto the dinky balcony blew me away from sunrise to sunset, right through to the illuminated stretch of land when arriving back from a carb heavy, toasty midnight stroll.
Spinola Bay. A beautiful, scenic harbour and tranquil haven filled with individually owned fishing boats and a vibrant swarm of original and modern, tourist orientated recreational buildings marginally aligned by its picturesque surroundings, A seaside town of al fresco situated on the winding promenade which leads on to Balluta Bay and the border of Sliema. There were many of times I just impulsively headed out for a stroll along the shoreline to clear my head and watch the world go by. The leisurely walk and the gentle stillness of the boats bobbing above the rippling, pearly waters was healing for a mind laden with chaos!
It’s also prime base to other noted places in Malta. Paceville (which I will get on to in the next section), Portomaso Marina (which possesses prestigious properties for the elite, large yachts, and the famous business tower), Spinola Palace (which is another ancestral framework dating back to the 17th and 18th century with its own private gardens) and further along the perimeter, St George’s Bay (which bestows another fraction of bustling hotels and eateries). Covering a wide scope of the country, linking with the main roads and being very well connected with public transport points, horeca hangout hot spots and entertainment within walking distance, St Julian’s really is a paragon of excellence but with Malta being so tiny I reckon whichever resort you branch at, you’ll still be able to get the most out of your trip.
Food and drink
As we stayed in Saint Julian’s we also resided there for most of our dressed up dinners and apart from some delicious ice-creams and the odd nomad nibble when out and about I didn’t encounter any other cuisine away from that locality. Saying that, I’ve heard Malta supply the best belly busters in the form of burgers, pizzas and pasta and I can confirm the ones I ravenously tasted very much lived up to its highly rated name. They’re also big on their seafood but that doesn’t appeal to me so alas I can’t provide that verdict..Cuba, Bianco’s, San Giuliano and Raffael (which were adjoined with the most gorgeous arched stone). The Avenue stationed in the salubrious party town of Paceville which was just a 10-15 minute walk from our hotel. We brought light to this gem on the second night and we couldn’t keep away! Not only did this place concoct the most exquisite pasta known to man (Tortellini Alla Crema if you’re interested which you should be because everybody deserves a mouthful of this shelled ecstasy) but the rest of the peppy point is brimmed with spicy nightlife. As it was our first family holiday in a few years it wasn’t a convenient opportunity to venture off to the array of nightclubs but we did have a saunter on the Friday night and was hit full force with the rocking rave. Turns out Malta’s a lot like Leeds at the weekend! Enjoyable, exhilarating, and sometimes extravagant. The crème de la crème of everything desired in a night out. Most evenings after we’d eaten we headed up to Paceville for a skim around the tacky souvenir shops followed by cocktails. Some quiet in a cafe and some in bars with epic tunes accompanying. Both were pretty standard priced as far as Sex On The Beach’s go! I feel like this is definitely accommodating for the younger generation in their youth but it’s a great atmosphere for some casual drinks, too! Like me, you may even meet and briefly befriend some wacky Swedes who moved to Malta out of sheer adoration and chat to you about how brill Malta is for a good half hour. Another group on the solid love ladder!
What to commute by?
Getting around Malta is virtually hassle free because it’s so small and the maximum travelling time diverting to the other end of the island is probably only about 50 minutes to 1 hour. There’s no tram or train service which means it’s either bon-voyaging across the ocean or tackling the bumpy roads. Construction works are common over there. They had some routes shut off in June as apparently they’d been given a seven digit budget to revive and develop several acres so at the height of summer it’s handy to bear that in mind.
The main modes of public transport are bus and ferry. Although renting a car, bike or quad is another investing option. There’s an abundance of bus stops in every territory and the journeys are super cheap with a fixed price of 2 euros no matter how far you’re going. I was useless trying to figure out what side to stand, however. Probably just my lack of skill in the coordination department. I can’t read maps or fathom timetables to save my life so please don’t take my word for it. The residents are so lovely and helpful if you’re ever in need of assistance, though. One lady went out of her way to ask the builders which direction a certain bus would be going when we’d planned our first expedition and was completely puzzled by the changes. I’ve never seen so many strangers go above and beyond before visiting Malta!
