Malta, a small island in the Mediterranean Ocean, has been on my bucket list for some time, and last summer during a longer visit to Europe I finally managed to set foot there together with my 6-year-old daughter. A visit she keeps talking about with some excitement.
For years I saved pictures of the tiny Maltese archipelago in the Mediterranean, which i felt was often overlooked, it was very unique to me with its beautiful lime colored baroque buildings in a sea of blue. A beautiful little Island that has an amazing balance of sun and sea and a comfortable climate all year round making it a perfect holiday destination. There is also a very rich cultural history.
HOW TO GET THERE
Malta is a member of the European Union (the smallest I believe) and is therefore open to anybody holding a valid Shengen visa.
Daily flights to Malta are available from most major European and many international airports, especially during the touristic summer months, and the pleasant fact is that inter-European flights are surprisingly inexpensive and can be booked at relatively short notice. I departed from Vienna on a direct flight by Austrian Air. I used skyscanner.com to book my flight. Entry procedures in Malta were very relaxed and efficient and I was able to book a taxi at the airport with minimal delay.
WHERE TO STAY
Your choice of accommodation will depend on what you fanct, who you are travelling with and what your joint plan might be. I considered Airbnb, which I love when travelling solo, but my daughter prefers staying at hotels. She likes to enjoy its facilities not to mention the opportunities to make friends. We had also been travelling across Europe staying at apartments, so it was time to try something new.
At Malta you basically have the choice between a beach hotel or a city hotel in the capital of Valletta. But after some research before the start of our trip, discarding both of these options, I finally settled for and booked a hotel in the middle of the island of Malta with relatively easy access to both Valetta and other touristic locations including a few sandy beaches, which anyway were not our primary target spots for hanging out since we spend a lot of time on the beach at home in Kenya.
Corinthia Palace became our home away from home for a lovely week, and I have no hesitation recommending its excellent facilities and extremely friendly and attentive staff at my very own initiative and without any deal having been made between us. After a week at the palace we had actually established good friendships with a few of the staff – who always were especially looking out for my daughter. My daughter loved the pool, and because it was right in the middle of summer, we spent most of our mornings around the hotel pools and only headed out to explore in the afternoon when the sun was not too harsh. During our stay we sat by the balcony and enjoyed a one hour firework show of a local festival that happens during summer.
WHAT TO DO
In a new country I normally start by exploring the main city by foot and the centre of Valletta situated on a high peninsula in the middle of the harbour offers you some impressive views to the surrounding waters and other quarters of the city, in particular from the Upper Barrakka Garden. There are several major buildings and churches to explore and like us you can also take leisurely walks up and down the narrow and often steep side streets off the main shopping street, and enjoy lots of ice cream and the traditional Maltese architecture which is still well maintained here. This is also where we discovered small but innovative restaurants for a couple of our meals.
From the bottom of one of these side streets you can take an inexpensive ferry ride to the Siema ferry harbour where you can add an international shopping experience to your stay at the huge shopping mall ‘The Point’.
The pier of this little town is also the departure point for the cruise boats offering touristic day tours to the nearby islands of Gozo and Comino which are among Malta’s top attractions. At the recommendation of a couple of locals who were always more than happy to offer their advice, we decided to take the public and very inexpensive ferry across to Gozo, departing from the northernmost point of Malta island, Cirkewwa every 45 minutes for a 30 minute crossing.
On board of the ferry we purchased tickets for the Hop-on-hop-off tourist buses following a pre-set itinerary across the island and we were very happy with this choice. In less than a day we managed to reach all important points of interest on the little island while listening to a pre-recorded story of the history of the island and the significance of buildings and towns passed. We got off at three points and had a wonderful seafood lunch at Xlendi and a short walk around the island’s capital Victoria before heading back to the ferry.
With still a few days to spend we went on a hunt for typical picturesque places around the island. Malta has a well functioning network of public buses but for our convenience (also in terms of timing) we did all of our excursions using Bolt taxis, which not only come just when you need them but also take you exactly from door to door. We wanted to have at least one day on a sandy beach so we spent an afternoon at Golden Sands Beach at St. Paul’s Bay and enjoyed drinks and snacks at the small cozy café right on the sandy beach, and at sunset we enjoyed a refreshing swim.
I was fascinated by the colourful painting of small local fishing boats which we eventually found at the tiny fishing village of Marsaxlokk where we had dinner at the pier. If you love fresh sea food, this is the place to be.
Malta’s century old history of invasions by various enemies from around the Mediteranean is extremely well documented by the manner in which not only Valletta but even smaller towns were built like fortresses. Mdina is among the best preserved of these villages and we loved our ride around the narrow streets in a horse-drawn carriage which you can rent at the main entrance , while the coach-cum-guide showered us with historical details. Game of Thrones fans would be happy to discover that a few of the scenes were shot in Mdina.
On our last day, we spent an afternoon at the San Angelo Fort guarding the entrance to the Valletta harbour. The buildings which by now are mainly the remains of the work of the British Army/Navy from before and during the 2nd World War offer great 360 degrees views of Valetta.
WHAT IS OVER-RATED
The Mediterranean is crystal blue and comfortably warm around Malta (at least during the summer months) but the top priority which the touring agencies place on the diving trips to Gozo and Comina islands to bring tourists onboard their crowded cruise ships seems, at least to my mind, a bit over-rated. The main attraction is diving and snorkeling in the Blue Lagoon of Comina, but with all the cruise ships bringing hundreds of people there every day you just cannot have a relaxed day of enjoying the beauty of the location. A Maltese friend admitted that he loved to go there once a year with a group of friends to camp on the beach, light a fire to grill some fish and swim under the moon when the tourists had left. If I had not been there with my daughter I would have loved to do just that. So this is for me something to look forward to in years to come.
I also found that many hotels rated 4 or 5 star in Malta are similar to 3 star hotels in some parts of the world. One reason for this is probably their endeavor to maintain the original architecture of the buildings.
IN A NUTSHELL
Malta is a unique island with a very rich and fascinating history of fighting and defeating multiple invasions starting with the Phoenicians in the year 800 BC, until this brave people, having lived under a multitude of foreign conquerors, finally in the year 1800 surrendered to the British, who eventually gave them their independence in 1974. Studying this ancient history including the physical evidence of the multitude of wars may be fascinating to some.
For most 21st century visitors the main attraction of Malta however is its Mediterranean location and climate and its membership of the Shengen area, which makes it a favored destination of a multitude of global travelers.