When you look at the map and see a little dot in the Mediterranean Sea, south of Sicily, east of Tunisia and north of Libya – that’s it! That’s Malta. Actually the Maltese Archipelago which consists of Malta, Gozo and Comino. With a population of about 450.000 people and 315 km2 it is one of the world’s smallest and most densely populated countries.
The main island – Malta – is basically about 30 km long and 15 km wide. Wherever you go, you end up at the cliffs – beautiful cliffs though! Amazing landscapes and sunset-watching-&-picnic opportunities! Landscapes like from the movies (actually many of them ARE in the movies).
I used to live on that cute ‘dot’. I moved there for an internship of 6 months which ended in a career opportunity with a sister company and I stayed. Friends asked me if I’m not afraid to get a bit claustrophobic moving there and actually I was, but then I thought that there are people who live on the island all their lives and they are happy! So I could be too! In any case, I could always leave. I eventually left. Nearly two years later. In the meantime I was happy! I established myself a nice local life in Malta. I had a well paid job, a company car, a lovely flat in the heart of St. Julians, international friends, a local boyfriend and a very nice lifestyle. However, my priorities at that time made me return to a life with skyscrapers, coffee-to-go and about 20 worldwide business trips yearly.
Today, exactly 10 years later, having a little stand-by from my crazy-non-stop-moving-around-lifestyle and post bad break-up I’m seeking simplicity and calm. Going down the memory lane, taking quality time for family members, spending time in nature and with myself it all seems to just fall together: Forgotten childhood friends pop up, old journals fall magically into my hands and old stories come back to life… I started visiting old corners. Just as someone left from my life, someone from the past returned and found his way back in between the broken pieces of my heart. Every wound needs a plaster I guess…
So I went back to my island…
Malta is a very popular tourist destination
With its warm climate, rich history, numerous beaches and recreational areas Malta attracts people from all over the globe. Nearly one million tourists visited Malta in the first half of 2017 (an increase of 19.3% over the same period in 2016), as quoted by NSO and The Malta Independent at the end of July.
The island is famous for languages schools. Whoever wants to learn English and prefers to spend the time under the mediterranean sun rather than in rainy London, far Sidney or expensive New York, comes to Malta! The island being part of the EU makes it easier for students who are seeking European scholarships like Leonardo or Erasmus.
Malta is also a diving paradise. The island’s clear blue Mediterranean waters are ideal for scuba diving. Malta’s islands offer some unique diving experiences with an abundance of reefs, caves and wrecks. I personally am afraid to be under water but at least snorkeling was a MUST while living here. The sea around Malta is calm and clear with excellent visibility. There is no risk of encountering dangerous fish – ideal conditions for beginners.
A lot of history
The Rock witnessed a lot. Lying in the middle of the Mediterranean it had a strategic importance as a naval base and saw a large succession of powers. There were the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Sicilians, Spanish, Knights of St. John, French… and finally the British who ruled the island. Malta gained independence from the UK in 1964 and joined the EU in 2004. I witnessed a bit of its history myself when in 2008 Malta became part of the Eurozone.
With its historical heritage you find in Malta many architectural jewels, monuments, churches and cathedrals, museums and temples. Including UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as the whole city of Valletta, Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum and seven megalithic temples (some of the oldest free-standing structures in the world).
A few curiosities about Malta
I have to say, it’s a funny little country…And I mean it with all my love ; )
People speak both Maltese and English and most of them also Italian. Maltese is the national language, English is an official language and Italian? Well you just learn it as a child sitting in front of a TV (with italian channels).
The base of the Maltese language is arabic but with big latin influence. Every Maltese is fluent in English but don’t be amazed if it sounds different. Besides of their charming rolling ‘r’ they love to put little Maltese words or half-words (or just sounds) in between English or just ‘enlace’ both languages. You will hear ‘thank you hafna’ instead of ‘thanks a lot’.
