We were looking for something a little bit off the beaten path on our trip to Europe this year when someone suggested Malta. I hadn’t heard much about it before. South of Sicily, north of Africa and west of the Middle East, influences of all three are felt in this small island country.
Malta is made up of three islands - Malta, Gozo and Comino. Malta is the largest of the three and we made that our home base.
For lodgings, I choose the Hotel Phoenicia, the oldest hotel in the country. Completed in 1947, it was renovated two years ago and now tastefully decorated and full of modern amenities. While our superior room was small, the bathroom was ample, the bed comfortable, and the air conditioning sufficient. The lobby is a nice place to grab a morning coffee and the pool, the perfect place to relax at the end of the long sweaty day of sight-seeing. The grounds are beautiful and it’s not surprising that it’s a popular locale for weddings.
The hotel is situated just outside the Valletta city gates, right by the taxi stand, and across from the bus terminal, which makes it incredibly handy and yet also away from the fray.
I wouldn’t recommend renting a car in Malta. The local transit system is excellent, with city-style buses making frequent trips to other towns and attractions on the island. It’s affordable and it’s easy to figure out timetables. Another reason not to rent a car here is that they drive on the left-hand side of the road, which makes it a bit harrowing for North American drivers.
The walled city of Valletta is not to be missed. Built high on a hill, the peninsula is full of shops, restaurants, bars, and historic buildings. Many of the streets are remarkably steep and the old pavers quite slippery, so be sure to bring your sneakers. We spent many hours wandering the alleyways, getting a bit lost, and then easily finding our way back to home base.
Republic Street (featured in the first image) is Valletta’s the main pedestrian-only thoroughfare and yes, it’s chalk full of tourists. But the thing that surprised me the most in Malta is that as soon as you take one quick turn, you can find yourself blissfully alone.
FOOD AND DRINK
The first few days we ate in the rather touristy restaurants on Merchant Avenue which offer the usual, generic fare - basic salads, pizzas, and pastas. The meals here were adequate and unexceptional. (And in some cases, not good at all. Like the breakfast above.)
Foodies should explore the little side streets to find more modern, or more rustic eateries and bars. One that I’d recommend is Rampila, a restaurant in the fortress wall with a terrace perched above the dry moat at the city gates.
I can’t say I got a true taste of Maltese cuisine. Rabbit stew is a local specialty but my partner and I don’t eat rabbit so we can’t speak to it. In general, the food and drink prices are relatively reasonable, and less than in most European tourist destinations. For reference - a cappuccino is about 3 Euros (about $4.50 Canadian) large bottle of water 1.5 Euros, a glass of wine 5 Euros, and a pizza 12 Euros. The Maltese wines are pretty good, and be sure to try the local Cisk beer which we found quite tasty.
Matsaxxlokk is a very sleepy little fishing village about 40 minutes away from Valletta by bus. Aside from taking a boat trip from further here to other fishing and swimming spots (which we didn’t do) there isn’t much to do here but sit back and admire the colourful little fishing boats bobbing in the harbour. We had a very peaceful, relaxing, and tasty lunch and headed back to town.
Mdina is a small walled town in the interior of Malta and a must-visit, especially if you’re in search of quiet. And I definitely am! Europe can be so busy during the summer, it’s very fleshing to find spots that aren’t completely overrun by tourists.
Also known as the Silent City, there are just under 300 full-time residents here and no cars allowed (though they are allowed to drive and in park). It’s quaint, super clean, and almost every alley way, building, and view is picture perfect.
Gozo Island is a lot smaller than Malta, only 14 kilometres long and just over seven kilometres across. I wish we’d had more time to explore it. We went on a boat/bus cruise from Sliema (which is across the bay from Valletta) with Captain Morgan tours. The tour takes you by boat and bus to Gozo and Comino.
While I’m glad I saw all of these places, in my books, this type of cruise isn’t the way to do it. We were packed onto a boat with limited amenities, tons of people, and not enough shade. The buses they used on Gozo were rickety to say the least, with no air conditioning. (It was 32 degrees in the shade while we were there.) The Gozo tour takes you to a tomato paste factory for a 10 minute stop. (What the ?! Clearly they’re hoping you’ll buy some goods.) Then there’s another 10 minute stop at a newish but impressive Catholic Church, and a one hour stop in Victoria, the main town. All in all, not enough time to take in Gozo properly. Captain Morgan, if you’re reading this, ditch the factory in favour of more time in Victoria!
Comino is the smallest island of the three and is uninhabited, save for a few caretakers. The final stop on the boat tour was at the famous Blue Lagoon. To say this swimming hole is popular is like saying that Disneyland is for kids. You can barely make your way down to the water, let alone find a spot for your towel. If this is going to be your only chance on your trip to swim then go for it. If not, I’d consider giving this whole tour a pass and finding another way to explore Gozo.
We spent five nights in Malta, exploring as much of this interesting country as possible. I found it beautiful, welcoming, and a unique place to visit. Check out some more of my photos below and please feel free to message any additional questions below.