Although the buses are regular and reasonable they’re not always reliable during the busiest season. As they’re all single-deckers I found a selection of them driving straight past as they were too jam-packed. The passage between Spinola Bay and Sliema was often congested with heavy traffic too which made the thought of an onerous bus ride even more daunting. We decided to just sack off waiting in the end (mainly due to heat exhaustion and frustration) and resorted to taxis instead. Originally we opted for the black cabs which the hotel phoned for us but then – from the help of another kind soul (an English migrant this time) – we realised Malta operate Bolt (previously Taxify) which is basically their Uber app and which was a bloody life saver for the remainder of our true tourist style antics!
But Malta is an anchored Island situated in the middle of the Mediterranean sea which means luckily boat is also another plausible option. The focal ferry terminal is in Cirkewwa which was the only downfall of staying in St Julian’s. The port was a 40 minute drive away which meant it was more effort and more money to head over there to catch the frequent car ferries which set off half hourly towards the sought after stop-offs such as the capital city and the bordering cities. Saying that, some boats also depart from Sliema and cost a measly €2,80 return. You can also book organised diving excursions as well as trips to the sister islands of Gozo and Comino which commence from both Cirkewwa and Sliema, These usually take up the entire day and can be purchased through various vessels (Captain Morgan is very well known) – and most provide hospitality within the price! We didn’t get round to doing this but we’ve vowed next time we go back we will be signing up for the cruise!
This is solely from hearsay because we didn’t assign a solo beach day. I’m not the biggest fan of beaches anyway; it’s the mess of the sand, the fear of unknown in the open water and the self diagnosed Fykiaphobia which puts me off but if I was a beach enthusiast then Malta’s top-shelf selection of pebbly dunes would be a kryptonite. The coastal resorts with traditional sand tend to lay on the Northern hemisphere whereas most of the classic rubbled cliffs are scattered all round.
Across the road from our hotel and leading along the elevated esplanade was a slice of this nirvana which is technically classed as Sliema beach. There were many people who spent their afternoon roosted on the rocks or snorkelling to the boundary points. It was relatively hushed around there, ideal to dip your toes in and there’s mini crabs crawling close by which surprisingly didn’t bother me. Aside from the man made sandy inlet on Balluta Bay and the compact cove around the corner at St George’s Bay, there aren’t many more beaches a hair’s breadth away from the St Julian’s area. Although if water-sports are your thing then St George’s has all you’ll need. It’s the headquarters but wherever you are there’ll be scouters and sellers for you to pre-book! I promised my brother I’d trek there with him on our second to last day with how generous he’d been with the photo snapping and he had an absolute blast on a jet ski.Mellieha. There’s the self-named Mellieha Bay which was awarded Blue Flag status – has designated zones and is very family friendly. Paradise Bay which is similarly crafted and is only a 6 minute drive away from Mellieha Bay! Għajn Tuffieħa which is 9 minutes away. Golden Bay which is grouped within Għajn Tuffieħa and only separated by natural rock formation – another popular Blue Flag beach with beautiful unspoiled and undeveloped countryside and fine clean corn sand. That one also seems to be a hot spot for barbecues and parties in the summertime; staying till dusk and having access to a raw open valley where you can watch the glowing ember of the sunset. Worth a mention that the incredible Coral Lagoon is also in Mellieha. A crowd pleasing attraction which is home to coarse volcanic concretion in a circular ring. I can imagine it’s the type of envisionment which doesn’t compare to the gasp you make when up close and personal with the real thing.
