Malta has lots of interesting culture. In Malta's earliest history people from Sicily came to Malta and build megalithic temples. These are now the oldest free standing monuments of the world and are listed as World Heritage by UNESCO. It's definitily worth visiting one of these temples when you are on Malta and/or Gozo. They are even older than Stonehenge! When you want to go to the hypogeum you have to book in advance. It is the only underground temple and they only let in a certain amount of people a day. But other temples like Hagar Qim/Mnajdra, Tarxien or Ggantija on Gozo you don't have to book at all. Here are some good photo's of a few temples:
Malta also has many beautifull cathedrals. The cathedral in Mdina has midievel fresco's. The Saints Johns Co-Cathedral in Valetta is richly decorated and was build by the knights of Saint John.
Make sure you dress properly and that your shoulders are covered. It's a requirment to get in. You can also get shawls at the entrance.
Malta is changing big time - the Young genteration have forgotten how we brits helped them in the war. The Maltese think that everyone from outside Malta live like lords and have buckets full of money. Try to explain that people have saved for 50 weeks of the year to live like lords for 2 weeks while on holiday - they just don't believe it. Maltese people think they are badly done by. But they are all on get rich quick schemes from holiday people. There are always two rates - one for Maltese and one for visitors. Malteses people in general are only friendly because they are trying to empty your pockets and bank! Cunning methods they use to extract money from visitors. Never trust flesh while it's still warm!! especially Maltese.
Malta is a lovely, very friendly island in the Mediterranean sea. The weather is always clement. Even in winter it's mild here. Malta is an ideal place to visit all year round, due to it's temperate climate, but is especially enjoyable during the Spring, summer and Autumn.
I have visited this island four times over some years, first as far back as 1975 then in the 1980's, and twice in the last decade. So I have been there as a young teen, one of a newly married couple with the company of another couple, and also twice as a family, taking my youngest two children. I have been self catering three times and catered for once.
The island has changed quite a bit since my first visit, and maybe grown a little too popular. Also, I hear that it has been hit by the recession and some of the quaint little shops have closed.
This country is a great place to take a young family as the Maltese love children and make them welcome in bars and restaurants. It is usual to see Maltese children eating out in restaurants quite late into the evening.
It takes just over three hours to fly here from London. I find the Maltese quite like the British as they have strong ties with us, especially from the second world war when they were awarded the George Cross for their great courage when the island was under seige. If you're into history there's plenty here, going back long before World War 11.
I wouldn't say the food is wonderful but it is varied and influenced by British, Italian and local food. Local food can be a rabbit stew or squid (not for me!) and a vast variety of sea food with swordfish being very popular.
If you want a lively holiday with bars showing international football and karaoke then B'gibba is probably for you. Bear in mind that although it is on the sea front there isn't a beach but many areas where you can access the sea by steps and sunbathe upon flat rocks. It isn't far to get to one of the many small bays and coves around the island as it is so small. I believe about 30 miles across.
Sliema is lively but I didn't really like staying here as it's very built up. If you are missing British shops though you might like to visit. Although it isn't my favourite part of the island it is popular with tourists.
St Julien's is more select but very busy of an evening. This area is mostly popular with young couples and singles, although not by any means comparable with Aiya Napa or Ibiza. Everything is quite small. If you want lots of clubs and riotous times then Malta would be best avoided.
Millieha Bay is ideal for a family as it has a long sandy beach and enough shops and bars for a stroll in the evening. There are some nice hotels here.
Paradise Bay is beautiful. I stayed for two weeks in the Paradise Bay Hotel and had a bay view room, and the view was spectacular. Blue sparkling sea and the occasional sighting of a cruise ship going into port. From this area you can catch the ferry for Gozo (Malta's smaller sister island) or go on a trip to Comino with it's clear waters. It does get crowded in the summer and it's best to go weekdays as the Maltese are out in force on the weekends enjoying their country.
The thing I like best about Malta is that there is a lot to see and do on such a small island and it's so easy to get about. You can go on 30 minute speedboat trips or half or full day cruises. The buses are fun and cheap and you can easily manage without hiring a car.
I find the Maltese language hard to understand as it has been influenced by many invaders of the island. It sometimes seems a little IItalian but it has strong Arabic influences too. It is hard to read and quite different to English. This isn't a problem as most Maltese are fluent in English, as well as other languages.
You can visit Mosta Dome which has it's own story to tell of a bomb dropping on it's dome and bouncing. I won't go into details as if you visit the island you will be told about this often.
And M'dina the silent city is worth a visit too.
Valetta the capital has great charm. It has many shops and much of the shopping area is pedestrianised.Restaurants and bars can be found in abundance. Horse and carriages can be hired to take you around Valetta for a guided tour, but please haggle as the prices start very expensive but they are very competitive. Valetta is beautiful at night and in the amazing fortified harbour you can see the many cruise ships.
My children swam with dolphins in the Marine Park at Sliema. You can book this over the internet before you go, as it does get booked up. You can request to be collected from your hotel and returned later by mini bus or taxi.
During the summer many Festas are held in Malta (Fiestas, saint's days ) and the fireworks are spectacular.The first time I took my children here, as our plane was landing in Luqa airport we could see an explosion of fireworks. What a welcome party!
Malta truly comes alive at night. I have never seen so many lights. Churches, hotels, bars are decorated with colourful lights. It's beautiful and when the fireworks start things get even better.
Well I could go on and on so l'll try to sum up. This island is not to everyone's taste and I can see why. It's landscape is arid and not noted for sandy beaches, although they can be found. Indeed, you wouldn't call the beaches wonderful BUT the sea certainly is.
You should deduct a star from the hotel ratings. There are some super hotels but generally the standard is not too high.
Malta is varied though and you can go to a bay for watersports or one such as G'uintafea (It's not spelt quite like that!) for large waves or go to Armiier where you can walk a good distance out on smooth sand.
Also, it's only fair to warn you of the smells that can come up as the island's drainage isn't the most modern. But I love it for it's character, it's friendliness, the outstanding views over the med and the blue skies and sunshine.
This review may be posted onto Ciao by AnneLorraine1
Malta is a small European island in the mediterranean sea. It takes about three hours to fly to from the United Kingdom. In the summer the weather can always be relied upon to be extremely hot and sunny, I have travelled there many times in the summer and have found that temperatures normally hit around the high thirties. I have also been in the winter and it is still quite warm, a shawl is needed (even though the Maltese walk around in woolly jumpers!).
