Our next big trip after Albania for this summer was to Malta and its smaller neighbour Gozo. We didn’t really know what to expect before we left. Our decision to go was based on a few instagram posts we had seen, cheap flights and a high average temperature… thats enough right!?
Turns out that Malta is an incredibly interesting place, with three UNESCO world heritage sites, an incredible food scene, stunning scenery and a culture that mixes Arabic, Italian and British tradition and languages. My favourite fact we learnt on our visit was that the entire island was awarded the George Cross for their efforts in WWII. Traditionally this is only given to individuals, but the efforts of the Maltese was so great it was given to the entire population and is still a part of the Maltese flag today!
Tourism is Maltas biggest industry, contributing over 15% of the nations total GDP. Boring fact. But it means that they’re incredibly well set up for a cruisy and stress free visit. Signs are all in English and Maltese, waitstaff speak intermediate english at worst and you’re never far from a bar offering happy hours.
The time on Malta blurs into a blur of blue waters, good wine, pretty doorways and cheap food. However at no point did we feel at a loss of things to do! In the time we did have we managed to cram a lot in…
After much deliberation about where to stay on Malta, we booked a townhouse in an the ancient city of Valletta. It was a close call between here and St Julians Bay. Ultimately we were really happy with our choice, Valletta was stunning. The ancient city is home to multiple film locations and some of the most incredible architecture we’ve seen. Our apartment was tucked down a small alleyway (which was actually used to film Game of Thrones) but only a five minute walk from all of the best things in Valletta.
We arrived into Malta in the very early hours of Saturday morning, so after a good nights sleep we headed out to buy some provisions for breakfast and to explore Valletta. First lesson of the day – there are no supermarkets in the old town! After more walking than I’d have liked we grabbed food for breakfast (and some wine for later)and headed home to eat. We had an incredible rooftop terrace where we ate a lot of our meals, drank a lot of wine and talked a lot of rubbish. The old town is beautiful and we definitely spent a few afternoons just wandering the streets stopping to duck into bars for a drink. Because thats what holidays are for right!?
Valletta is well connected to visit the rest of Malta too. We had a car which made things really easy and was actually more cost effective as there were 5 of us. Valletta is the interchange of all the public transport though so if you’re wanting to head our drinking and dancing at night it’s really well connected.
The Three Cities
Even as its popularity grows Malta isn’t yet overrun with mass tourism. Away from the ‘Top 10 on TripAdvisor’ you can find incredible spots with barely even a local around. The Three Cities was one of these that we were lucky enough to find on our first day. On the other side of the harbour from Valletta lie Birgu, Bormla and Isla, also known as Vittoriosa, Cospicua and Senglea, more commonly referred to as the Three Cities. The cities are easiest to get to by Ferry from Valletta, but there is also the slightly longer option of taking a bus. We took neither. Walking to the Three Cities from Valletta is long, hot, difficult and not particularly pleasant. Inconveniently there is a navy base built right in the middle of the suggested google maps walking route… Thankfully the memories of the walk fade a lot sooner than the pictures of the sights do!
Mdina Old City
Mdina, or the silent city as it is also know is the oldest city on Malta, being continuously inhabited for over 4000 years. Local legend says that as well as housing beautiful palaces for reigning royalty, it has also housed St Paul himself!
Today the population of Mdina is only 300, and everyone works hard to keep it a silent city. Very few cars are allowed inside the walls, businesses operate to strict noise restrictions and there are still signs around the city encouraging visitors to be as quiet as possible.
What is there to actually do in a silent city? Not a lot. Get lost in the alleyways. Take pictures. Admire the architecture. Eat two servings of Gelato from Fior di Late. Dont regret it at all. Although its not huge we managed to spend a good few hours wandering the streets of Mdina soaking it all in. It also gave me possibly my favourite photo of the trip. We spotted a beautiful building not long after entering the city, passing the camera to a friend we decided for a candid photo. And then did this;
One our first day in Malta we were abruptly woken by what sounded like the start of World War III outside. The entire townhouse was shaking and we were convinced it was the beginning of the end. Turns out if was just the start of the festival of fireworks starting. Apparently its a thing. According to our host it’s ‘just for the tourists really… all this noise for nothing.’ I’ve since found out on Instagram though that it goes a lot deeper and is a very traditional annual festival.
Central to the whole festival is the saluting battery, the highest point in Valletta, within the Upper Barrakka Gardens. Every day at noon the museum puts on a display and shoot the replica cannon. As it was the fireworks festival they let off a lot of these too. Seemingly oblivious to the fact that as it was broad daylight it just looked like puff of smoke and a loud bang…
Even if you can’t make it up to the top for noon, its worth a visit as the gardens have some of the best views out over Valletta Old Town.
One very long bus ride from our base in Valletta is Golden Beach. It’s the only beach on Malta that has actual sand, instead of a rocky cliff edge! Hence the ‘golden’ beach name. To be perfectly honest, the sand is the only redeeming factor. Whilst I’m sure the beach was one of the best on the island previously, its now bookended by big hotels. This meant that in the height of summer when we visited the beach was full of people and you could barely swim in a straight line without bumping into someone in the ocean. Looking at prices online though, it’d be a perfect spot in shoulder season if you wanted to stay somewhere out of the main centres.
Marsaxlokk was a great stopover on the way to St Peters Pool, but personally I dont think it would justify a standalone visit. The promenade itself was pretty with lots of boats in the harbour and a photogenic church. From what we saw online its also got great restaurants for fish, but we only managed to stop for a beer!
St Peters Pool
St Peters Pool was probably my favourite swimming spot on Malta. To get there we had to catch a bus south from Valletta to Marsaxlokk, from where we took a taxi to get to the pool. You can walk it but 25 minutes in 30 degree heat doesn’t really work for me. Taxis are easy enough to find, but don’t expect too much quality. The one we got in had a permanently reclined front seat, rubbish on the floor and a window that wouldn’t go up. But for a few euros you can’t really complain!?
Walking down the path from the main road we weren’t really sure what to expect, but St Peters pool is even more stunning than it looked online. Already sweating from a walk of just a few minutes we hightailed it down to the waters edge, dumped our bags and lept in.
The pool was a perfect mix, it had space to lay down (albeit on hard rocks), high cliffs to leap off and also more gradual ways to get down to the waters edge. Because of how big the actual ‘pool’ but was there were plenty of places to jump off without having to wait long in line. Conveniently places up by the carpark is an ice cream van and a bar too!
We arrived just wanting somewhere cheap and warm, but left with a much better understanding of a destination surprised us every single day! Our four days on Malta flew by, all too soon we were jumping into our rental car and headed for Gozo…