Malta is fascinating and exotic, mysterious and warm. If Ulysses remained haunted for seven years in one of these islands there is a reason, but if I have not convinced you yet there is the Crystal Lagoon, Blue Lagoon, Blue Grotto, The Azure Window, names that evoke the beauty of these places. Not the most exotic destination that you could imagine, yet the azure waters of this island in the middle of the Mediterranean could be linked to those of the Caribbean.
Malta is a small island set in the blues of the Mediterranean, lying in the shadow of Sicily. The solar and radiant, Malta awaits you to wrap you with the charm of a ultra secular history, that of the Knights Templar and its invasions that have followed the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs and Spaniards, and with its wild islands, Gozo and Comino, that when you see them you understand why Ulysses remained bewitched.
Malta was a nice place full of local sea, where we met people from all over the world and you could pull the sunrise like nothing. I imagined a cross between Ibiza and Greece, with dusty and sunny roads, rocky beaches, cultural visits because it is true that there is history in Malta.
As the daughter of mixtures and contamination of generations, it has taken the best of Arab culture, Italian (Sicilian in particular) and English and was beautiful, so different from anything I've ever seen, with a shameless appearance yet hidden behind the walls of a building, behind the curtain of a Gallarija, the characteristic enclosed balcony in the heart of a sea cave. But what to see in a weekend in Malta?
I warn you, a weekend in Malta is not enough and I already have three good reasons to return like the Mdina, the 3000 years old capital of Malta, the Hypogeum of Hal Saflieni in the second world, the only underground temple of 500 BC, and the sandy beaches in Malta because there are not only reefs but there is also Paradise Bay, Golden Bay, Ghadira, Gnejna Bay, and the red beach of Ramla Bay.
We arrived with a bright sun, tempered by the wind that dilutes the heat of the islands, heading straight to the center of Valletta. We can only start here, the Maltese archipelago's capital, because in addition to Gozo and Comino, there are only 5 islands, mostly uninhabited. Valletta is a young city with a vibrant atmosphere, its historic churches, museums and charming cafes are just an appetizer of what awaits you.
It was a moment to get caught by the ups and downs of the roads and the Valletta streets that intertwine with each other in a grid. It turns with the baroque churches, colorful Norman and baroque buildings and peering behind the typical Moorish balconies of the gallarija. They say the ladies hide behind the lace curtains to watch the world go without being viewed in return.
In reality, the young area and the most popular and full of locals was St. Julien that represents a small part of the capital, perfect for dinner, a cocktail, drink or someone looking for a cool evening in some clubs. The rest of Valletta is a pleasant maze of clear and wide streets, cream palaces, colored balconies climbed halfway up, with the waving curtains.
Everything gave an idea of calmness, while sitting at a table in a bar with a Cisk, the local beer in a hand and the official snack of Malta, Pastizzi, a puff pastry stuffed with hot cottage cheese or mashed peas. The good place to taste them is certainly the way, in one of pastizzeria in tiny hidden local street corners. How to find them? Just get carried away by the puff pastry perfume.
Remember to give a nice 'Grazzi' to the waiter. Maltese is in fact is a language born from Arabic, English, French and Italian, which sounds familiar and foreign at the same time, just like the atmosphere of the Maltese Islands.
Valletta is all to run, explore and get lost along the narrow streets and discover new glimpses and sudden squares, open to the sun, full of small bars and cafes. The City Gate, with an open-air theater, a redesign of the squares and the new Houses of Parliament was not bold, but was amalgamated in the panorama while having a soul. I finally visit the Co-Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, commissioned by the Knights, that was Spartan, baroque and richly decorated inside in a show of trompe l'oeil, rich colors and golden glow of the bas-reliefs.
Its facade was almost anonymous that portends the exuberant Baroque interior but once inside you will not know where to look. On the marble floor are embedded sumptuous tombstones of the Knights and the stone vault is painted with the technique of trompe-l 'oeil creating intriguing perspectives. It houses the Saint Jerome writing and a painting of The Beheading of St. John the Baptist by Caravaggio, the largest and the only signed, with which the artist was virtually guaranteed the honor to join the Order of the Knights of Malta. It was not possible to photograph it but, like any painting by Caravaggio, viewing it was a great thrill.
Almost everywhere in Malta you can breathe the air of the Knights of St. John but crossing the threshold of Casa Rocca Piccola, a 1850 mansion currently belonging to the Knight of Malta and one of the best kept secrets of the city, we enter in a jealously guarded world in which every object has a story to tell. We simply loved the atmosphere of Casa Rocca Piccola.
The small gem of Valletta, is like a peek through 400 years of history of a noble family of the order of knights, including paintings of all ages, elegant furnishings of the past and furniture belonging to resident families, manuscripts, accessories and photos, and the most surprising thing is that some of these rooms, such as dining room that overlooked lush and refreshing gardens, are still used by the De Piro family that still live in this house and the memories and treasures of dames and knights.
