In March we travelled to Malta, it was a last minute thing….we were thinking of having a break in Scotland and tackling Ben Nevis…but winter blues got the better of us and we decided we had to escape the grey skies…we needed some sun, blue sea and skies in our lives…and we got it!
There really wasn’t much to this, i’m not a massive fan of package holidays, usually you can do it cheaper yourself, but leaving it so late we were able to find a really good value deal online through teletext holidays. Yup they still exist! Long gone are the days of playing Bamboozle on teletext, but they still do holidays online! (I’m so old) I do recommend getting hold of a copy of Lonely planet guide to Malta and Gozo prior to going, its a really good read and guides you through the history.
So good old Ryanair got us there from Stansted, our base for our 5 night stay was the Plevna Hotel in Sliema. The hotel was basic, but clean, we had all our meals included, we didn’t eat there the whole time but it was handy having breakfast before a full day of exploring and the food was actually pretty decent. The staff were all really friendly too and went out of their way to help us.
Sliema really was a good base, for €2.80 per adult you can get a return ferry ticket which runs every half an hour across the Marsamxett harbour to Valletta on board a catamaran and takes about 10-15 minutes including loading time. Also loads of excursions run from the harbour front there, we took tours to Gozo and Comino from there which was just a 5-10 minute walk from our hotel. Walking in the other direction takes you to Sliema sea front and then St Julian’s bay. This is a really nice walk and St Julian’s Bay is really picturesque and has load of cool bars and restaurants overlooking the bay.
It’s a small archipelago in the Mediterranean between Sicily and the northern coast of Africa. It consists of three islands, Malta, Comino and Gozo, we were lucky enough to visit all three. It’s capital is Valletta, a fortified walled city built on a peninsula which emerges between two harbours or bays. It was built by the knights of St John following the Great siege in 1565 when a 30,000 strong Ottoman army invaded and were held off by a much smaller force till reinforcements finally came from Sicily. In fact it seems like every story from Malta’s history is that of an underdog emerging victorious when everything was against them, it really is a special place. Also to be visited on Gozo and Malta are numerous prehistoric sites, Hal Saflieni Hypogeum – a 5000 year old necropolis carved into rock, and standing stone temples which out date Stonehenge.
The coastline is full of harbours and hidden picturesque bays, nearly all of them seem to be overlooked by a historic fort or watch tower, there seems to be a surprise round every corner.
You just can’t talk about Malta without mentioning its legendary history. It is entwined with the Sovereign and Military Order of the knights of St John of Jerusalem. The order has its origins from the time of the crusades, more information can be found here – http://www.mytravelmission.com/knightsofstjohn .
After the armies of Islam conquered Jerusalem the order were forced to flee and ended up in Cyprus. They then acquired the island of Rhodes which they fortified and fought off numerous invasions becoming fierce warriors in the process. Eventually a 100,000 strong Ottoman force defeated the order and the remaining knights were allowed to withdraw to Sicily. Having fought so valiantly the Grand Master at the time was given the title Defender of the Faith by the Pope at the time. After some time they were given the island of Malta by Charles 1 of Spain as King of Sicily in 1530. Initially the knights we unimpressed with the island which appeared to them as just a lump of rock in the Mediterranean. However they soon realised its strategic importance and began building the fortifications and watch towers still seen there today. 1565 brought one of the biggest moments in Malta’s history when a 30,000-40,000 strong Ottoman army invaded Malta. There were just 600-700 knights and an army of around 7000-8000 men at arms based on the island. The Ottomans laid siege to Fort St Elmo trying to take it but it cost them around 8000 men. The knights fell back and eventually reinforcements arrived from Sicily, but by this time the Ottomans were already in retreat. The islands stayed under the rule of the knights till 1798 when Napoleon and his fleet arrived. By this time the knights had changed from a fighting force and were enjoying their prosperity and handed the islands over with hardly a fight. Napoleon stayed on the island for just 6 days but completely changed the laws of the land. By 1800 the locals rebelled against the French asking the British for assistance. Nelson sailed in with the British navy and again Fort St. Elmo was under siege as this was where the French retreated to. In September of that year the French surrendered and Malta became a Crown Colony of the British Empire. During WW1 the island served as a hospital for injured servicemen. In WW2 the island suffered terribly but held out against the Italian and the German air raids. King George VI awards the George Cross, Britain’s highest award for civilian bravery to the entire population of Malta. In 1964 Malta gained its independence from Britain and in 1974 becomes a republic.