The landscape is very dry and rugged, people generally seem to either love or hate the landscape. The beaches are sandy but most are very rocky so it can be difficult entering the water. The sea is beautiful but in some areas can be quite rough and unpredictable, but there will always be flags on all of the beaches to advise swimmers on sea conditions.
There are many beautiful towns, villages and cities which are easily assesable by bus or foot, you can travel around the island in one day if you hire a car! There are also boats that will take you to the near island of Gozo which also has an amazing charm.
The people of Malta are very friendly and generally speak fluent English. The main religion is Christianity and there are many breathtaking churches that can be visited but you must remember to respect their beliefs upon entering them by being fully clothed (women need to cover their shoulders and not wear revealing clothes.) The churches also bring with them many amazing festivals that you can join in with, these will end in spectacular fireworks and commence every friday night in different villiages.
There is so much more to Malta than meets the eye and this island is well worth a visit, I recommend it to everyone and hope that I will be able to travel back their soon.
My first experience with Malta was as a child and I had fond, if not a little vague, memories of it. It was with this in mind that I decided to take advantage of a cheap package deal to the small island in the Mediterranean. We only spent six days there and this isn't nearly enough time to visit all the sights that Malta has to offer, so I won't presume to be an expert by any stretch of the imagination. I will tell you about the places I visited and what I thought of them.
As I said, we went on a package deal with Cosmos, flying with Air Malta. Browsing through the in flight magazine told me that Air Malta fly to and from most major UK airports on at least a weekly basis. I also noticed the familiar liveries of Easyjet, Ryannair, Monarch and Thomas Cook at Malta International Airport, so there is plenty of choice.
Bar far the cheapest and surely most fun way to see the island is by the very comprehensive bus system that operates to all the tourist hotspots. The buses themselves claim to be 'the cheapest and safest way to get around'. I'll agree whole heartedly on the first point; fares start from as little as 30c and the most we paid was E1.16 for a journey that lasted around 45 minutes. The second point I'm not so sure about, but that adds to the fun. The buses are rickety to say the least and the drivers, who clearly have no responsibility for their buses, work them hard. This coupled with the very uneven road surfaces makes for a bumpy journey, reminiscent at times of an old roller-coaster. Don't let this put you off though - I'm still alive to tell the tale!
For those a little less adventurous and a little better off, there are plenty of taxi ranks around the resorts, which have the benefit of air conditioning - a very welcome commodity in 30+ degree heat!
-Qawra and Bugibba-
I've coupled these together as it's very hard to tell where one starts and the other ends. Located on the south side of the island, around 20 minutes drive from the airport, these are purpose-built towns directed solely for tourism. They were only built around 20 years ago; however they already have the well used look of the island in general.
We stayed here at the Sunflower Hotel (review to follow) and enjoyed the laid back, Mediterranean feel of the area. The central focal point is Bugibba Square which is home to a number of restaurants, bars and shops as well as being the setting for various events. Whilst we were there, we saw the annual Raw Bikers of Malta Rock Concert, which was fantastic! Despite my lack of interest in both bikes and rock music, the party feel of the place was infectious and welcoming.
There is a sea front, with lovely views of St Paul's Islands and the sea, however this isn't the place to come if you want to lie on the beach all day. There is a man-made beach, although it isn't nearly as good as the real thing. Most people use the lidos, which are spread across the front. The lidos all have their own bars, restaurants, swimming pools, toilets etc and cost only a few Euros for daily entrance. They also have access to the sea via steps across the rocky edges.
Also in this resort is a casino (you'll need photographic ID to get membership, which is free), a bus station which connects you to most of the rest of the island and various shops, restaurants and museums - definitely plenty to keep you entertained for a week, although I'd urge you to travel a bit.
This is Malta's capital and was built after the Great Siege to create an impregnable fortress against another assault. It was in fact, Europe's first planned city. It is much the same now as it was when it was built and you get a real sense of what the city has been through by just wandering around.
We went on a public holiday, which meant that the streets were very quiet, except for the steady stream of tourists that are to be expected in a place like this. To be honest, we didn't actually go in anywhere, but I had a fabulous day wandering around the maze of streets (that are often very steep) and looking at the impressive Fort St Elmo (which is designed in a star shape to give the best advantages points and minimise the threat of a surprise attack) and the equally impressive grand harbour (home to thousands of yachts.)
If you like to do things, there are plenty of museums, all of which are described in any guide book and plenty of shops for those who love to part with money!
Mosta is in the centre of Malta and is a residential area that is quite compact. Its crowning glory is the Mosta Rotunda, which is an impressive and imposing building that stands above and beyond the sea of rooftops. Built over 27 years, this parish church is home to Europe's fourth largest dome. The main draw though, is the replica of the 200kg bomb that fell through the roof of the dome during a service in 1942. Fortunately it didn't explode and the replica can now be found in the church's sacristy (conveniently located right next to a gift stall!).
No holiday in Malta is complete without a trip to Gozo, a smaller island to the south. It can be reached by any number of organised boat trips from almost anywhere in the island, however the cheapest way to get there is by the ferry (E4.50 per person, return) that leaves the Southern tip of Malta every 45 minutes.
If you do make the trip, don't miss the caves and rocks of Dwerja Point. The bus goes there from Victoria every two hours, giving you plenty of time to admire the giant and obscure rock formations (especially Azure Window and Fungus Rock) and take a boat trip (only E3.50 per person - well worth it) through the caves, where you will be amazed by the coral and the beautiful inky blue water. We have a fabulous time exploring the rock pools and just feeling very relaxed.
Also on Gozo, you can't miss Victoria, the island's main town and centre point for all the buses. Dominating from upon a hill is the Citadel, which affords great views of the surrounding area and is home to various small museums and the cathedral. Don't be put off by the cathedral's rather plain exterior, because the inside is very impressive. The best feature, in my opinion, is the trompe l'oeil, painted because there is no dome where the church's designer intended there to be one.
As I said, I only covered a small number of the hundreds of things you can do in Malta, leaving me plenty to explore if I should ever return. The question is then, would I ever return? Possibly is the honest answer. I saw enough to get a feel of the place and I really did enjoy my time there, but there are so many places in the world to visit and for me personally, it didn't stand out enough to make me want to go back time and time again.
The main problem, I think was that I was looking for a relaxing break and whilst you can have that on Malta, you feel obliged to go and see the many splendours it has to offer, meaning that when I got home I felt I needed a nice sit down - which is what I'd gone there for in the first place!
Malta is oozing with history and culture and is a fascinating place with lovely people. The food is good (the national dish seems to be rabbit) and it's a very safe place, where you will feel comfortable wandering around. If this is the kind of thing you look for in a holiday, then go and you won't regret it. But don't expect it to be a lazy holiday, because there is just so much to see!
I can reccommend The Overflow Restaurant in Qawra. Very nice and welcoming staff and food very pleasant especially the fresh fish which was very impressionative. Also the fillet was very nice. I liked it and will go back there soon
Firstly let me explain why I went to Malta, well if you look at my profile picture, that is me on my wedding day in, yep you've guessed it, Malta. The wedding in Malta experience was absolutely fantastic and for the most part the whole two weeks away were, but there were some huge negatives too.
The Island is absolutely beautiful, there can be no doubt about that, and the see is lovely and clean, but there are only 2 beaches on the entire island and neither offer much of a choice in getting there later than 7.30am.
We chose Malta for our wedding as you can't get married in Spain and the only other option was Cyprus. Cyprus was deemed to be too hot for my 2 year old (1 at the time) and the other kids that were coming, so we went for Malta. Ironically enough, we ended up there in what the locals were calling a heat wave. It was 34C in the shade on my wedding day. Anyone who doesn't like it too hot, should avoid Malta from April to October.
The day trips offer some variety and the nightlife is good, especially in St Julians Bay, but there is absolutely nothing to do for the children. This was very disappointing.
There are many things to do however if you are children free and there with either friends or your partner, so I can highly recommend Malta for that kind of holiday.
I will never go back there as it is not the kind of place you can go to twice in my opinion, but I think it is somewhere everyone should experience once, just not with kids.
may i recomend a bus pass, from the bus station, jump on and off the buses, any time any where, you can even get down to the ferry for gozo, which is a great day out to there, , nice centre, and some great places to eat
a beutiful island, and very nice people, , theres lots to do, for all ages, and the new complex at st julians, is ok for a wet day, a bit noisy at night, so be careful were you stay,
another great thing is the date pasties at the bus station, a couple of pennys for a delious pastie
I booked my holiday in Malta at the Hilton Portomaso resort. After several searches and quotes I found that www.sundreamstravel.com offered the best rates for hotels on the islands of Malta and booked with them. In fact apart from being cheaper they organised everything for me including my flight, transfers and car rental. When we got there we got exactly what we expected, the Hilton Malta is a great place to holiday and booked at this rate this was one of the best value holidays we have ever been to.
We had requested a room on a high floor and when we got there we found out that they gave us a room on the first floor. We called Sun Dreams Travel and their assistant got on our case and managed to change our room to a high floor in no time. Very satisfied to have booked with www.sundreamstravel.com and will reccommend them to anyone wishing to holiday in Malta. Finally had a fantastic week long holiday, the weather was perfect with blue skies each single day. We dined very well in the many restaurants available in the St Julian's area and also made our way around to quiet a few localities around the islands. It was handy to have a car as we managed to get around independantly and were amazed and how much the islands have to offer. Make sure you get an airconditioned car though! Will be looking at returning next year and in fact will be booking in the next few weeks.
OK believe it or not this review is about 1/30th of my university thesis!!! this is going to be a long review so make sure you have some time spare! BUT holds valuable impartial information. Perhaps I should have completed seperate reviews to clock up the ratings but I want to share with you all the glorious places that make a trip to Malta worthwhile and leave you going home saying...it was beautiful...I loved it.
Where do I start... Lets start with one of the most famous cathederals in the history of humankind...the 5th larget unsuported dome in the world that houses a WWII unexploded german bomb thats HUGE in size. Quite simply put, walking into this cathederal is humbling, makes you feel insignificant. It is in Mosta's centre and really...you cant miss it. When you walk in you will be greeted by magnificant architecture, stained windows that beg to be stared at and statues galore. Inside it is huge, you literally have to tilt your head vertical and back some more to look directly up to its roof centre. The german unexploded bomb is housed for all to see.
The true story is:- During WWII Malta had the most bombs dropped on it than any other country in the war...truth. The Maltese just would not give up this island which translated means "haven" This is why the Maltese Island and its people were awarded the george cross. During one particular raid the church was packed with people when this bomb went directly through the centre of the dome roof. It did not explode!!! So, today all visitors can see this incredible man made lump of explosive designed to elliminate life standing upright in a church of god! If your into history or WWII or lived through it your mind will flash. It really is a humbling experience.
The Blue Lagoon. Every time I take a pleasure boat or speed boat to the Blue Lagoon my heart thumps. Below the surface ot the water you can see bright coral over 150 feet down. The water is so clean. Ian Flemmings James Bond made underwater scenes here. As you come to the natural stone arches which tower above you there is one particular arch you must see. It is an arch with a naturally occurring face of a man. The maltese believe this to be the presence of Jesus Christ. To see it...well, you have to see it. You will ask the skipper to stop the boat just to view it (which they usually do) and when you move on you will be left in awe whether your a believer or not at all.
Mdina... Previously mentioned in my other review on Malta, General under the same title as this titles review. However, as a short recap. It houses an enormous amount of history, a maze of little alleys, a lovers dream, previously royalty and the knights of Malta lived there and to this day only direct pure decendents can own property there. Its called the silent city because at night it is very quiet, even during the day with many people it is still quiet. Do go to see the "Malta Experience" when in Mdina. It a picture show that goes through all of maltas history from the time the first person stepped on the Island right through to the modern today.
The Grand Master Palace. This is in Valletta, Malta's capital city. Bustling with people and many a tourist place...Just watch out for those tourist restaurants... You can avoid this by going to a lovely little place called "Eddies" lots of seats outside and for a cafe restaurant the waiters are VERY good. But please give a tip because they work for 40 lira a week, thats about £90 sterling. There are many other restaurants...Malta is full of them but I will do a seperate review on those another time. Back to the Grand Master Palace. When your inside its simply breath taking even just to see how the master of Malta used to live in such lavish luxury. Again it is full of history that yields such culture and wealth. As the name suggests it is a palace and a sight to see.
Anywhere in Rabat :-) Have you guessed this is my favourite place on the Island... As mentioned it houses Mdina. It also has Howard Gardens which is very peaceful even though busy! Here you can see reall catacumbs many thousands of years old. Saint Pauls Catacombs in the centre of Rabat is the best to see. There is also Saint Agatha's Catacombs which is good to see as a comparisson. Rabat is very small. Right now its best not to eat at the "point de view" it used to be great food but now the only food thats good is their pizza and thats starting to go downhill. I feel you should know this even though I used to go there every week to eat! Rabat is greatly becoming the centre for tourists. Take a ride in the horse drawn carts...its an experience!...a good one at that but can cost up to 15 lira....just haggle haggle haggle!!!!!! DONT TAKE A TAXI WITHOUT AGREEING A PRICE FIRST........ that goes for anywhere on the island. The bus terminal is in the centre of Rabat and will cost you a maximum of 50 cents per one way trip, though taxi is comfortable and air conditioned....and smooth! some roads are terrible :-)
Dingli cliffs offers beautiful views and such peace. Go there for a picknick and soon you will feel very relaxed. There is an incredible canyon there and steps to go down right to the sea... The ex prime minister "Mintoff" had the steps done because he had a little hide away by the waters edge! Be very carefull though the water can sweep you away and it has happened to the unsuspecting before...and there is NO chance of rescue!
Churches.....Churches churches churches...there are 364 on the island....how many do you want to see just take your pick! I may do a seperate review but depends on how many want to read it. If you would like to see a review please let me know when you write a comment. The more that are interested the more I will write as it will take at some hours to write such a review!
Valletta. Not wanting to bypass Valletta but this really needs a seperate review on whats good otherwise you will still be reading for hours...literally! I will post a review soon but it will take some time to write up.
Sliema. The place where people walk to be seen! can be rather expensive...think Kensigton in the UK and Holywood in USA...this is Malta's answer, albiet though not nearly as glamourous. Sliema is a large cosmopolitan town that is simply packed with cafes, shops, bars, restaurants and the odd Burger King! Some very exclusive designer clothes here. Please DO NOT take a car here to visit...it will take hours to find parking...if your very lucky.
Tarxien (pronounced: tarr sheen) Close to Paloa (pronounced: powla) Tarxien holds archaeological sites, neolithic temples, alot of very complex burial chambers which are underground dating back some 3000 years or so and also a dark cave (known as Ghar Dalam, pronounced: arr dalam) The dark cave holds many remains of very exotic and extinct species of birds and animals. Have you ever seen a dwarf hippo or dwarf elephant? you can see them here!
Lastly Gozo and Comino (Malta's sister Islands) Comino is very rarley touched upon. Both places holds a magnitude of its own. It really is simply breathtaking. After 6pm it is so quiet you will think your this tiny little island is yours. If your after a remarkably tranquil time this place is it. Time stands still...dont take your phone! Be sure to visit the red beach. The sand is litterally redish in colour. Gharb (pronounced: Arb) is a lovely little place. I used to work there. The people are so friendly and close is quite possibly on of the most wonderful and beautiful churches in Malta. It is fantastic and so very beautiful. The church itself is also an official place of pilgramage to the Vatican!
Comino is between Gozo and Malta...when you fly over Malta and turn around to land its the tiny tiny little island that you will see for about 7 seconds outside your airplane window :-) Comino is so incredibly quiet. There are a handful of farmers living there...yes a handful. They have the island all to themselves so this really is the place to "get away from absolutely "everything". Comino is abound with wild growing herbs...the smell of cumin in some areas is very strong! Obviously this is what the farmers grow :-) Actually, this is where the Blue Lagoon is.
In another review I will give impartial advice of where its best not to go and the title will be headed as so... I feel this is only fair and I despise visitors and tourists being ripped off because I have been in the past. All my future reviews for Malta will come under the same title to make them easier to find... Insider secrets (to Malta) from a Maltese man :-) Hope you enjoyed reading my review.
Malta is by no means a pretty little Mediterranean island. It's incredibly built up, can be rather scruffy and is quite polluted. Vegetation is sparse on Malta - there are very few trees so it looks rather dusty and dry. But don't get me wrong, there are many spectacular looking buildings and beautiful sights scattered throughout the island. The blue of the sea set against the golden yellows of the sandstone buildings make for some picturesque settings. This was my third visit to Malta, (the first two were holidays as a child in the 1970's) and I was keen to revisit some old haunts and see if it lived up to my happy memories.
~ LOCATION ~
Malta is situated in the middle of the Mediterranean between Sicily (58 miles away) and Tunisia (180 miles away). Malta is the biggest of an archipelago of three islands, the others being Gozo and Comino. It's a small and sunny island - some describe it as a kind of Mediterranean melting pot, where east meets west. It's quite tiny - only 27km long and 14½km wide. In fact, traffic and potholes permitting, you can drive from one end to the other in less than an hour. Flights from UK onto the island are made into Luqa International Airport and take about 3½ hours (a lot less with a good tailwind though).
~ HISTORY ~
Many cultures have left their mark on Malta as the island has been overrun throughout the ages by a variety of races such as the Romans, Arabs, Spanish, the Knights of the Order of St John as well as the British. Malta became part of the British Empire back in 1813 and due to its handy location in the Mediterranean, was a huge source of income after the opening of the Suez Canal. Malta suffered terribly during World War II through aerial bombardment and lack of supplies. In recognition for their valour, Britain awarded the island with the George Cross, which is still on their national flag today. Although Malta became independent from the British in 1964, their continuing love of all things British is reflected in all sorts of ways from driving on the left, to their red telephone and post boxes. The older Maltese love nothing more than a pot of tea and a bingo session. And the good news is that British tourists can do away with their travel plugs, as Malta uses the same 3-pin plug system as us.
~ TODAY ~
Malta is home 400,000 people, but the population is often tripled by a steady influx of tourists. The Maltese are a hot blooded and passionate race, dark and swarthy looking. The older generation of Maltese are good-natured and extremely polite. However, the younger generation can be a bit abrupt and none to eager to serve. Many of the young girls in the shops acted like it was really far too much trouble to serve you, and all the reception staff in our apartments were downright rude and hostile.
The language of the island is Maltese, an Arab dialect with borrowings from Spanish, French and English. It's a rather strange sounding language but luckily there is no real need to try and get a handle on it. English is taught in all the islands' schools and most Maltese are fluent in it. Similarly, due to their proximity to Italy, Italian is also widely used.
~ THE WEATHER ~
The climate on Malta rarely drops below 12°C. Snow and frost are virtually unknown and rain is only likely to fall between the months of November and February. Between April and September there is virtually non-stop sunshine with temperatures hitting up to 40°C in high summer. Although we were warned that October in Malta could be cooler (and prone to thunderstorms) we were blessed by a late summer heat wave and temperatures of between 23°C to 27°C.