It also offers the unique opportunity to have a look from a Gallarija, the closed balcony, born for sun protection in the shadow of a curtain of Maltese lace, but also to watch without being seen. Despite the fatigue, the atmosphere of the house and in particular the dining room, still used for Christmas and celebrations, was light and refreshing. We then stop in Piazza Regina to relax in one of the most beautiful squares of Valletta.
Manoel Theatre is one of the oldest, in fact, precisely the third oldest theater in Europe. Also available here are guided tours to get behind the scenes and learn more about this place. If that bores you then inquire about scheduled performances because surprises are always around the corner!
After all this exploring, in the evening, I recommend a break at one of the many bistros and cafes around to enjoy a Italian-inspired salad, or an English hamburger. It is not uncommon to find sweets that resemble in every way a small cannoli and cassata. If the sunsets overlooking the sea are not enough, there are plenty of places to have fun or to relax in the sound of jazz and live music with a good glass of wine. I also recommend a visit to the Upper Barrakka Gardens, overlooking the harbor of Valletta, the largest natural harbor in Europe. Just below, if you like the genre, the Saluting Battery seemed to be very beautiful.
From this rooftop terrace you see a glance of the three cities of Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua and the Grand Harbour, as it is called because it is a Porto Grande in all respects as it is the largest and deepest natural harbor in Europe. To see its greatness from another perspective, get off the harbor of Vittoriosa and climb aboard a dghajsa for a ride in the calm waters of Grand Harbour.
And then we come to Vittoriosa to get lost in the narrow streets of the Citadel or just for pastizzi of Birgu, with the taste so authentic and genuine that does not want to fade away. Pastizzi are puff pastry filled with mashed peas or even warm goat cheese, and are a delight that can be taken early morning to accompany as an aperitif or as a snack in the afternoon. But the real aperitif with Maltese is Cisk, the local beer and snails, at any hour of the morning!
We cross the island for a jump in the prehistory. Older than Stonehenge or the pyramids of Giza, are the enormous megalithic temples of Hagar Quim, dated about 3200 BC. They will also leave you with some disturbing questions like how it was built, by whom and why.
From here it is a moment to get to one of the vantage points of the island, the Dingli Cliff, especially if aboard a segway. If like me you do get carried away by taming these gizmos, you can roam along the streets bordering the cliff until you get to the highest point of Malta, Siggiewi. To be honest, the highlight of this journey for me it was the segway and admire a sunset at the back as well.
We moved near Buskett Gardens for a Segway tour to the cliffs at Dingli. The reef tour was beautiful with stunning views and a sense of incredible freedom. Segway or not, the sunset at Dingli Cliffs is splendid. And I survived the Segway proudly. If you go on a Sunday, it is a moment to get lost in a kaleidoscope of colors, smells, tastes, and objects of the local market but on any other days can give way to the simple charm of this small and picturesque fishing village. Moored in the waters of the port, are the colorful luzzi, the traditional fishing boats.
The next morning we venture into a small pier from where boats start for the neighboring islands of Gozo and Comino. The water of the pier, for starters, was not bad at all. We see some Luzzo, the typical Maltese boats that we will enjoy the next day, in all its colors. It takes about 20 minutes from Malta to Comino. Comino is a small paradise with a unique resort, and in the winter months is inhabited only by a couple of boomers.
The island of Comino is our first stop and like all the Maltese islands was barren. The vegetation was little and mostly composed of low shrubs and plants that need little water. Then, suddenly, we find the Blue Lagoon, a slice of paradise in Malta. A clear gulf where the sea is incredibly transparent, so that in some photos taken there the boats seem suspended in air instead of floating with all shades of blue and green water, enclosed in a clear expanse in front of our eyes.
The temptation to dive in it was there, but the water was really cold. I climbed up on top of the islet to take some pictures. Comino was wonderful. I do not know whether it may be suitable for children because in the months of high season, July and August, the island is really crowded and the beach is only a few meters long. For the rest we arrange sitting in the bushes. There are small structures and snack bar, but in general if you want to visit Comino I recommend going there in the warmer months but not high season. The water will not be as cold as in May and the crowd should have at least be minimum.
Immediately after the beautiful Comino, Gozo wait for us.
We hop on the bus from Valletta terminal and go to visit Mdina, the City of Silence, so named because of its serene and relaxed atmosphere. This ancient capital of Malta, is a quiet town with medieval origins characterized by narrow streets that preserve this architecture that can be defined as a mix of Baroque and Medieval. And it's just walking through its narrow streets we travel back in time and in these moments one senses the special atmosphere of this place, step by step.
