The Maltese Charm

We had done barely any research on Malta before we came to the island. In fact, till a few weeks before the trip I thought the island was Spanish whereas my sister thought it was Italian. In reality, it belongs to neither. Malta is an independent island country comprising an archipelago of 7 islands.

We chose Malta coz of it’s year round warm climate and coz the flights were at least 150-200pounds cheaper than to Tenerife, my first choice after I spent an amazing Xmas there last year. The flight to Malta was ok, the only odd thing being that our passports were not checked even once on the entire journey! The check in and the baggage drop off at the airport in Munich was automated. Only our boarding passes were checked while boarding the plane and when we arrived in Malta we didn’t go through immigration at all! We went directly to the baggage claim! Not sure if this was coz it was Xmas day and the staff was on holiday or it is always this easy to get into Malta.

Sight Seeing

Malta…what a beautiful and pleasant surprise it has been to visit this island. I remember thinking that there’s not much to do in Malta and that off the 7 days there a lot of the time would be spent chilling on the beach. Terribly wrong on both counts.

Firstly, we could have left our short skirts and bikinis at home coz this place ain’t warm in December. It was quite nippy and the winds extremely strong, the worst gusts were 51kmph and that’s there highway speed limit! Second, there’s SO much to see and do on this seemingly tiny island. So 2 tips for you, AVOID Malta in December unless you are ok with frequent rains /strong winds and spend at least one week on the island.

St Julian’s

The Balluta Bay at St Julian's by night
The Balluta Bay at St Julian’s by night
Enjoying a walk along the bay with my sister :)
Enjoying a walk along the bay with my sister 🙂

My sister and I chose St Julians as our base and it was the perfect for us. It has a promenade around 4km long and has a lot of shops, restaurants and cafés along the bay. Even so it’s not a party hub. We enjoyed taking long walks along the rocky coastline, just chilling by the water, eating delicious meals (and cakes) in one of the numerous cafes along the bay, etc.

 

Valetta – Malta’s capital city

Beautiful Valetta
Valetta, with its beautiful architecture

Wow. I was not expecting Valetta to be so pretty. Being in Valetta was like being in a mini Rome, only cleaner. It was like going back in time with it’s the massive fortifications, beautiful architecture and the ruins dotted around the city centre. This, however, was in complete contrast to the new-age shops and boutiques along the main street and music being played in the side streets. More than once my sister and I looked at each other with expressions that said, “wow, what is this place!”. Even if you are not a city person you must visit Valetta; it is small enough to be covered on foot in half a day. If you ever go to there, promise me that you’ll eat an ice cream (or two) for me at Amorino’s. They had delicious looking ice cream that I would have eaten had I not stuffed my face with grilled sea bream with veggies and chips. Missing an opportunity to eat such good ice cream still pains me.

 

Mdina

The main square in Mdina
The main square in Mdina

Mdina is the old capital and is called the silent city of Malta. It’s a small walled “city”, perched on a hill, with interesting architecture. For us, it was like being back in Panchgani, a tiny holiday resort back in India that our parents used to take us to at least 3-4 times a year when we were kids. Seeing Mdina should not take you more than a couple of hours.

Our plan was to see Mdina, see the neighbouring city of Rabat (which is where the bus actually drops you off) and the church of Mosta (just outside Mdina) during the day. This church has the third largest dome in the world. It is also referred to as the “miracle church” by the locals as during Second World War, a 200kg bomb fell through the dome without exploding, leaving all 300 people in the church unharmed. Our plans to see Rabat and the Dome went down the drain (quite literally it seems) due to the heavy downpour leaving us with only 45mins to see Mdina before catching the bus to the Dingli Cliffs to watch the sunset.

Dingli Cliffs

View from the cliffs
View from the cliffs
Gorgeous sunset at Dingli Cliffs
Gorgeous sunset at Dingli Cliffs

The cliffs have got mixed reviews on travel forums. Some people say that it’s nothing great and that they’ve seen better cliffs. I have been to the Seven Sister cliffs and the Dover cliffs in the UK and even so I was impressed with Dingli. The cliffs are the highest point in Malta and offer a spectacular view particularly during sunset. The cliffs also have a very well maintained pedestrian walk way that you could enjoy a walk on for hours. As we didn’t have a car, we took a bus from Mdina right to the cliffs. You could also take a bus to the town of Dingli and walk around 15mins to get to the cliffs.

If I had more time (and better weather) I would spend a day walking along the cliffs and the Buskett Gardens, which is Malta’s only woodlands. If you only want to spend a couple of hours on the cliffs then you can easily do Mdina, Rabat, Mosta Dome and the cliffs on the same day. The bus 202 stops at all the above places.

