I hadn’t expected to be going to Malta.
My brother was due to be visiting the UK for a few days and we had decided to squeeze in a trip to either Montenegro, Slovenia or Romania. I was excited about either of these three destinations, but the airlines weren’t co-operating and getting flights there was proving a nightmare. So, to cut a long story short, my brother suggested Malta and you know what? Why the hell not.
I really didn’t know too much about Malta and Gozo, other than they seemed to be a holiday hotspot for my parents’ generation. I didn’t think too much about it until the day came and three and a half hours later, we landed on a beautiful evening in Valletta, Malta. My first impression? Why had I not known more about this place? It’s beautiful!
As we drove into the centre of Valletta, what struck me was that it was nothing like what I had expected. Ignorantly, I had assumed it would feel fairly similar to most European cities: similar architecture; a recognisable language; and that familiar Western European feel. Yet, Valletta felt entirely different. Although a small country with the population of a mid-size town, Malta has been occupied by Phoenicians; Carthaginians; Romans; Byzantines; Arabs; Normans; Sicilians; the Knights of St John; the French and the British. Malta has more history in its little finger than the entire US. With all these influences and sitting so closely to the tip of North Africa, Malta feels little like its European counterparts, but an elegant mix of North African and baroque influence (with a few British red letter boxes thrown in).
After a night in our hotel (the less said about the bed situation, the better) and breakfast on a balmy terrace, we began to explore Malta’s small, but perfectly formed, capital.
As demanded by the Knights of St John, Valletta truly is a gentleman’s city. With long, wide streets, bordered by elegant mansions and trees, Valletta is very well-dressed. Immediately, I spotted what would become an obsession: the Maltese balconies. Completely enclosed, but peeping out over the houses, these brightly painted wood and glass balconies where everywhere. I liked them, a lot.
For somewhere so small, there is a lot to do in Valletta. We firstly went to St John’s Co-Cathedral, built in 1573-1578. Having visited the incredible Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood in St Petersburg a few months before, I thought I’d seen all there was to see in terms of glamorous cathedrals. I was wrong. This place is dazzling! Full of the treasures of the Knights of St John, it’s worth spending a while here, wandering around and taking it all in.
We then walked the steep hills of Valletta and visited the Upper Barrakka Gardens (visit here for beautiful views across the waterfront and Valletta) before walking down to catch a boat over to Vittoriosa: one of Malta’s ‘Three Cities’.
Although only a minute’s trip across the water, as we pulled into the harbour front of Vittoriosa, it felt eerily quiet compared to Valletta. In fact, nobody seemed to be around at all. We settled down and had a lovely fresh fish meal, overlooking the beautiful buildings and yachts, escaping the now sweltering heat (honestly, it was baking. I was sweating to death). After stuffing our faces, we took a wander around this quiet town. I would definitely recommend visiting this area: the winding, shady streets are beautiful – filled with colourful doorways; flowers; the odd cat and children escaping the heat of the day.
The next day, we had planned an early start to take a whirlwind trip to Gozo. Given Malta’s small size, I would recommend hiring a car – you can travel easily and quickly to villages and towns across the island, with little problem. After a fifty minute drive up to the north of the island, we boarded a ferry for our short crossing to Gozo.
The first thing I noticed, as we drove off into the streets of Gozo, was that it’s much greener than Malta and obviously much smaller. Looking at the map, I thought it may take 20 minutes to drive between towns, however, we reached each within 5-10 minutes. This said, we still get lost. After a while, however, we successfully arrived in Xlendi: a small town on the coast, for some lunch. The water in this small bay is beautiful – a shimmering and swirling mix of blues and greens, filled with swimmers and snorkelers. We ate at the Boat House – a small fish restaurant that sat on the water’s edge. It was beautiful! After this, we made our way to Dwejra, to see the infamous ‘Azure Window’: a natural arch of rock that frames perfectly the blue ocean beneath it. This is a popular spot but one worth visiting, despite the strong wind. I half crawled across the rocks to peek at the Window and standing up was a struggle. There is also a small inland sea to explore, with plenty of rock pools. Following this, we had just enough time to explore Gozo’s capital, Victoria (Rabat). Perched at the top of this small town is a tiny Citadel, Il-Kastell, which dates back to the 15th Century and formed the centre of this once Roman town. Amazing!
After a great day in Gozo, we headed ‘home’ to Malta, just in time for a fantastic final meal at Guze Bistro and some more sibling bonding. This is a cosy restaurant, with fantastic food, so definitely try and book a table here if you can.
The next morning left just enough time for me to make use of the hotel’s pool (whilst muttering to my skin to revive its tan from Greece), before we made our way back to the airport for our sad trip home. Two and a half days in Malta was nowhere near enough time to explore all that this small but amazing country has to offer. Packed full of history; a beautiful landscape; elegant buildings and a unique feel, Malta has become an unexpected favourite of mine.