Malta on the Map
When you hear someone say Malta, don’t feel bad if you need to check its location on a map! I wasn’t too sure myself. But do feel a little guilty if you thought it was a Spanish island. Malta is a European country and EU member since 2004. Inhabited since around 5200 BC, it was once home to the Sicilians, followed by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, and so on and so forth until gaining independence from the United Kingdom in 1964. (And that’s how you condense 7000 years of history into a single sentence…)
Malta is also not one but five islands, consisting of three inhabited islands: Malta (the largest), Gozo and Comino; and the uninhabited Comminotto and Filfla. The small archipelago sits in the Mediterranean Sea just north of Tripoli, south of Sicily, east of Tunis and west of Crete. Due to the proximity, expect to see a lot of Italian tourists and groups of men from Sicily roaming the streets (especially in nightlife hotspot St Julians!)
In case you’re wondering, Maltese is the official language, although most people also speak English. The language evolved over time according to the nationalities that inhabited it. Today, it sounds like a combination of Arabic, Italian and French. For example, hello is Merħba, pronounced Mair ha ba, quite Arabic sounding, while thank you is the same as the Italian Grazzi.
The other very important thing you should know about Malta is that it has served as the set for a surprisingly large number of Hollywood movies, of which the Maltese are exceptionally proud. Remember Game of Thrones Season 1? Parts were filmed not in Westeros, but in Malta! The last Brangelina movie, By the Sea? Set in France, yet the entire film was shot in Malta. Others you may know include Gladiator, Troy, Alexander, Captain Phillips, World War Z, The Da Vinci Code, The Count of Monte Cristo, and many more.
Gozo Jeep Tour
A top attraction is to visit some of these movie locations, which our Gozo tour guide keenly pointed out. He was also one of the few lucky locals chosen to play an extra in Game of Thrones, with a photo of him and Khaleesi to prove it. A Gozo tour – either by jeep or quad bike – really is the best way to see the highlights, which can be done as a day trip from Malta or as a half-day activity if staying the night in Gozo. We went by jeep with Gozo Pride Tours, ask for Louis!
Diving in Dwejra
Gozo is surrounded by the bluest sea I’ve ever seen. In different places, the colour appears to shift from Aztec turquoise to azure blue, like the colour of Blue Curaçao liquor when poured over ice, to darker shades of cobalt and sapphire. It really is incredible.
I recommend doing the quick €4 boat trip at Dwejra that will take you through a sea cave to see the cavernous coastline, where the famous Azure Window once stood, and Fungus Rock. If you’re keen on diving, the Blue Hole is a geological wonder not to be missed, rated in the Top 10 dives of Europe.
Xlendi Bay is probably my favourite spot on the island. It’s worth staying a night or two on Gozo just to spend some relaxed time here. We drove by on our tour and while we didn’t have time to stay, I couldn’t help but imagine myself sitting at one of the restaurants overlooking the bay, enjoying a bottle of refreshing white wine as the sun prickles heat into my skin. I also spotted a restaurant called the Stone Crab down on the left that looks right up my street, and a popular coastal hike not too far off.
Gozo has some of the best beaches of Malta; yet another reason to stay on the island during the summer season. It has both red and yellow sand beaches, such as Ramla Bay, San Blas, Marsalform and ix-Xlendi. Ramla is the biggest and most popular one, which no doubt gets very busy during the peak July and August months.
Because of its small size, Comino has just one main attraction: the Blue Lagoon, easily accessed from Gozo or Malta by ferry or water taxi. The best time to visit is during the summer, when the sea and weather are warm enough to go swimming. Other times of year, it is still worth passing by on the return to Malta to admire the sea. As the name suggests, the lagoon is perhaps the palest azure blue you’ll ever see, much lighter than around Gozo. Just look at it!!
Cities of Malta
Some of the top cities to visit on Malta are the capital city Valetta, Sliema and Mdina. Sliema is a popular place to stay due to its central location. We stayed in a beautiful Air Bnb apartment a short walk from the Palace Hotel where we went for our girls spa day, since we were on a hen trip. The Marion Mizzi Spa is gorgeous with a fantastic rooftop swimming pool overlooking the city. As it happens with capital cities, Valetta has some of the best restaurants, while the old capital of Mdina is the most interesting historically.
Maltese food, much like the language, is also influenced by its history and location. The cuisine veers towards Italian Mediterranean cuisine with a hint of North African. For example, the popular local pastry pastizzi tastes rather like a pea samosa. I really enjoyed our al fresco lunch at the seaside Il Gabbana in Sliema, and dinner at Legligin in Valetta.
Legligin is a cozy wine bar and restaurant offering a 6-7 course ‘tasting’ menu for around €29. However, the portions were so generous that I was the only one on my table that made it to the final course. As a blogger slash professional food eater, I knew what I was in for. I particularly enjoyed Legligin’s homemade, milky ‘cream of limoncello’, which I joked was like drinking from the tit of the lemon. I guess you had to be there.
Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to Ta Kris in Sliema, which was my pick for dinner there. Instead, we ate kebabs, because hen do. Although, they were surprisingly good and dare I say healthy. The popular Istanbul Kebab House has a delicious fresh salad bar with couscous, tabouleh, and other deli sides to go with freshly grilled meats.
We did, however, make it to St Julians, which is Malta’s nightlife hub. The kind folk at Legligin tried warning us not to go, but we were on a hen, so going was non-negotiable. What can I say about St Julians nightlife… Look, it’s not the worst, I’ve seen worse. I’ve been to Ayia Napa, literally the asshole of nightlife. This was nowhere near that bad, but the crowd is very, very young, predominantly male and fueled by a dangerous combination of cheap alcohol and teenage hormones.
Malta is also home to the annual Isle of MTV music festival, among others. But if partying till dawn in a hot sweaty crowd is not your scene, I suggest finding a bar in Valetta or anywhere except St Julians. There is also an epic annual fireworks festival that is worth catching!
Our last day in Malta was spent just wandering the streets, walking along the marina, and munching on pastizzi. I fell in love with the Matese architecture. Almost every single building, house and church are made from the same limestone bricks native to the islands, giving it this gorgeous sandy hue. Maltese houses are also much more detailed than in the Mediterranean in general, revealing that Arab influence.
This thing with the balconies is really unique. Our tour guide explained that almost every master bedroom in Malta has a balcony. Many houses also have names as well as numbers. We spotted some interesting ones like ‘Cupid’ and ‘Bride’s House’ – very appropriate for our hen trip! In Gozo, we also visited the Miracle Church, which had a plaque commemorating the pope’s visit in 1990. We could hardly believe it when we saw that his visit was on the very same day that our bride-to-be is getting married!
For more tourist and travel information, check out Visit Malta