You drive here on the left hand side (a Commonwealth heritage) but then there are no real driving rules. Amazingly enough the traffic flows smoothly. It seems the drivers are just more aware of the other and kind of ‘nicer’ to each other. I observed this phenomenon also in Bali. Whereas in Germany – a country with well established rules, the driver who feels ‘in right’ seems more arrogant and does not consider others on the road because he knows, he has the law on his side. I found the driving in Malta crazy but in a good and more sympathetic way. Tell me what you want, chaos can be refreshing!
A propos driving. Let me tell you one curiosity I observed in Malta. I used to call it ‘national sport’: In Malta people love to go and just sit in their cars! Doing nothing, not driving anywhere. Just sitting there. In the beginning I thought young people who still live with their parents (since the country is so small and one doesn’t have to move away to go to university, young people tend to stay at home until they get married) go ‘parking’ with their darlings in order to have some privacy. You know, just like in the 60-ties movies. And since there are amazing views everywhere, I find it a romantic idea to park somewhere at the edge of a cliff and enjoy the sunset. But then I realised… It’s not only the young people who park and it’s not always in front of a nice view. On weekends you see whole families sitting somewhere along the road in a car, in a heat, doing whatever they would do at home too. Granny is knitting, kids are playing, mum is reading and dad is napping. Eventually I realised what they are doing: They went on a family excursion! But since the country is so small that they can’t really go anywhere they just pretend to be on the road!!!! Crazy but somehow it makes them very sympathetic.
Except of one thing: Often they leave litter behind. Window down, empty bottles out of the window, ready to go home. A sad picture. Unfortunately there is just not much environmental awareness in Malta. They have such a nice island and they pollute it so much! The local ‘forest’ – a bundle of trees, resembling a sad park looks even more sad with all the rubbish left behind after family picnics. : (
Another curiosity about Malta I found interesting: It’s such a religious country that until a few years ago there was no legal divorce! Yeah you read correctly: People were stuck with each other even if love said goodbye. C’est la vie. What God reunited, no men should end. Amen.
On the path of Bea’s Malta..
While there are countless tourist attractions you can read about in your travel guides I would like to tell you about my very personal spots and activities.
Malta’s Towns and Villages
Valletta – European Capital of Culture 2018
Valletta, the capital of Malta, has been selected as the European Capital of Culture for 2018. This cute, charismatic city is basically rounded by bastion. From the high walls it offers many lovely viewing points (the city is surrounded by water). Valletta is the smallest capital in the European Union by area.
You can stroll around the narrow steep streets and let yourself be taken back into the past. The city’s buildings tell you a story starting from 16th century and the times of the Order of St. John (also known as the Knights of St. John). The city is essentially Baroque in character, with elements of Mannerist, Neo-Classical and Modern architecture.
Valletta is mostly a pedestrian city. Spend a lovely day walking around, visiting churches and cathedrals, have a Pastizzi and a Cisk (about that further down) in one of the countless bars and cafés. Go to see the Upper and Lower Barakka Gardens, overlooking the Three Cities. Have lunch at the Waterfront. Visit the beautiful Baroque St. John’s Co-Cathedral – a shrine to the Knights and the last resting place of many Europe’s noble families from the 16th to 18th centuries. The Cathedral houses one of Europe’s most impressive and famous art works – Caravaggio’s Beheading of St. John the Baptist.
If you are still in Valletta during the evening, have a wine in one of the cute little wine bars. Grab an outside seat, directly on the stairs of the narrow streets. My favorite is ‘Trabuxu’ (the corkscrew’). Cosy atmosphere, nice staff, good selection of Maltese and international wines and a made-to-measure platter of mediterranean delicacies.
Basically almost all buses in Malta operate on routes to or from Valletta, with their central terminus just outside the city’s entrance. I would however recommend to take the ferry to/ from Sliema Ferry. A very nice experience for only 1,50€.
Mdina: The Silent City. Sitting majestically on a hill in the middle of the island, this cute, medieval town resembles Valletta but in quieter. It’s the old capital and home to Malta’s noble families. In this little, fortified town there are no cars. Have a stroll around, take pictures, visit the Cathedral and go to ‘Fontanella’ for chocolate cake. To be honest nowadays it might be overcrowded with tourist but the breathtaking views and the chocolate cake are worth it.