Then of course there’s the must sees on the federated islands. The esteemed Blue Lagoon in Comino with its striking azure coloured waters; conceptually the bluest of the blue. Beware though, from June-August it’s supposed to be horribly chaotic. Probably not the best if you’re planning on a repose when admiring the dazzling hues but great if not. Gozo also has a leading light in the form of foreshore. It’s called Ramla l-Ħamra and is a large beach with unusual red sand, once again nestled by countryside. Whatever your tastes and whoever you are – windsurfer, deep sea diver, pioneer, sunbather – Malta has gotchu.
Where to go?
You thought the first part was lengthy? Surprise. I’m about to come at you full steam. I’ve babbled on about what I think you need to bottle up and commit to memory but now I’m documenting what I want you to know from my viewpoint. Where I went and where I was when I was infinitely swept off my feet by Malta’s charm. I’ve segmented each place in chronological order just to make it that bit more plain-sailing for you.
SliemaSliema. More like window shopping for me but I did pick up a cute sale dress from Terranova and some new sunnies from Stradivarius seeing as the suffocating heat shattered mine in a never seen before incident (honestly the UV rays really must have been that powerful). I always like to take advantage of the stores we don’t have over here! It was roasting, even around late evening 6-7pm so we got a taxi as we didn’t fancy the 30 minute walk. Teatime was bang on for timing! Despite it being a weekend it wasn’t heaving at all and we even managed to instantly take a seat in an amazing pizzeria where I stuffed my face with joy at the square of restaurants outdoors.
Popeye Villagefilm set from the 1980’s Robin Williams movie, open as a mini attraction park for the public to enjoy and experience on a daily basis.
When I say mini, I mean mini. There’s only enough activities to fill a couple of hours of exploring but that’s what makes it so appealing. It’s one of those underappreciated spots that I know people would pass off immediately and yet it’s nothing short of wholesome bliss. It’s not heaving with people either which is always a bonus in the height of season!
VallettaCapital City of Malta, one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites, and one that embodies that proper European flavour. It’s not as large or overwhelming as some European cities which in turn makes it a good thing as you only need to put aside a few hours in a day. But saying that, it’s easy to get lost in lucidity and lust, sauntering through the rolling residential streets. As a wayfarer and an online creator, it’s a living dream. The lavishly baroque buildings, traditional balconies saturated in a caricature of colour and character, and the citizens in motion; manning the markets on the narrow, cobbled streets and going about their day. I could’ve happily wandered around and admired for as long as my legs would’ve let me!
Although the crowds do tend to invade the Upper Barrakka space in the busiest months, the impressive gardens loaded with busts, statues and plaques are still unhindered and the attached terrace booming with coffee, tea and snack shops is the Shangri La style hideaway for some downtime to rest your feet after a completed, superlative affair roaming the works of Valletta.
Mdina / RabatMdina you’ll get dropped off at the famous and completely standout Mdina Gate which is well known for its feature on the classic King’s Landing Game Of Thrones scene (never seen an episode in my life and it was still exciting so it’s really gotta be God’s gift to a fanatic). It’s the impetus of the ancient crusade; its plaited pillars and stately appearance setting the scene for a one of a kind, medieval step back in time.
Mdina radiates a soft, transporting energy that is almost completely separate from the rest of the country and you can see why it’s branded the “Silent City”. The fortified walls and the halcyon sealed behind them practically feels like you’re watching over the island from a camera-friendly canvas of chivalrous and timeless history. The immaculate old capital which traces back 4000 years is literally just a boxed in, stationed square mile paved and built with fascinating, cream coloured ashlars. It denotes personality from every angle and was my absolute favourite place to take pictures. Most of the finished edits I’m proud of come from the reigns of Mdina.
