19 Apr,2018 By jagabond
Malta is a tiny country, but don’t let the size fool you. I often hear the assumption that it’s simply an island for beach lovers. Not true. Over the years societies have blended together here to make something really unique. Yes, the beaches are great and the water pristine, but the history adds a novel twist. Here’s what I recommend for a 4-day weekend.
1. Celebrate the Maltese culture
The colorful city of Valletta is especially vibrant this year, earning the distinction of 2018 European Capital of Culture. You can check out the full schedule of events here. It’s also the site of other annual festivities, including the International Baroque Festival in January and Carnival in February. Fans of ornate churches will love the St. John’s Cathedral, and the Upper Barrakka Gardens offer stunning views of the harbor.
2. Marvel at Comino’s bluer than blue water
Malta actually consists of three islands, with Comino being the smallest. There is only one hotel here, and the only permanent residents of Comino are hotel staff. The Blue Lagoon is the main attraction. You can swim in the magnificent blue water, or cliff dive into it. Just a warning to people who hate crowds, this place is mobbed during summer.
3. Bask in the serenity of Mdina
This fortified city dates back to the 8th century B.C. and served as the capital of Malta until the medieval period. Spend a few hours here and try a pastizz, the famous pastry of Malta stuffed with either soft cheese or mushy peas. Get your pastizz at Fontanella where you can also enjoy a great panorama from the upstairs terrace. Mdina is nicknamed the ‘silent city’ since cars are discouraged and horses rule.
4. Explore ancient temples
The megalithic temples of Malta are among the oldest religious sites on earth. These temple complexes are located in four different locations across the country, and date back to 3,000 B.C. They have undergone multiple restorations over the years, mostly to protect further erosion of the limestone. The sparseness of the surrounding area adds to the allure as you walk through history.
5. Spend some time on Gozo
Gozo is the third island after Malta and Comino, and lies only a short ferry ride away. The oldest of the aforementioned megalithic temples can be found here. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie spent some of their honeymoon on Gozo, while also filming their movie ‘By the Sea’. Gozo has a much more relaxed feel than the main island. Go to Marsalforn for the best restaurant and nightlife options. Take a boat tour and soak in the coast, though the azure window shown in the video below is now gone, as a recent storm permanently destroyed the rock formation.
6. Enjoy the nightlife in St. Julian’s
Many of the cafes, bars and restaurants are located in St. Julian’s. This also means the hotels here are typically overpriced. Visit the Paceville district for the wildest of Maltese nightlife. For those preferring something more calm, I recommend the City of London Pub. Go earlier in the day to walk the promenade.
7. Visit a falconry
Movie buffs may recognize Humphrey Bogart’s classic ‘The Maltese Falcon’. This film actually had nothing to do with Malta. The country’s history with falcons dates back to the 13th century when King Frederick II sent falconers to Malta to search for these majestic birds. Visit the Malta Falconry Centre in Siggiewi to get up close and personal.
8. Learn about the rich military history
Study up on the Knights of Malta, a Catholic military order in existence since the 11th century. More recently Malta was a target due to its strategic location between Europe and North Africa. During World War II a bomb went through a church during service, and didn’t explode. Sensing a miracle, the locals constructed a monument in honor of this. Watching the cannon firing ceremony (twice per day) in Valletta is a must.
How to get there and get around: RyanAir offers budget flights to Malta from many major European airports. There is no need to rent a car, as the bus options are plentiful, cheap and reliable.
Where to stay: For the most bars, restaurants and cafes, stay in St. Julian’s. For a quieter time while still being near the action, opt instead for Sliema.
Important tips: Malta was previously a British colony, so the electrical outlets are on UK power and driving is on the left side. Take note of the unique language spoken here, where they use the Italian word for ‘thank you’ and the Arabic word for ‘God’.