Valletta lays claim to being the first planned city in Europe, named after it’s founder and Grand Master of the order of the knights of St John at the time, Jean Parisot de la Valette. It is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, when listing it UNESCO labelled Valletta as one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world. It’s designed in blocks with straight streets, the intention being that this would allow cooling sea breezes to infiltrate the city during the hot summer months. It’s a small city and everything is easily reached on foot. At one end of the city you enter in pretty dramatic style through the city gates and emerge onto Republic Street. If you follow republic street all the way to the end of the peninsula you reach Fort St Elmo, the setting for so many of Malta’s historical episodes which now houses the national war museum which really is worth visiting. It tells the island’s history as you move through and has on display the last remaining of the three legendary Gloster Gladiator biplanes which helped defend the island during WW2 named Faith, Hope, and Charity.
Don’t miss the Grand Master’s Palace, the home of all the Grand Masters of the order of the knights of St John till Napoleon invaded and where they fought to the death against the Ottomans to defend the altar inside their church.
Another place which is really worth visiting is the St John’s Co Cathedral built between 1573 and 1578 it has a really impressive gilded interior.
Another don’t miss is Caffe Cordina, established in 1837, serves great food at what I thought were really good prices given its location (and the portion size!). Located on Republic street you can either sit outside in a beautiful sun soaked square or inside with its painted and decorated ceilings. Really not to be missed, try the Bragioli, a traditional Maltese dish – beef wrapped in beef (amazing!) stewed in a tomato and herb sauce. The desserts are awesome too, they also do gift boxes which make great presents for those back home.
One of the main draws of Gozo is the dramatic coastline at Dwejra, especially the Azure Window and the blue hole. It has been a setting used for the T.V series Game of Thrones and before setting off we had seen pictures such as this:
When we went, this is what we got!
The weather definitely took a turn for the worse! Saying that though I don’t think I enjoyed it any less, the power and sound of the sea crashing against this coastline was truly breathtaking! I really did not mind getting soaked watching this show. You HAVE to see this no matter what the weather!
We got City Sight Seeing hop on hop off bus tickets which were really convenient with a good timetable and took you to all the major locations. It’s definitely worth spending a day or two here.
This is an uninhabited small island between Gozo and Malta, it has one hotel and is protected against further development. However it gets packed during the summer months. The main attraction here is the Blue Lagoon. An area of sea where the colour is so blue it seems unreal, locals and tourists alike flock here in the summer months and cram the small beach areas and rocky outcrops.
We went in March and it wasn’t so crowded, but it was windy, not serious sun worshipping weather. The coastline around the island is spectacular, with hidden caves and rocks reaching out from the sea.
The island is a cool place to go for a walk and get away from things, it seems in the centre of the island at times that there are more lizards than people on the island. We went there on a day trip with Captain Morgan Cruises and had really good fun. Be warned though, if you’re going the same time of year we did, it was sunny with bright blue skies, but once we got out to sea the wind really picked up and it was freezing! The boat we were on was fully booked and there was no space left inside and only room on the “sun lounge” and we were really under prepared, take some layers to put on during the ride!
There really is something for everyone here. I would recommend Valletta as a city break destination in its own right. I fell in love with the place. There is loads for history buffs, the weather is great during the summer for sun worshippers with beautiful coastlines and a nightlife which is really becoming vibrant. We went in March, the weather was mostly pleasant reaching 25c one day, however it was pretty unpredictable and windy at times. If you want guaranteed good weather leave it till after May. One thing I’m gutted to have missed out on is the diving scene, which is world class, we just didn’t have enough time to fit everything in…oh well…we’ll just have to go back one day 😉
I highly recommend this travel guide: