At the beginning of this year, when it was still snowing outside, we were thinking about what to do in the summer. We did a little research and found a very good offer from Wizztours and chose to go to Malta, a newly introduced flight from Cluj, which in the meantime became the destination of the year of 2017, according to travel agencies. That’s how we came to stay 7 days on an island between Europe and Africa around May 1st.
How to get to Malta?
From Cluj, the flight takes about two and a half hours to the only airport in Malta. From the airport, there are buses to several destinations on the main island. The public transportation network covers the entire country and is well organized. The price of a bus ticket is €1 during winter and €1.5 during summer. Between the islands there are public transportation ferries, at low prices.
Malta can also be reached by car through Sicily, but the transport charges are very high (over €100 per car, for several tens of kilometers between southern Italy and Malta). There is also the option of taking a passenger ship from Italy, Greece or Tunisia.
What is the country like?
The state is small, composed of 3 islands, which look like some rocks in the middle of the sea when you look at them from the plane. The population is smaller than our county in Romania, Cluj. But there are the most cars per capita in Europe, the country is very urbanized. The roads are good, almost everyone speaks English.
Maltese language is a mixture of old Sicilian, Arabic and English. It sounds weird, and in writing it’s even weirder. But it’s only 40 years since Malta left the British Empire, the influence of the English nation is still very present, especially in the positive sense.
The whole country is an open-air museum with thousands of years of history, lots of ruins and stories about countless civilizations that have stopped at this strategic point in Mare Nostrum. The banks of the sea are mostly stones and cliffs, with few places where you can really find traditional sandy beaches.
When is it best to visit Malta?
For walking, visiting and exploring, we found the period around the 1st of May to be perfect. There were 23-27 °C and not a single cloud in the sky. The temperature is almost constant here, it is an ideal place for the elderly who have bone problems, many Europeans have retired to Malta. The winter is also a good time for these activities, the weather is pleasant, though sometimes rainy.
For swimming and spending time mostly at the beach, it is better to come from June to the beginning of October. During summer, however, there are sometimes sandstorms, we have only seen a small one. The wind brings millions of tons of sand from the Sahara Desert, it’s like a kind of yellow fog, with a visibility of no more than a few meters ahead.
What else is good to know about Malta?
The official currency is Euro. The prices at shops and restaurants are high, at the level of Western Europe, perhaps even higher. It is somewhat explicable: this country is located on an island so it imports almost everything it has. Of course, touristic areas are more expensive than the rest of the country.
There are lots of tourists and many foreigners that work here. Malta has grown steadily since its entry into the EU. A great deal has been done with European funds (as opposed to Romania). Almost all the old monuments are renovated and put to good use, even some absolutely banal ones, which you would not even think of as vestiges. These people know how to do good tourism.
The big island contains the capital and is practically the industrial and financial center, everything is happening here. The middle island, Gozo, is a more rural area with many modern Roman or Mediterranean style villas. Comino, the smallest island, is almost deserted, there are mostly cliffs covered with specific plants and very few constructions. It is worth visiting all of them! We have visited the most of the country. It’s not a bad idea to buy a tour with the Malta Sightseeing Bus, it takes you to all the important places.
There are also two discount cards you can buy: Malta Pass and Malta Discount Card. We bought both of them, which was a mistake. We underestimated how much we’d have to walk, it seemed to us a small country, and we thought we could reach everywhere. Although the distances seem short on the map, you can hardly walk everywhere, because there are only high speed car roads with no sidewalks between the localities (or areas). By the way, cars circulate on the left side of the road in Malta.
We therefore recommend to buy only the second card. It’s cheaper, and in addition to discounts for different sights, you can also have discount meals at many venues, which will help you a lot, because the restaurants are expensive.
St. Paul’s Bay
This is where we stayed (actually, the neighbourhood is called Bugibba). It is not the fanciest area in the country, so also not the most expensive. The hotel was modest but clean, with very large rooms (including a kitchenette) and close to the sea. We arrived from the airport late at night, because the bus had been stuck in a jam (there are traffic jams quite often in Malta). Taxis are quite expensive here.