~ WHERE TO STAY - THE MAIN RESORTS ON MALTA ~
The beaches on Malta are mainly rocky but the waters are excellent for both scuba diving and snorkelling.
~ Mellieha Bay ~
To the north of the island and one of the quieter resorts in Malta. The only part of Malta that has genuine sandy beaches. The clear waters are ideal for windsurfing, snorkelling and scuba diving. It has lovely views across to Comino and Gozo (and is also the place to catch the ferry across to these islands).
~ St Paul's Bay / Bugibba / Qawra ~
A lively and modern resort area with plenty of rocky beaches. St Paul's Bay has a picturesque harbour with plenty of those pretty coloured boats Malta is known for. Bugibba is not for the faint hearted and best avoided if you are looking for a quiet resort. It is very built up and smells strongly of burgers and chips. It houses many beach front bars and restaurants sporting names like Huggy Bears and the Bognor - a bit downmarket to be quite honest. Qawra (where we stayed) is located just a little further up the coast. Although quieter than Bugibba, it is fairly built up and there is a lot of new accommodation under development.
~ St Julian's / Sliema / St George's / Paceville ~
St Julian's and Paceville are excellent for clubbing and those seeking an active nightlife. This is where most of the young Maltese and holidaymakers hang out. Lots of restaurants, bars and nightclubs as well as a casino if you're a keen gambler.
~ Sliema ~
One of the largest holiday resorts in Malta with a busy harbour, yacht marina and promenade. It is located only 5km from the capital Valletta. It's the most fashionable resort on Malta with plenty of upmarket shops as well as lots of recognizable UK high street stores.
~ CURRENCY & SHOPPING ~
The currency used is the Maltese Lira (some still call it the Maltese Pound). The exchange rate is approximately 60 LM to £1. All major credit cards are widely accepted throughout the island - both in the shops and restaurants.
The shops are mostly open from 9 to 12 and then from 4 to 7. Shops are closed on Sundays - probably because the Maltese are big on religion and Sundays are an important family day for them. The roads and resorts are a nightmare on Sundays as the Maltese gather in huge clans to spend quality time together. There are hardly any supermarkets on Malta (I think I spotted two very small ones). Fruit and vegetables are still bought from roadside stalls or from mobile vans that park up in the various villages and resorts. Malta is home to all sorts of weird and wonderful shops - some which have obviously been trading since the year dot. It was nice to see a record shop selling vinyl LP's still with the old fashioned His Master's Voice signage of dog and gramophone outside. In fact, Malta is the sort of place where you would be able to find that missing part for your mother's favourite hoover - you know, the part that they stopped making in 1974 (and she's never stopped going on about it since). Another anachronism of Malta is the inordinate amount of bathroom showrooms to be found on the island - they must be incredibly keen to be clean.
There are sophisticated shops in Malta, but these are mainly located in the main resorts or towns such as Valletta, Bugibba and Sliema. The main shopping street is Republic Street in Valletta. Sliema is home to some familiar UK high street stores such as Miss Sixty, Body Shop, Lush, BHS, M&S, but I resisted the urge to visit them on this occasion.
Recommended buys on the island are filigree jewellery, Mdina glass, lace and pottery. Jewellery shops abound but I found a lot of the jewellery rather tacky and cheap looking - it looked like the sort of stuff that would leave a green mark if you wore it too much. However, the eight point Maltese crosses are particularly popular and make quite nice necklaces. Mdina glass, though, is absolutely beautiful and is spun into the most gorgeous colours and shapes imaginable. The craft centre in St John's Square in Valletta is well worth a visit, as is the Ta'Qali craft market near Mdina.
~ FOOD & DRINK ~
There are plenty of restaurants on Malta but although you will be spoilt for choice in venue, the majority offer fairly bog standard catering. Malta does not offer much in the way of innovative food or haute cuisine. The majority of the restaurants on Malta offer fairly unimaginative and old-fashioned fare - egg mayonnaise, half a grapefruit and pork chops are popular choices. However, the Italian influence is everywhere from delicious home made ice cream to pasta and pizza being available in nearly all the restaurants. Despite being an island, seafood and fish are rather expensive, but most restaurant menus feature at least one octopus or prawn dish. Eating out is fairly reasonably priced - dinner consisting of starter, main course, coffee and drinks will set you back about £15 per person. However, if you are not a fan of foreign food you will be pleased to hear that MacDonald's units abound throughout the island, as do venues offering fish and chips.
The speciality on Malta is a whole menu based on rabbit called Fenkata. Starter consists of spaghetti with rabbit sauce followed by rabbit stew in a red wine sauce. I am reliably informed that it is delicious, but could not bring myself to try it, as I am not really a fan of rabbits as a food source. Another speciality is Bragoli - which is beef filled with bacon, breadcrumbs, parsley and garlic and then fried alongside onions and wine. This I did try, and it was delicious. If you are looking for a quick snack, try a Pastizzi - a puff pastry parcel filled with ricotta cheese - they're lovely.
For local beverages, try Cisk lager as a slightly cheaper alternative to Stella Artois. There is also a local soft drink called Kinnie which tastes rather unusual - a sort of cross between coca cola and root beer. You'll either love it or hate it - there's no middle ground.
~ GETTING ABOUT ~
Malta is not huge so it is relatively easy to explore in a hire car. However, driving in Malta is an adventure. Roads are peppered with potholes and signage is rather hit and miss. The locals freely admit that the signage is poor and their suggestion is that if you are in any doubt about where you are going, it is best to head for Valletta and then reroute yourself when some more accurate signage reappears.
The roads are full of really old cars - mostly held together by string, mismatched panels and good luck. Malta is full of garages that must employ some really good mechanics, as I have never seen so many Ford Cortinas, Escorts, Austin 1100's and Morris Minors outside of a vintage car rally. I was most disappointed not to spot a Ford Capri, but I bet there are more than a few loitering about the island somewhere. Driving is a bit of a free for all, with drivers frequently changing lanes for no reason whatsoever. A combination of Italian blood and twenty year old cars does not make for a nation of careful drivers.
The bus service around the island is second to none - buses are extremely cheap and plentiful. Virtually anywhere on the island can be reached by bus even if you have to travel via the rather enormous bus terminal in Valletta. One word of warning though, the buses are rather old fashioned, and coupled with the bumpy Maltese roads and erratic Maltese driving, do not make for the most comfortable and stream lined of rides.