Be mindful though, it is much colder on the cliffs that on the bay. It seems obvious but it wasn’t to me. We had to wait an hour for the bus back to St Julian’s and I was so cold that I remember telling god that if he sends the bus soon I will start praying and also stop eating pork! But he kept me waiting so I guess I can keep eating pork 😉

 

Gozo

What an amazing and at the same time terrible day. This is the day when I decided I’d had enough of the stupid weather and didn’t want to do anymore sight seeing for the rest of my trip. Before Gozo, we had 2 days of decent weather when it was partly sunny even if a bit windy. Other days we had heavy but intermittent rains. But being on holiday with my sister, the delicious food and the amazing cakes were helping me forget about the weather. But the day out in Gozo tipped me over the edge.

So Gozo is the other island in the Maltese archipelago and the ferry between Mgarr (in Gozo) and Cirkewwa (in Malta) runs every 45mins. Gozo is almost rural compared to Malta with a population of only 37k. This is the place you would go to if you needed some peace and quiet.

There were a few things we wanted to see in Gozo; the Azure Window with the neighbouring Dwejra bay and the Fungus Rock, the Sannat cliffs, Victoria – the capital city of Gozo and if there was time then the Ggantija temples, which were built a 1000yrs before Stonehenge. But the weather had different plans for us.

It took us 2.5hrs from when we left our hostel to when we set foot on Gozo. We had decided to stick to only a few attractions for our one day trip and use the local buses (which all start from Victoria). Our first stop was the Azure Window. As soon as we got off the bus we had to find shelter as it was raining hard. Once the rain stopped we decided we would take pictures first and then take a nice long walk along the cliffs. We got may be 30mins before we were caught in the thunderstorm that followed and in the 5-7 minutes it took us to find shelter we were completely soaked! I realized then that I would be wet and cold for the rest of the day and that just put me off and all I wanted was to get off the island of Gozo, which we did as soon as the rain slowed a bit.

So in essence we spent 5 hours on the bus/ferry and got absolutely soaked just to see the Azure Window but I still cannot bring myself to say that it was a waste of time. The Azure Window was simply spectacular. And the horrible weather is what made the sight menacingly beautiful. The turbulent waters, the strong gusts of wind, the high waves crashing against the gigantic rock made the sight terribly beautiful. The day after the trip, my body remembered the fatigue of the long journey but my memory of Gozo remains of the terrifyingly beautiful Azure Window.

The spectacular Azure Window
The spectacular Azure Window
The Fungus Rock at Dwejra Bay
The Fungus Rock at Dwejra Bay

 

Other places in Malta that we didn’t get time for but are worth checking out are the Blue grotto and the Golden bay.

All said and done, we’ve really enjoyed Malta and will definitely be back (next time in the summer!)

 

Tips for Malta

  1. Eat in a café instead of a restaurant as they are cheaper, the portions bigger and the food is just as (if not more so) delicious.
  2. Leave space for the amazing selection cakes served in the numerous cafes.
  3. The food portions are massive. My sister and I preferred sharing a main course with a salad which left us comfortably full (until we ate some cake!)
  4. Hire a car. The island is small and very easy to get around. Having said that, the bus connections are really good, although they don’t always stick to the timetable. A day pass on the bus will cost you 1.5euros which is dirt cheap.
  5. Eat the heavenly pumpkin risotto (cooked with white wine, cream, sun dried tomatoes, cashews and pumpkin) at the Fortizza café in St Julians. This was the most delicious risotto my sister and I have ever eaten.
Delicious pumpkin risotto
Delicious pumpkin risotto

 

Tips for Gozo

  1. Spend a day there if you want to just “see” the place but I would recommend staying at least a couple of days to really “experience” the island. This way you could also club the island of Comino which is in between Malta and Gozo.
  2. There are many ways to see Gozo
    1. Top preference should be to hire a car. You can rent one from the ferry terminal in Gozo for as little as 15euros a day or 20euros a weekend.
    2. Take the hop-on hop-off buses. There are 2 companies that do this – Malta sight seeing and City sight seeing. Malta sight seeing has better frequency of buses.
    3. Take a Gozo day bus Pass for 1.5euros. You would have to go into Victoria for every connection and might end up losing time going back and forth but it is do-able if you plan to visit only a few places.
    4. I’ve also heard that you can strike a deal with taxi drivers outside the Gozo ferry terminal to be your guide for the day for 40euros which is too expensive in my opinion.

 

 

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