The name of the bay comes from Apostle Paul, who allegedly arrived here in the year 60 AD. According to the legend, Paul reached a Maltese cliff after a shipwreck and was greeted with traditional hospitality by the Maltese people, whom he then Christianized. The history of Malta is largely defined by the struggle with the Arab and Ottoman invaders, reflecting in almost all vestiges, customs and architecture here.
The houses and streets resemble those from the rest of the coastal areas of the Mediterranean, with the difference that there is a lot of limestone here. There are houses built now that look very much like the Roman ones, raised 2000 years ago. The material is cheap and durable, tradition has been preserved.
The streets are narrow, the colours are light, the shade of the desert sand predominates. The houses are beautiful and neat, the windows have shutters that close at noon to protect inhabitants from the heat. Walks on the waterfront, among fishing boats, gulls, stones and lizards are great!
Malta National Aquarium, recently built with European funds, is a must see! It shelters many species of fish and marine fauna, even sharks & crocodiles! The building is modern, with enormous glass walls that, at times, give you the impression that you’re walking around on the bottom of the sea.
Another good spot in the area is the Bird Park, a somewhat peripheral construction in a residential area that includes dozens of flying species from different parts of the world, some Malta-specific, others exotic, all acclimated here and very cute, especially for children or for adults like us. 🙂
The capital city of Malta is named after Jean Parisot de Valette, Grand Master of the Order of the Knights of Malta, who rescued the islands from the invasion of the Turks in 1565. The construction of the site begun during the last years of his life and still retains many original elements. It was among the most modern European citadels then, implementing for the first time many Renaissance ideas on architecture, with broad streets and incipient urban planning, unlike the rest of the medieval establishments.
The central part of Valetta (the old city) looks great! It is among the most beautiful and picturesque places we visited. The sumptuous buildings, 1-5 centuries old, the pedestrian streets, the fortifications from where you can look down at the sea, the cleanliness, the restaurants, the shops, all give the impression of an aristocratic environment, of genuine European culture.
Part of the fortress’s gate was under renovation. The streets were full of travellers from all corners of the world. We visited the Presidential Palace, where we saw a collection of medieval armours, both European and Ottoman. Some of the palace rooms were unfortunately inaccessible to public, Malta holding the European Union’s leadership just at that time.
Casa Rocca Piccola was one of the most interesting and unique experiences we had. Here lives a nobiliary family, with a history of hundreds of years. The tour of the house is guided by one of the descendants, practically the owner of the house, and his wife. In addition to the very beautiful interiors, you have the chance to find out many fun and less familiar details about the life of the Maltese and British aristocrats. Inside the courtyard there is a large parrot that you can interact with, and in the basement there is the first anti-aircraft bunker in Malta.
In St. George’s Square you can have a cup of coffee and admire the buildings of this country’s “kilometer 0”. At the Teatru Manoel we came into contact with the 19th century Maltese cultural space influenced by the French, Italian and British.
Fort St. Elmo is fascinating from the historical perspective, being raised after the end of the Great Siege to prevent future attempts of the Ottomans to conquer the island. There is also the National History Museum, where you will need a very long time to visit all the rooms. From the top, the view is wonderful, makes you think about people who lived, worked, loved and died here centuries ago.
We also walked through the seaport, which looks beautiful, with cruise ships from all over the world hauled here and through the few parks, established during the British period and very well-groomed – Malta has no forests, the soil being thin, rocky and dry, these parks can be maintained only with land brought from other areas and constant irrigation.
Malta 5D, Valletta Living History and The Malta Experience are mini cinemas, where you can see about 20-30 minutes long movies documenting the history of the country. They are especially designed for tourists, but we do not advise you to go to all of them, because many things are repeated even though the formats are different.
Fort St. Angelo
Near Valletta, by the Grand Harbour Marina, is Fort St. Angelo, worth visiting by foot, especially for those passionate about history and archaeology. Here we also entered the beautiful St. Lawrence Church and admired the hundreds of yachts alongside the Vittoriosa Marina.