~ THINGS TO DO - THE MAIN ATTRACTIONS OF MALTA ~
As I said earlier, Malta is full of history and honey coloured architecture. In fact, Malta/Gozo house megalithic temples which are some of the oldest stone built constructions in the world. They have been dated between 3600 and 3000 BC - predating even the Egyptian Pyramids.
~ Valletta ~
The capital of Malta and home to the largest port in Malta. It's a rather quaint walled city built by the Knights of St John in the sixteenth century, but it was severely damaged during World War Two. It's full of interesting architecture, cathedrals and churches. You can take a ride in a horse drawn carriage around the city and harbour.
~ The Blue Grotto (LM 2.50) ~
A twenty-minute boat trip to some of the clearest and most beautifully coloured water I have ever seen - almost turquoise in colour (caused, I was told, by the phosphates in the rocks). The limestone caves also house pink coral and stalactites. You can swim in the caves if you tip the boatman a bit extra.
~ Mdina (also known as the Silent City or Noble City) ~
Mdina can be seen for miles, as it is perched on a high ridge rising out of a flat landscape. Mdina's medieval walls and fortifications were built above Arab foundations. No cars are allowed inside so it remains as tranquil and peaceful as it was in olden times. It has extremely narrow streets with houses on either side so close that the occupants could almost shake hands. Mdina is the old capital of Malta and still home to many of the Maltese nobility - even if many of them have had to turn their homes into cafés or restaurants. Maltese hospitality again proved to be a bit hit and miss here. We could still waiting for the coffee and cakes that we ordered in one such cafeteria - 15 minutes after placing our order we remained hungry, thirsty and largely ignored - so we left.
~ Rabat ~
Nearby is Rabat - another town of winding medieval streets and passageways. It has a quiet, almost country town atmosphere. St Paul's Catacombs (Entry = LM 1) are well worth a visit, but don't expect much in the way of pre-printed information or guides on the site. The catacombs were not rediscovered until 1894 but they are a good example of early Christian tombs. The steps lead down into a veritable underground maze with passageways leading off from the main chamber into all sorts of dark alleyways and secret crevasses. Although, children would love to explore down here it could prove dangerous as it's really not too well lit. You will be largely left to yourself, without map or guide, so it may be wise to take a torch with you (or a ball of string..).
~ The Crafts Village at Ta'Qali ~
First appearances can be deceiving here, as it very much resembles a run down industrial estate. However, if you care to investigate further, there are some delightful displays and talented artisans at work here. There are around 20 companies and individuals housed in former World War II aircraft hangars. Entry to the "village" is free and you can wander around looking at the various glass blowers, potters, jewellery craftsmen and carpenters all at work in their individual studios. Most of them have their crafts on sale, so if you like what you see, you can inevitably buy the finished product. The Mdina glass blowers are particularly worth a visit as they work in the most horrendous heat (with scant attention paid to health and safety legislation) and produce the most beautiful stuff imaginable in spectacular colours and shapes.
~ RECOMMENDATION ~
Malta failed to live up to the magical memories of my childhood. Tourists seem to be accepted rather than welcomed nowadays. Although the older Maltese were friendly enough, I found so many of the younger generation to be totally unsuited to working in the tourism and hospitality industry - their attitude was just all wrong. However, I'm sure that it wasn't just Malta but the cynicism of adulthood playing it's part in taking the shine off my childhood memories. It has to be said that Malta is quaint, unique and a total one-off. They broke the mould when they fashioned Malta, as it's still totally different to any other Mediterranean island I've been too. The architecture is truly stunning in places and the atmosphere of some of the more historical sites truly memorable. Malta has more than enough attractions and entertainment for all ages and tastes. Recommended as a one off visit to somewhere a little bit different, but you really wouldn't want to go back year, after year, after year. Maybe I'll leave it another 20 or 30 years before I go back.....
~ MORE INFORMATION ~
More information can be found on Malta from the Maltese Tourist Board:-
Malta National Tourist Office
Suite 300, Mappin House
4 Winsley Street
Website addresses are:-
Malta. The name conjures up pictures in your minds eye of big churches; big heat and pretty little fishing boats crewed by ludicrously old men. So, as you leave the airport, the first thing you see is none of these. No: the first thing you see at two oclock in the morning is a McDonalds sign. The last thing an Englishman abroad for the first time (as I was) expects. Ironic to say the least.
The first thing you feel, however, is the heat. Even in the early hours of the morning Malta is hot. The minds eye certainly got that right. Sunrise only serves as a signal to start turning it up higher until by mid afternoon you need to escape to a shady area when even the breeze has given up the ghost and gently melted away.
The days in Malta are divided into three distinct parts. The morning is when everyone is busy and seems to be when everything that needs doing gets done. And the streets of the various towns throng with people, working, buying or just taking in the sights. Then as one oclock approaches, people seem to gradually disappear and life shifts into slow gear, and in some places, it stops completely. The temperature hits its high for the day at about four oclock (and 30+ in the shade). As teatime nears, and the heat becomes a bit easier to cope with, things pick up and the streets start to slowly come alive again as the tourists come out to eat and/or drink, the locals finish off what had been started in the morning and the bars and restaurants gear up for another busy night And so starts the third part of the day. The heat is bearable and so the evening sees everyone out eating, drinking or just sat on his or her patio/balcony/veranda chilling out.
During the afternoon lull, many shops close, then reopen later. However, many of the cafes, restaurants and bars remain open throughout the day (even on Sundays). I found it a particular pleasure to find a café and sit out under a canopy and watch the world slowly meander by whilst enjoying the various coffees available and sample a little of the local food, of which there is ample choice. Better still, the prices are not expensive so you can afford to loiter without breaking the bank. For example, a coffee costs about 40cents (about 60p), an ice cream about 80 cents (say, £1.20).
The currency is the Maltese Lire, made up of 100 cents, and when I was there the exchange rate was set at around 61 cents to the English pound. I just kept it simple by thinking of a lire as worth about £1.50. The coinage itself can be quite confusing and coins of the same value can have different appearances, so check your change as some of the shop assistants seem to be a bit confused by this aspect of Maltese currency too. If you need more money then there are plenty of places to exchange your travellers checks (suss out who offers the best exchange rate first though. Standard rate while I was there was 61c to the Pound Sterling, but some were offering as low as 58c) and there are plenty of cash machines. Some places even accept travellers cheques or English currency as payment.
