Somewhere between the beaches of mainland Europe and the African coast lies the quiet archipelago islands of Malta. Consisting of three inhabited islands and two sanctuary ones, these quiet lands were a popular beach destination up to the 90’s for those seeking a trip with many of the home comforts they usually enjoyed, in a much sunnier climate along with the bonus of English speaking locals. Whilst tourism rates have fallen since these times, the jewels that exist on these balmy islands are no less captivating and are just waiting to be explored.
The Maltese town of Mellieha was the haven for our stay. Located in the northern part of the island and approx 1 hour’s drive from the airport, this quieter bay-side town offers guests a glimpse of authentic Malta life whilst being only a short distance from the sandy beaches of Ghadira and Golden Bay. The church is beautiful in its home on the hillside and many a happy hour can be spent walking through the lanes here before seeking out some Maltese food specialities on one of the local restaurants.
Malta is an intriguing island and I found myself warming to its unusual mix of old and new cultures with each passing day we explored. A hire car would be the easiest way to see the sights and you can venture to most parts of the island in just a few days. However if you find yourself with a driver, the bus system on all the islands is cheap and easy to navigate.
TIP: Bus route maps can be found at the airport arrivals terminal with lots of other local information.
Whilst the Maltese islands appear to be small, you will find many places of interest spanning over the short land miles. By far, the most pleasant way to view the attractions here is by foot and you will most likely spend some time wandering the streets of the towns and cities at leisure. Saying this, should you wish to find an island tour there are a lot of good options available. It is a great way to get an overview of the cities and many companies offer discounts or freebies alongside trips booked. Our trip booking to Gozo, saw us receive the bonus of a free harbour cruise and saw us journeying to the quayside in the shopping resort of Sliema.
Sliema was perfectly situated for a lazy Sunday spent walking along the waterfront and people-watching from one of the many cafes lining the quay before boarding our boat. The cruise drifted by each of the five creeks in the bay, showcasing the golden-coloured buildings of the Three Cities, Manoel Island and many of the forts in the area. We photographed the colourful Venice hut, occupied by the Knights of St John in the 1500s and took in the stunning city of Valletta from our sparkling portside view. Valletta in particular held our interest with its historical importance and so heading South after docking, we made our way to Malta’s Capital City.
The City of Valletta seems to rise from the ground around you as you approach the sandy walls of the old town. Beautiful balconies town house line the sloping streets with shrines and icons are dotted along the doorways and street corners. Flags and signs are displayed far overhead and church bells can be heard chiming the hour around the City. This is a place which embraces its past, with even the most modern of buildings incorporating the roots of older dwellings into their structures. A wonderful example of this is the Open Air Teatru located near the entrance of the City. The aged pillars of the original building stand to attention as if to guard the modern stage, equipment and seating within. The Maltese islands are well known for their appreciation of theatre and opera with the Valletta International Baroque Festival taking place in the City each year. I can only imagine the unique experience to be had, listening to some of the world’s classical musicians at a venue such as this. The City’s great domed cathedral and shopping streets are additional features to Valletta. For those feeling energetic, the climb to the top of the City walls reward trekkers with an outstanding view of the island. With so much to look at, visitors will not go short of things to do in this fantastic city.
Coming up in Malta – Part 2…. We take to the seas for a trip to the neighbouring island of Gozo, dodge Brutus and eating spinach in Popeye Village and explore the medieval City of Mdina.