The agglomeration of Malta is/are Sliema & St. Julians – those two towns are united by a long and lovely seafront promenade. In both cities as well as along the promenade you find hotels, bars and restaurants, shopping possibilities and nightlife.
Marsaxlokk: Visit this traditional fishing village for a fresh fish market on Sunday or for a seafood evening dinner. Super romantic atmosphere with best sunsets ever! Take a seat outside at the waterfront and enjoy your Lampuki (local fish) while cute and colourful little Luzzu’s (traditional Maltese fishing boats painted in bright colours, with a pair of eyes on the bow – very charming) wobble gently in the harbour in front of you. Imagine, all this scenery bathing in an orange sunset light… Very pittoresque.
The Three Cities: A collective description of the three fortified cities of Birgu (Vittoriosa), Senglea and Cospicua. Visit the oldest one – Birgu. The city looks back at the Middle Age. Stroll around the streets and make sure you stay for dinner at Birgu waterfront. Choose from one of the restaurants and enjoy the view over the Marina. Great, cosy atmosphere and good food. You should try the Fenech – Rabbit. Yummy.
I love to enjoy my Malta from the backseat of a motorbike!
Wind on your face, speed in your ears and beautiful landscapes rushing left and right. What a feeling!
I know, not everyone is lucky enough to have a very private, local and experienced motorbike owner/driver who knows this island and every bump on the road like his own pocket… But if you have a chance, rent one and drive along the coast roads. Amazing!
I love the wine bar culture in Malta. Unfortunately I can’t name you any of my beloved bars from 10 years ago because they closed down or expanded into a restaurant and changed location but I would like to inspire you to find your own best spot. Not only in Valletta or Sliema, but also hidden in local villages you find those cute, emblematic gems: charming little bars, directly on the streets and street stairs. I loved those evenings with friends, sitting at a barrel, with a candle light and enjoying a good (and affordable) bottle of wine and a platter full of cheeses, olives, meat cuts and yummy dips! When you are lucky there might be live music too! Just lovely!
There are many events in Malta around the year. Wine festivals, The Farsons Great Beer Festival, Art Festival, Fireworks Festival, Jazz Festival, Notte Bianca, local village ‘festas’, concerts ets… You can look them up in the Calender of VisitMalta.com.
I personally would like to mention my favourite one: ‘Birgu by Night’. During that one night in October the medieval town switches off its lights completely and there are candles everywhere. A sea of candles. Amazing atmosphere!
You might think on such a small island there are beaches everywhere. Well…Yes and no. There is sea everywhere but often the ‘beach’ is a limestone formation.
Of course you have sandy beaches too, but they might be a bit out of your way. Mostly located at the north-west side of the island, the popular sandy beaches are: Mellieħa Bay, Għajn Tuffieħa and Golden Bay. Smaller, quieter beaches, at the tip of Malta (overlooking Gozo) are Paradise Bay and Armier Bay.
My favourite is Għajn Tuffieħa. Especially in winter, when it’s not crowded with tourists. You can sit on the rocks above the two beaches Għajn Tuffieħa and Gnejna and watch the sun setting down. Beautiful!
The taste of Malta – where to eat and drink?
Basically, everywhere! Malta is a restaurant paradise. Wherever you look, you see food. While there is a good selection of worldwide cuisine, the dominant is the Mediterranean cuisine. Traditional Maltese food is rustic and based on the seasons.
Maltese cuisine is the result of a long relationship between the Islanders and the civilisations who occupied Malta over the course of time. You can observe a mixture of Italian and British influence. I like the idea that you can get anything everywhere. For example on almost all the menus (unless you are in a sushi place) you will find bruschetta, wraps, pies and pasta!
The typical taste of Malta however is Rabbit or Rabbit Stew. Bragioli (beef olives), Kapunata, (a Maltese ‘ratatouille’), and widow’s soup with Gbejniet (sheep or goat’s cheese). Uhm I love Gbejniet, especially served with sundried tomatoes.
Lampuki is the local fish. Fish and seafood is a must when in Malta! Don’t leave the island before having pasta with seafood!