Entering from the gate of the city we find ourselves in front of the Palazzo Vilhena, palace built in the 16th century, which now is the Museum of Natural History. Besides being interesting for its collection, it is really beautiful for its architecture and for the well-tended garden.
Cathedral of St. Paul is located close to the square where turning our head 360 degrees we see nothing but beautiful houses and very photogenic palaces. At Bastion Square we stop at a cafe where we have a slice of chocolate cake, that seemed the best in the whole island! Howard Gardens is a places to visit, with relaxing corners where you can admire the life that seems to run slower. If only for a moment, take a look at Howard Gardens, you will not regret. Chrystal Palace is Known for its international treaty.
If there is still time, take a trip outside the walled city of Mdina in Rabat for a visit to St. Agatha's Crypt, and its catacombs, as the most important in Sao Paulo.
I know, do not tell me, time passes quickly on vacation and we already arrived on the third day but of things to do in Malta there would still be many. After visiting Mdina the contrast is clear. Once a small fishing village, Sliema has turned into a city full of life, shops, restaurants and nightlife.
If you like shopping, Sliema is the place where in addition to a souvenir, you may run the risk of coming home with an extra suitcase. At sunset, we leave our room for a stroll along the promenade, perfect for capturing or simply admiring the skyline of Valletta.
Sliema is also famous for its many beaches and rocky shores, and it is during the summer months that come alive with crowds of people. Every so often we well lie down on the beach with a cocktail in hand, listening to the music coming from the numerous bars and watching the sea, but there are endless possibilities of doing water sports, snorkeling and diving, or discover the hinterland in a fun jeep safari.
Besides the sea and the nightlife, which in any case would be enough, is an island rich in culture, history and traditions.
USEFUL TIPS FOR A TRIP TO MALTA
Malta is one of those destinations that appeal to you as soon as we set foot. Besides a mild climate that characterizes it, the fine sandy beaches, crystal blue sea and its hinterland to discover, make it a travel destination fit for all.
Rent a car to have the ability to move freely is the right solution and the first step to start a trip on the island in the best way. Once on your car, your journey begins.
I want so much to point out that Malta is wonderful not only for its sea, the mild climate all year round, the English classes and nightly entertainment. Personally, I was fascinated by its hinterland, its urban centers where one can see the invasions that occurred throughout history, its picturesque villages that are rich in charm.
You will find churches with famous masterpieces and cafes full of tradition. I dare say that the true soul of Malta, the heart of rural life, is right here. That's why one of the tips for a trip to Malta among the first places you will find to explore is the hinterland.
I loved from the beginning two towns inland, Mdina and Rabat. I recommend everyone to see them even if time is short. Mdina is one of the last remaining Renaissance fortified and intact cities in Europe and is called the silent city. The first thing that makes you want to do is touch it to put your hand on the door of the houses, among the cold brick and along the bridge entrance, which almost separates the rest of the world.
Not far away from Mdina, Rabat is the ancient Roman Melita, where there are the Roman House (Roman Villa), Catacombs, St. Paul's Grotto (the cave of St. Paul), many churches and beautiful monasteries.
Blue Lagoon is one of the most beautiful beaches you'll see in your entire life. Why give it up? Of course from June to August, especially on weekends, it is very crowded, but it would be a shame not to take a trip between Gozo and Comino and dive in its crystalline waters. The water is turquoise and many tourists agree that here is a small glimpse of paradise.
Marsaxlokk is where fishermen begin to sell their products and the ladies of Malta hop to make the best deal ever. To soak up in the atmosphere, I recommend a walk on the pier, along the market stalls, listening to the local chat and photograph the colorful Maltese boats. If you decide to stay for lunch, there are many typical restaurants ready to welcome you. To try is the lampuki, a local baked fish that is really delicious.
The part that struck me the most was Zejtun a village of around 10 thousand people. In particular, the barettino Ta 'Ganna where every Sunday morning, 10 men of the country are to sing the Ghana, each surrounded by a dozen beers and a cloud of smoke. The Ghana is a typical Maltese hand, a mixture of the Fado and Portuguese folk songs from Romagna. With an increasingly regular guitar background, a group of singers challenge in rhyme, one at a time, always responding to the provocations of the previous singing. It was a truly unique and timeless, decidedly different from what I could expect.
Anchor Bay is located along the west coast and just think, at its feet is a colorful village built for the 1980 musical Popeye The sea that is like an emerald and backdrops are full of colorful fish. The Selmun Bay, in the east is reachable only on foot through a path immersed in the green. Selmun bay is best to go during weekdays.
And then there's Golden Bay, the perfect beach to practice sports like body surfing and paragliding, and to have fun with jet skis and banana-boat. Perfect for the little ones is the bay of Mellieha, known to be the largest sandy area of the entire island and the shallow water.