Next to the port is the Maritime Museum, where you can learn fascinating details about this seafarer’s country, defined by water trade, transport and struggles. We have also been to the Inquisitor’s Palace, that was the residence of the Head of Catholic Justice for centuries, where you can find details of how this institution with such a bad reputation operated.
The old capital of Malta from the Arab period, Mdina, is a very interesting combination of ancient, medieval and modern monuments. The fortress deserves to be explored on foot entirely, it has numerous really interesting establishments. We visited the bastion, entered the Palazzo Falson (a medieval house of a rich merchant), St. Paul’s Cathedral (it’s always strange to see this combination of Catholicism with Arabic architecture and language), the National Natural History Museum (with elements specific to the Mediterranean area), and the cellars where the robbers and the undesirables were imprisoned and tortured.
Outside the fortress, we entered a former Roman villa belonging to a dignitary of that time, as well as St. Paul’s catacombs, a place for burials after the spread of Christianity in this part of Europe. The town is small and chic, it is very pleasant to sit at a quiet terrace and feel that “dolce far niente” specific to this area on the south of the continent.
Għajn Tuffieħa Bay
We found this place with an impossible to pronounce name while we were looking for a point from where we could see the sunset in the sea. As you might know, at the Black Sea in our country you can only see the sunrise from the water, and since we were here on an island in the middle of the sea we wanted to take advantage of the opportunity and admire the moment the sun goes to bed, “sinking” into the sea. So we had to go somewhere in the western part of the island, but the problem was that the coastal areas here are very high and steep.
After thoroughly exploring Google Maps, we found this small beach, very nice, with fine sand and very few people. There is not much to see around, just a restaurant with a terrace, the hotels and the houses being further north. So we were lying on the sand, silently watching the yellow disk being swallowed slowly by the blue marine infinite, while someone near us was playing a guitar.
On the middle island of Malta, we arrived on a public ferry that has a regular schedule. Having the tickets for the Sightseeing Bus, which are also valid here, we had a quick tour everywhere and explored in more detail just the top fortress. The island is beautiful, with many houses and villas where we imagined that we could live!
There are dozens of boats, yachts and boats in the harbour, as well as many fish restaurants that tempted us very much. Half way to the center of the island, you can visit Rotunda St. John, an impressive church, with one of the biggest domes in the world.
The azure window, a very beautiful rock gate above the clear blue sea, which was one of the island’s tourist attractions, unfortunately collapsed a few months before our visit to Malta. We also liked the basilica of Ta ‘Pinu, surrounded by green hills, but we didn’t have time to enter it.
The main attraction of the island is the citadel on the top of the hill, now called Victoria. From above, you can see the whole island and even far in the sea. Here we visited the old prison, where you can see centuries-old inscriptions made by detainees, the Museum of Natural History and the Folklore Museum, the imposing Roman Catholic cathedral and the Archaeology Museum where traces of people’s living from the Neolithic are displayed.
We have walked a little on the streets, which resemble those on the big island, but the life here is quieter, more rustic and easy. Gozo resembles a provincial small town in southern Italy, it lacks the agitation of the capital city, and the British style is not as obvious.
The smallest island of Malta has very few permanent inhabitants, being mostly a herb covered rock, where only snakes and cacti live (the cacti are like the weeds in Malta, you can see them at every edge of the road). Arid and waterless, the island has several religious vestiges, a luxury hotel, and a handful of isolated houses where people who want to escape the urban jungle took refuge.
On the side where the ships dock (there is no real quay here), there are stalls for tourists with food, drinks and souvenirs. The island’s strong point is the bay, which looks extraordinary, like those on the islands of the warm sea, with clear and blue waters, the visible sea bottom, colourful fish and rocks bathing in the waves. The island can easily be visited by foot in 2-3 hours even though there are not many roads, just narrow paths.
When are you going to Malta?
We thought that a week in Malta would be too much, but then, we realized that we didn’t get to see everything we have planned, that we would like to stay longer and explore more. We didn’t even go to the beach and yet time flew so fast! Yes, Malta is a very nice place, we recommend it and we hope to revisit it in the future, to check the rest of the green spots (places we want to visit) on the map, have a bath in the sea and and hang out like mermaids on the rocks! 🙂