Allison is back with travel tips for Malta, a small island nation in the Mediterranean Sea.
Hello again Readers! I’m back to share some experiences from the small island of Malta where hubby and I lived for a year between 2010 and 2011.
Malta, located at the southern end of Mediterranean Europe, offers something for everybody. Whether you’re a sun-seeker or adrenaline chaser, party animal or history buff, Malta has got you covered.
Situated at the crossroads of the Mediterranean, this tiny, densely populated country is split between two populated islands. Malta, the main island, is where most of the action takes place. Gozo, the smaller and more rural island just to the north, considers itself distinct from its larger brother, but anyone not from there would be hard pressed to notice a real difference. Although much of Malta is very cramped and city-like, there is plenty of natural beauty. Sheer cliffs hundreds of feet high plummet straight down to the crashing water, and a giant arch in the sea are just a few of the natural sights worth gazing at. The country is also a popular choice for Hollywood, having played home to Game of Thrones, Gladiator, Troy, Captain Phillips, World War Z, and many others. You can even visit the village from the Robin Williams ‘Popeye’ movie.
The Maltese islands have a truly fascinating history. Around the year 5000 BC, prehistoric man built some of the oldest megalithic temples in the world, which are open to visitors. More recently, St. Paul famously shipwrecked on Malta’s rocky shores, and over the centuries the islands have been colonized or controlled by the Phoenicians, Persians, Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Arabs, Knights Templars, Ottomans, Normans, Napoleon, the British Empire, and many more names you may recognize from your high school history books.
With its proximity to Italy, North Africa, and crucial shipping lanes, Malta’s strategic importance was viciously highlighted by some of the most intense bombing of World War II. Axis planes heavily bombed the island for over 150 consecutive days, which nearly pushed the Maltese into submission. But they held, and the island became a meeting site for Roosevelt and Churchill and launch-pad for the Allied advances into Italy. For their bravery and resolution, the entire country was granted Britain’s highest civilian honor. Foreign rule finally came to an end with the British Empire granting Maltese independence in 1964.
But beyond history, Malta offers plenty of culture, scenery, and vibrancy, all in a gorgeous Mediterranean setting. Here’s a closer look at some of my Malta favorites.
Rock Beach – A rock beach might not sound like the most relaxing place to spend an afternoon, but trust me that it’s as comfy as any soft sandy beach. The rock beach nearest to my old Malta apartment was an area of large, smooth, and softly curved rocks that created natural seating areas along the coast. These beaches have ladders built into the rock wall for getting in and out of the water, which is calm, clear, and great for snorkeling.
Gozo farmhouses – The farmhouses on the smaller island of Gozo aren’t exactly what a U.S. native might think of as a farmhouse. They are usually small homes, several centuries old, with just one or two bedrooms, and maybe a pool. Many Maltese “vacation” at these Gozitan farmhouses, where they can get away from the noise and bustle of their city lives. Hubby and I had a great weekend away with friends from school when a professor invited us to his 400-year old farmhouse. The kitchen still had a hook on the wall where farmers of the past would tie up their goats.
“Hiking” on Comino – With no mountains, there is no hiking on Malta as we would think of hiking, but that didn’t stop hubby and I from exploring around Malta’s smallest island, Comino. During high season, Comino is worth visiting but will be absolutely packed with visitors swimming and sunning at the beautiful Blue Lagoon. However, if you find yourself in Malta around April when the island is at it’s lushest, I highly recommend filling a backpack with snacks and heading out on Comino by foot for a day. We spent a few hours walking the entire island – which we had almost to ourselves, taking in amazing views of the sparkling sea, and investigating a medieval fort situated in the island’s center. We also came across a beautiful swimming cove (we didn’t get in) but looking back, I wish we had. It was the greatest day and I’m so glad we got to enjoy “hiking” on empty Comino.
Tips for visiting Malta:
Malta, in this former resident’s opinion, is best in the summer and fall, with the exception of August which is too hot for most people. Malta has an uneven split of beaches, with mostly rocky/pebbly beaches and a few sand beaches. Some are rocky coastline with smoother, rolling waves, and some are in ancient coves that look like they haven’t been touched in a thousand years. Any beach you choose should have beautiful, warm water safe for swimming, and all the beaches are fairly clean. Beach season winds down in October, but Malta should have warm/mild and sunny weather right up to the December holiday season.
The local snack specialty is a small pastry called ‘pastizzi’. They come hot filled with either ricotta cheese or smashed peas and only cost about 50 cents. You can find them along any streetside café.
The capital Valletta is a beautiful, historic city, but one that doesn’t need much more than a day to visit. It’s on the smaller side, and its churches and galleries are easy to get in and out of. One of the most beautiful indoor sights there is the St. John’s Co-Cathedral. For lunch, head to Kantina Café, near the Co-Cathedral.
If you’re into a bit more action and want easy walking access to restaurants and nightlife, St. Julian’s is the place to stay. There is a very nice Le Meridien with reasonable rates.
The best pizza in Malta can be found at a little Italian place in Sliema called ‘La Cucina’.
An experience not to be missed is the hypogeum – an underground temple and UNESCO World Heritage Site dating to 3000 B.C. You’ll need to book tickets in advance.
Thanks Allison for your great insights into both Norway and Malta. I appreciate you taking the time to tell my readers about your experiences.
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