Travel in 2020 has been hijacked but as long as we are safe and healthy, we know its all fine. It may take a while for our favorite places to be back on the map but we can always lift our spirits by reminiscing the good times of the old travels. I would like to believe that good times will be back and we will all find wind in our hair and sand between our toes very-very soon. In continuation to my armchair traveling series, let me transport you to the Maltese archipelago today. Malta is enthralling. It is beyond gorgeous. It shimmers in cobalt blue and shines with century old tales. It totally knocks you down with its prepossessing beauty. You do know it all, if you have been there. But if you are yet to go there, you must dream for this holiday. I visited Malta not very long ago in August 2019 and everything feels fresh like yesterday. I hope you enjoy this armchair travel to Malta, with me.
To begin with, let me share that the gorgeous Maltese archipelago is not just one island but is identified by its three major islands – Malta, Gozo and Comino and all three are gorgeous everywhere. With sparkling Mediterranean as its bosom buddy, Republic of Malta immediately appeals with its characteristic tropical beaches, Maltese Baroque architecture, elegant facades, stunning underwater caves, UNESCO listed historical sites and gleeful warmth. Having being through the golden Neolithic period, several cultural takeovers, impactful Arab rule and 150 years of British control, Malta is not just a ‘sun, sand and dive destination’, it is an opportunity to travel back in time and dive deep in centuries old pre-history.
Also read – The Lady in the Bus in Malta
With history as old as 5,200 BC Stone Age, when the first farmers from Sicily came to till the land and having seen the times of Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Knights of Malta and more, these Maltese Islands have been nurtured eclectically by the wraths of wars, revolts, cultural indifferences and several beliefs. The impact and amalgamation of it all makes it one of the richest in history and heritage. I have come back truly impressed and craving for more. You must grab a week-long holiday to discover this hotbed of historical gems, fascinating heritage, pretty harbors, sun-soaked beaches, world-class golf courses, photogenic cliffs, hidden caves, mountainous desert villages and culturally affluent capital cities.
The Capital Valletta, Mdina and the bays
Valletta has a distinctive cityscape and it literally left me gasping at its postcard-worthy architectures and closely packed alleyways. This one kilometer stretch of land has been acknowledged by UNESCO world heritage for being the most concentrated historical area. It is not just the capital of the island but also the administrative heart of Malta. Extensively popular among the tourists, I got on to the Republic Street, which stretches from the City Gate (Triton Fountain) to Fort St. Elmo (sea line) and is home to some of the coolest and oldest cafes, shops and restaurants of the city. Some of the choicest architectures that one must look out on this street are Palazzo Ferreria, The Church of St. Barbara, St. Francis of Assisi Church, The Great Siege Square, La Borsa (exchange building), Freedom square, Liberty square, Parliament building and the Royal Opera House. The Grandmaster’s Palace is the most significant building of the area. The Palace armory and the Throne room are the highlights if you take a tour inside.
After soaking in the character of Republic Street and taking lots of Instagrammable pictures of limestone buildings, colourful doors and narrow alleyways, I also checked out the bustling Castille Square (home to office of Malta’s Prime Minister), photogenic St Lucy Street, vibrant Strait street and foodie-friendly Merchant street.
The cultural offerings of Malta do not end at Valletta and to explore more, you must go to the town of Sliema, Marsaxlokk fishing village and ancient walled city, Mdina. The Mdina gate is grand. It is also the former capital of Malta and is famously called the silent city. Since it is gorgeous, quaint and offers magnificent views of the island from its thick city walls, it was also used as the Game of Thrones film set. The smaller streets are beautiful and packed with history for the curious ones. Next comes, Sliema, a touristy hub that came across to me as a perfect blend between the old and new. Known for its outdoor markets, sea-side cafes, colourful ambiance, the fishing village of Marsaxlokk is unmissable. Don’t miss the sea-food there whenever you go, for now, make the most of this armchair travel to Malta.
With crystal clear waters all around, you got to duck and dive at Golden Bay, Riviera, St Peter’s Pool, Blue Lagoon and the Ghadira Bay. Each of them has gorgeous settings and unique vibes. To explore some sea caves, go to Blue Grotto. I have a thing for the sound of the waves crashing into the rocks.
Popeye Village or Sweethaven Village
The ardent lovers of Popeye the Sailor, a cartoon fictional character do not miss a chance to visit this place and so did I. This popular theme park has evolved from an original film set of 1980 Musical Production ‘Popeye’. The setting of the village, anchor bay and the cliff overlooking the enchanting sea are show stealers. A private beach with sun loungers, swimming pools, cafeteria, a movie hall, the sailors dance and the Popeye comic museum keep you and your kids entertained for the day. Personally, I liked Olive and Popeye’s rooms but I felt the other rooms must get an uplift as they have started to show age. The boat trip to the site where Popeye fought the octopus was my favorite activity here.
The Exploration continues
The Neolithic complex of Hagar Qim & Mnajdra Temples is another place that reiterates the fact that Malta’s heritage is truly pre-historic. Those who would like to see the ancient ways of doing burials, a visit to the three levels of rock-cut chambers in the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum, a UNESCO World Heritage site is a must. Rotunda of Mosta is the most popular church on this island. It is considered to be highly blessed because during World War II, a bomb dropped into the church during an ongoing mass but it never exploded. A replica of the bomb is placed inside. If you would like to know about Christianity and check on the largest evidence of Christianity, do visit St Pauls Catabombs, the largest Roman burials in Malta. To witness more of Malta’s history, a tour to the Three Cities, made up of Birgu, Senglea and Cospicua neighbourhoods, is highly recommended.