Prices are not bad and in some cases very cheap. For example, a pint of beer is about 60c a pint, or if you buy it at one of the many small supermarkets then its 35c a bottle (and please note, there is a returnable deposit on each bottle, about 3c each. Handy to know if you find yourself skint). Food is fairly cheap, so if you are on a self-catering holiday you can feed yourself without it costing the earth. There does not appear to be any massive supermarkets in Malta, or at least I never saw any but there are small general stores on practically every street and they are usually open from eight in the morning till eight or nine at night. They stock everything you are ever likely to need too, including English newspapers (French, German and Swiss too).
Diesel worked out at about 35c a litre (very good when youre used to it being at 96.7p a litre). So, as there is any number of car hire firms doted around, the cost of driving yourself around Malta would not be too great. Unfortunately I cannot remember the cost of a days car hire but I do remember thinking that I wasnt too bad. However, a word to the wise here. Although I did no driving myself, it appeared to me that you need to have eyes not only in the back of your head, but all around it too. Im sure there are laws of the road in Malta, but they seem to be pretty liberally applied and interpreted. Yes, drivers in Malta are mad! Maltese roads are not for the faint hearted, just the clinically insane.
As I said, I didnt do any driving. Why? Well, apart from the fact that I hadnt taken my driving licence with me or my certificate to confirm I was insane enough to try;
I didnt need to. You can get anywhere on the Maltese islands by bus, including all the tourist attractions. The bus service is exceptional value and a source of great entertainment. For LM 1.50 you can get a day ticket that allows you to travel on any bus to any destination on the Islands. The buses run often, regular and on time. They are clean and the drivers, although mostly bad tempered, will help you out if asked. The drivers are excellent entertainment too. They are crazy; one guy in particular could be mistaken for Ernie, the bus driver from the last Harry Potter film. They take no messing from any one and if the local traffic wardens get involved then youll get a magnificent display of verbal abuse, Mediterranean style. But they get you where you want to go, and bring you back, on time and in one piece. Money cant buy this calibre of entertainment. Truly magnificent. You can also get 3 day (LM 4), 5 day (LM 5), and 7 day (LM 6) passes. These passes include the use of the ferries between Malta and the island of Gozo and can be used from 05.30 until 23.00. Together with the plentiful supply of available overnight accommodation everywhere you could have a good explore of the islands away from the main tourist centres. If you dont want to buy a day pass, the single fares are very good value indeed. The most expensive fare being 50c. The main bus terminal is in Valetta with another terminus at Qawra. Better still, the sights from the bus as you wander about can be quite engaging and you certainly get a good feel for the place. In short, the bus service offered is awesome. Use it!
Whilst I was there the weather, as Ive said, was hot, and the countryside certainly reflected this. The scenery was almost biblical, with dry, tilled fields, small farms and dry stone walls. Though, I found the place remarkably less dusty than I expected. The heat shimmers off the fields and by mid afternoon nothing moves. You could imagine a little old guy on an exhausted donkey slowly appearing like a mirage out of the hazy distance. Very Sergio. It is quiet too. Apart from the occasional bit of traffic, the only sound is from the insects that emit a constant buzzing not dissimilar to what you sometimes hear from overhead electric power lines. And always, somewhere on the horizon, you will see the spire or dome of a church or the ramparts of old forts.
For those who are interested in history, Malta is steeped in the stuff, and a lot of it is violent too. If you are interested in architecture, especially religious architecture, then you could spend months here and still not get to see it all. The Catholic faith is strong in Malta with 95% of the population being of the faith and you can tell. The churches are lovingly cared for and they are huge. The graveyards are immaculate. As you wander around streets you will see glass boxes fixed to walls with a religious picture or item inside. In fact, the faith is so strong here you can almost taste it. For the military historians most of the old fortifications are still standing, some of which now house museums. Fascinating stuff. In Valetta, if you look at some of the older buildings closely, you can still see the evidence of the Axis Blitz that Malta suffered between 1940 to 1943 where the holes made by shrapnel and bullets have been left.
Many of the villages are now being developed, especially around the coast. The contrast between the old and the new is quite marked. Youll see old houses and churches being slowly surrounded by newly built hotels and holiday complexes, massive edifices of concrete and steal. Qawra, apparently, was until a few years ago a little fishing village. Not any more. There are hotels all over it now and it is quite a sizable place. If you take the cruise around the island you will see the same process happening to even the smallest hamlet. There are cranes everywhere shunting concrete about. A note here for those of you who are involved with Health and Safety or Building Standards: leaving your work at home. If you saw some of the working practices on Maltese building sites youd have a heart attack. Further still, close scrutiny of the work being done will show that although the builders may have got a spirit level, they seem to have mislaid the bubble as nothing seems to be level or plumb.
But this sums up the Maltese in general. They just get on with their thing. And if it doesnt get finished today, it means it will get done tomorrow. And they are very relaxed about how it gets done. Its too hot for a stress-fest I suppose. You never see anyone rushing about until the evening when the youngsters come out cruising the streets in their mobile boom boxes (moded cars).
The nightlife varies from town to town. The big club scene is mainly concentrated around Sliema, but all the main resorts have some sort of groove going on. Some places are more for eating out, others more for drinking and dancing the night away. But whatever your into, for whatever reason and wherever you are, there will be places where you can get the entertainment youre looking for. More or less every bar offers some form of entertainment from a telly showing the football to late night dancing. Club singers are everywhere and karaoke seems to be a requirement-by-law if you want to get a licence to open a bar. Country and Western is also a very popular form of entertainment. I spotted one bar that catered exclusively for the devotees of the stuff. I also spent a hilarious half hour being entertained watching people line dancing at an open-air bar. As I said, there is entertainment for nearly every ones taste, even the God forsaken (Stetsons included).
And the same goes for those looking to shop. Although, to be honest, I found the shops not that much different from the ones you find at resorts here in good Olde Blighty. The Maltese shops sell pretty much the same trinkets and mementos but with Malta written on them instead. However, there is a crafts village at Ta Qali (an old WW2 RAF field) and if you search around the back streets of the various towns and villages there are plenty of tiny places offering handmade jewellery and leather goods. The same applies to the markets, which are pretty numerous. So youve just got to dig about a bit. A lot of the places who hand make stuff are delighted if you want to watch them do it. Mdina Glass at Ta Qali allow you to walk about the workshop whilst they blow their glass and we found a tiny little jewellers workshop where they let my wife watch them make a silver filigree ankle chain for her. All from scratch too. Its a lovely piece of craftsmanship (and for those who are interested, it cost Lm 7, roughly £11. Not bad for something handcrafted).