Mdina is another anterior UNESCO World Heritage site first inhabited in 700 BCE and evolved from a strategic military location. With its limestone buildings, prismatic panels and palazzi, horse and carts tours trotting, and strong religious community it’s the authentically, captivating old town everyone should see. But it doesn’t stop there. Further along the suburb of Mdina is Rabat. Once again, a village known for its quiet character and royal history – in particular St Paul’s Catacombs. We were completely drained and certifiably parched when finished in Mdina so we didn’t have a proper divulge into the centre but I think it is within walking distance. And going by the exotic colour and buoyancy, it’s just another photogenic hamlet to add to the list of Malta magnificence.
Where you should go & I didn’t get chance to
I know I’ve typed out over 5000 words for days and you’d think I’d travelled 17 miles and beyond to check out the entire depth of Malta – but you’re wrong. There’s plenty of geological phenomena I would’ve loved to have gone to but alas didn’t. I couldn’t sign off this novel without listing them for both you and I to revert back to when needing the information to schedule another spectacular trip *ahem*
So, here we go…
- As per mentioned plenty, Comino. Even if it is just to see the bright seraphic waters up close. Away from the Blue Lagoon, there’s also only three people who live there so for a socially overwhelmed person like me the deserted island sounds like a wish urged to be granted.
- Gozo. I’m gutted I didn’t pop over to the island by ferry because there’s so much to see over there. There’s the Basilica which is possibly the most artistically angelic chapel I’ve ever seen. There’s Victoria, the capital. known for its astir atmosphere, plazas and market stalls. And then there’s the Azure Window which is sadly no more. It collapsed in 2017 after a brutal storm but the Blue Hole still stands.
- Tal Mixta Cave – which is also part of Gozo, located in Nadur. I mean just look at the demonstrated photos. No other words needed.
- St Peter’s Pool. Yet another turquoise tinted, transparent, water laden universe for both swimming and sunbathing.
- Marsaxlokk. This is where St Peter’s Pool resides but it’s also a traditional fishing village. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to go here purely for the photos.
- Zabbar. The town of jazzy umbrellas.
- The Three Cities – as mentioned before. These are Vittoriosa (also known as Birgu), Cospicua and Senglea. Primitive harbour towns you can explore on the outskirts of Valletta. You can book a round ferry trip for this, too!
- San Anton Gardens. That’s a park in Attard which is also classed as Valletta. It’s the blossoming nature gradient which caught my eye. I can imagine it’s so peaceful.
- Cafe Del Mar. Catch-22 mainly aimed at twenty-somethings. It’s a beach club where you can drink, dine and dance and I’ve heard it’s the place to be to witness a mesmerising sunset!
- Blue Grotto Cave Ride. Ending with this through sheer sadness, to be honest. This extraordinary diving and snorkelling spot is somewhere I was desperate to go! It was recommended by a sweet Maltese lady at our hotel and she said words don’t do it justice. It’s a complex of seven caves along the Southern Coast and it comprises of a massive main arch. It’s said to be embraced best by boat as you formulate a fulfilling view from there. You do have to catch the light at the right time but it’s something special when you do. The blue sky reflects off the white sandy seabed under the caves, resulting in shiny azure and cobalt coloured waters and the cave walls mirror the brilliant phosphorescent orange, purple and green colours of the underwater flora, resulting in a mesmerising scene of lustre. Within reach from there are the towns of Qrendi and Zurrieq so I’d have liked to have done a stop off there, too.
That was one hell of a ride, right?! If you got to the end, well done. You deserve a cuppa and a nap.
I really wanted to formulate a sufficient guide which includes all manner of detail in one post Truth is, I’ve probably missed something because that’s how multilayered the facets of Malta are. It’s 2019 and yes there’s studied proof people pick their holiday destinations based on how it would benefit their Instagram feed but I can’t stress enough that there’s so much more to consider when booking your trip to Malta! If not the calendar of events including plenty of fun festivals and feasts, it’s the way Malta is accustomed to all nationalities and the way it feels like you take a part of it with you forever.
I can safely, steadily, and solidly say that patch of paused reality was a breath of fresh air that’s inflated my lungs to a state of permanent rebirth.