For a small snack in between try Pastizzi – a flaky pastry parcel filled with ricotta or mushy peas. Goes well with a cold Cisk (local beer)!
Try also ‘hobz biz-zejt’. It’s a round of bread dipped in olive oil, rubbed with ripe tomatoes and filled with a mix of tuna, onion, garlic, tomatoes and capers. And let’s not forget the Ftira! A traditional flatbread mainly famous in Gozo and topped with special Maltese/ Mediterranean ingredients.
You’ll also come across Bigilla, a thick paté of broad beans with garlic. Doesn’t really look inviting but it’s very nice! A propos paté – Maltese love their dips. There are dips of all kind: tuna, salmon, sun-dried tomatoes, olives.. You eat them with Galletti – local water crackers. Great with wine!
I already told you about the wine bars in Malta… Have a good bottle of wine (I recommend Bel or Isis) and a Maltese platter with olives, Gbejniet, maltese sausage, Bigilla and a selection of dips. Bon appétit !
My small selection of places to eat around Malta
Peppino’s, Spinola Bay, St. Julians (Italian, Seafood, Mediterranean)
Barracuda, Balluta Bay, St. Julians (Seafood, Mediterranean, European)
Piccolo Padre, Balluta Bay, St. Julians (Italian, Pizza, Seafood)
La Cuccagna, Sliema (Italian, Pizza, Mediterranean)
Ta’Kolina, Sliema (Seafood, Mediterranean, European)
Ta’Kris, Sliema (Mediterranean, Vegetarian Friendly, Vegan Options)
Cafe Jubilee, Sliema (Bar, Cafe, Mediterranean)
Ambrosia, Valletta (Mediterranean, European, Vegetarian Friendly)
Trabuxu Wine Bar, Valletta (Wine Bar, Nightlife)
La nostra Padrona, Marsaxlokk (Italian, Mediterranean, European)
Umami, Rabat (Mediterranean, European, Gluten Free Options)
The Mdina Restaurant, Mdina (Italian, International, European)
…Looking for a place to eat in a nice setting? Go to Birgu Waterfront, Valletta Waterfront or Portomasso Marina.
Other points of interest I would recommend:
St. Paul’s Catacombs
Hypogeum & the Temples
Blue Lagoon on Cominoto (the smallest, uninhabited island)
Paceville for Nightlife. Malta’s ‘sin city’ (kind of small Vegas). A little warning: You have to like those vibes to be able to enjoy. It can get a bit crazy. Especially in summer / on weekends.
And of course there are the other Islands: Gozo and Comino… You should visit Gozo! Is’t Malta’s small, much greener and quieter sister. Beautiful!
Worth to know:
The transportation system contains only buses. The hub is Valletta. The bus system is ok (and cheap) but it takes a while to get from A to Z. You might want to rent a car while in Malta.
The Azure Window was one of Malta’s, and Gozo’s, most famous landmarks. It collapsed dramatically into the sea after a heavy storm in March 2017.
Many of the Hollywood productions were filmed in Malta. Don’t be surprised when you watch Gladiator or Troy and you recognise the scenery from your last holidays.
Useful links & apps:
Something for the eyes – Malta in pictures
At the end I would like to invite you to visit the website a very talented photographer Gilbert Vancell. His nature photographs will inspire you to visit this beautiful island! When on the spot, you can enjoy his artworks on display in Le Meridien in St. Julians.
Gil is a very good friend of mine who I share the passion for art, photography, walks, wine, and sunset picnics with. I am very proud and a big fan of his work and happy to share it with you today. Enjoy!
Something for the ears – Maltese Music
Another friend I’m an absolute fan of is Johann Schembri with his band Airport Impressions. Him and Errol – the lead singer, were just starting when I lived in Malta (2008) and today they are BIG. Amazing sounds embracing pop, rock and indie folk. I won’t lose many words. Just listen for yourself: Airport Impressions – Berlin.
PS: If you are new in Malta and need a lawyer, an architect or a real estate agent, let me know. I’ll have ‘a guy’ for you ; )