Right at the outset, let me make it very clear that this heritage island has to be a part of every Maltese itinerary. Its history is very interesting and gorgeousness runs through its veins. The Romans, Phoenicians, Arabs, French, British, and many others have not only ruled here but have also influenced the heritage and culture of the island. Gozo is particularly popular for UNESCO loved Ggantija Temples, one of the oldest in the world.
If you are staying on the island, you might explore it on foot but if you are there only for a day, Gozo is best explored by bus with audio guide or car with local guide. There is no concrete path and a short ferry ride of twenty five minutes transports you from Cirkewwa in Malta to Mgarr Harbour in Gozo. I immediately opted for a hop on, hop off bus. It is difficult to walk around because the quaint hamlets of the island are all spread-out. A vehicle saves your time and makes it easier to explore the whole island, which is beautifully etched by breathtaking bays, limestone cliffs, green patches of land, sublime water, stunning beaches, neo-classical churches, picturesque historical sites and photogenic natural sites.
Victoria (Ir-Rabat) and its citadel
It is the capital city of Gozo and home to the famous St. George’s Basilica with its signature red dome and the vibrant Republic Street. For me, 16th century architecture of old houses along the alleyways, cobblestone streets and the charming pijazzas (squares) were clearly the show-stopper. Frequent pirate raids and attacks led to the need for fortification and thus Citadel, or the Citadella, came into being. This beautiful piece of Gozo not only boasts of Independence square, museums, restaurants, outdoor farmers markets but also offers some of the best 360 degree views of the island.
Sightseeing in Gozo
If diving is one of your main interests, you must not miss out Dwejra (Azure window), Mġarr ix-Xini, Ta’ Ċenċ and Xlendi bay first. Those who don’t dive will also love to bask in the beauty of the sun and the water around. After this, I also visited Ramla Bay, Ta’Kola Windmill, Santa Verna Temple, Ta’ Ċenċ Tombs, Calypso’s Cave and Xagħra Stone Circle. One can see the traditional Roman methods of making salt at Xwejni Salt Pans, located close to Xwejni Bay. San Lawrenz is one of the highest points in Gozo. And those who love museums, there are Folklore Museum, Archaeology Museum, the Old Prison and the Natural Science Museum.
The most significant stop-over during Gozo exploration has to be the Ġgantija Temples, a UNESCO Heritage site. This Megalithic complex is a testament to the Ggantija Phase (3600-3200 BC). There is lot of mystery around this place but the presence of huge limestone slabs, the boundary wall, the structure, holes, spiral shaped carvings convey that something marvelous and magnificent has stood the test of time.
With only 3.5 Kilometers of land to itself, the youngest and almost uninhabited sibling thrives in the waters between Malta and Gozo. It garners attention for its spectacular landscape inundated with scenic coves and sparkling blue-green waters. It is also very popular among the water-babies for snorkeling, diving and wind surfing. A yacht, charter or a public cruiser can be one of the ways to travel to Comino from Cirkewwa or Mellieha Bay in Malta. Once, you are there, walk around the cliff and find a gorgeous vantage point. Sunbathing is a favorite activity here. The views are beyond adulation. No trip to Comino is complete without taking a dip in the cold waters of turquoise Blue Lagoon. Despite the crowd, I loved it for its naturalness. I would definitely recommend half a day for this island. If you have more time in hand, tour the island and explore its only hotel, chapel and watchtower.
Festivals of Malta
From the months of May to September, Malta resonates with festive fervor. Sunday village feasts (festi) make for one of the major cultural celebration of the island. The purpose of these feasts is to commemorate their individual religious patrons. The decorations on the roads, the procession, the fireworks and the Maltese food are the significant elements of these feasts. Victoria International Arts Festival takes place in Gozo in the peak summers. It is a great occasion to get acquainted with Gozitan history, art, opera and food.
SOME IMPORTANT THINGS TO KNOW!
HOW TO REACH?
There is only one airport called Malta International Airport or Valletta Airport that serves all Maltese islands. It is very convenient to visit Comino and Gozo by using local transport and ferries from Malta.
DO NOT MISS
The megalithic temples of Ġgantija in Gozo, Ramla Bay and the capital city of Victoria.
The pineapple drink and the Blue lagoon in Comino.
Golden bay, Ghajn Tuffieha¸ St. John’s Co-Cathedral, Rotunda, ancient city of Mdina and the unique Valletta.
EAT and EAT and EAT
You must look for Maltese hobz (bread) with oil, fish soup, Stuffat Tal-Fenek (rabbit stew), Kinnie (bitter orange juice), Timpana (baked macroni) and Gbejniet (Maltese cheese). Natives prefer local and seasonal produce. Pizzas are great in the cafes and restaurants.
WHAT IS THE CURRENCY?
There is no local currency. Euro is accepted everywhere.
For the festive season, if you are buying something, you may use the link below. I will get a little commission which will help my blog.