For the sun worshippers, there is plenty of space around the coast, but dont expect huge expanses of sand. There are four beaches in Malta, the longest is proudly proclaimed to be seventy metres long. The rest is rock. But the sea is blue and crystal clear and seems clean. There is allsorts of wildlife amongst the rocks to see (and aggravate if youre a child). The Blue Lagoon is a must-see place. Enchanting.
The coastline is doted with small coves and caves most of which can be got to by small boat, watched over by fortifications all around, from old Hospitaller forts and watchtowers to WW2 gun emplacements. If you want to, you can hire kit to explore under the water too. There is plenty of fishing to be had, with rod or spear. However, much to my boys disgust, there is no real surfing scene in Malta (although, strangely, there are a number of surfing clothes outlets in the larger shopping places). The highest breaker we saw was 3inches high and even that was the result of a ferry passing by. There seems to be no tides here either.
And whilst your busy getting wet, suntanned, and skint, what do you eat? And where? Take your pick. There are eateries, cafes, bars and restaurants that offer all sorts of goodies. The food available ranges McDonalds, Burger King and Pizza Hut to restaurants offering Maltese cuisine. You can get Chinese, Italian, Indian, fish n chips and Pukka Pies. Kebabs too. Prices are not bad, so really, youve got no excuse to be slaving over a cooker in your apartment when you could be out enjoying yourself.
I preferred to try to take in the local food, which I found very nice. However, I found a smashing little café (The Milk Café, opposite the bus terminus at Qawra, just around the corner from our apartment) that served full English breakfast for Lm 1.20. Unforgivable I know, but to me there is nothing better than sitting in the morning sun with a coffee after a fry up, watching the world get on with it. The café is right next door to the police station and I would watch the police amble out at about half eight, chat amongst themselves for ten minutes and then four would disappear in a car whilst one walked into Bugibba.
I never found out where the four went every morning, but the one left to walk was discovered in a little sentry box in Bugibba doing exactly what I did on a morning in the café. Except he was armed.
Not that the side arm was needed. Crime in Malta is said to be very low. Of coarse you should take the usual precautions but I never once saw, heard or suffered any problems. People got a bit rowdy on a night but never violent or abusive. In fact, the atmosphere was quite cheery. You have to watch for pick pockets in crowded streets and markets, and of coarse, you must be careful when crossing the road as drivers dont slow down until its nearly too late. Some of the bigger banks have armed doormen. BOV in Valetta springs to mind here. Now, where the police have small pistols, these boys at the banks have huge cannons strapped to their hips. Do not, under any circumstances mess with these guys. They take their jobs very seriously, and they have a bank to protect and they might decide that they have to protect it from you. Otherwise, there is not a lot to say. Even the occurrence of graffiti is uncommon, but where it does appear its obvious who has done it. Yep, Brits! (Stand up, Shaz n Dave 4eva, and take a bow).
So there we are. Malta, in a nutshell, was a good place to have a holiday and a good place to start if youve never been abroad before. Although Ive said it gets hot, its not as unbearable as Ive heard other places can be. The locals speak English to some degree, which is handy if youre an ignorant Englishman like me. There is plenty to see and do. The Accommodation wasnt bad, basic in fact, but it did what it said on the tin. I can see why people retire to the island, the pace of life is just so much slower and more relaxed than in the UK, and if I ever get the chance I think I would do the same.
However, I did find it a bit too touristy, and the building work that is going on all over will, I feel, take something away from the island for the sake of cramming in a few more travellers. So, the place did not spin my wheels quite as much as it has for other folk. I think it will be a year or two before I return. But these are small quibbles, and I cannot otherwise fault the place or the experience of a holiday there.
This was the first proper holiday Ive had in over fifteen years and the first one ever abroad, and I could have done a lot worse than Malta, and because of the really good experiences in Malta, I think my travels abroad will continue. In fact, the travelling bug has well and truly bitten me on the arse.
Malta, a must-see if youve never been.
Knights! Sieges! Shipwrecks! Yes, Malta has seen all of these and you can find out more by reading this review or going on holiday to this lovely island situated between Africa and Europe, just off Sicily.
*An Important Bit of History*
(If History bores you feel free to skip to the next paragraph, but this does explain why Malta is the island it is, and trying to condense so much History is very difficult!)
The name Malta according to one theory was derived from the Phoenicia word for refuge, and because of its position and the many safe harbours, it has been the scene of various invasions and sieges. The Phoenicians came from what is now Lebanon, but in about 600BC, they faded out and during the Punic Empire were replaced by the Carthaginians and so Carthaginian temples were built. Later a Roman invasion changed the customs and brought different trades to Malta. The Towers which still can be seen, were built during these troubled times. St Paul and St Luke were travelling from Caesarea to Rome as prisoners, when their ship hit rocks, the Maltese welcomed Paul and his name lives on. The Arabs ruled for two centuries and in 1530 Malta was given to the Knights of St John, who were originally monks and known as the Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem. The Great siege with the Turks in 1565, saw many losses but the knights were victorious in the end, and eventually Valetta was built as a fortified city. France occupied Malta for 2 years and they turned to Britain for help, who in 1814 were granted sovereignty. World War II was an awful time for the people of Malta, but they played a very important part, which led to King George VI, awarding them the George Cross for heroism. Malta was eventually awarded Independence in 1964, but it was the late 70's when Britain finally left. They joined the EU in April 2004, which we missed as we left the day before, but watched all the celebrations on television.
* Some thoughts*
English is taught in the schools and most of the younger Maltese speak it well, so language is rarely a problem here, for which I for am glad as Maltese sounds very difficult to learn! They even drive on the left. Well, that is the rule but the driving leaves a lot to be desired at times! Perhaps they are just trying to avoid the enormous potholes in places! Road works as in this country is always ongoing.
If you are fit, it is best explored by foot, walking along cool streets with crumbly looking buildings so high the sun doesn't often get to peek in, call into the beautiful churches, quietly sit, and absorb the atmosphere. Admire all the unusual balconies. The fact the buildings are crumbly adds to the beauty, the inside of the homes are neat and tidy and very clean. The ladies are well dressed as they go out to get their shopping, the Italian influence shows, although older ladies favour wearing black.
Malta is a very compact island so getting around is fairly simple unless you stay in out of the way places! We often walked between towns, but catching one of the brightly coloured buses is good fun as there are still some lovely old buses about, so you feel as if you've walked back into the 1950's, but as Malta has joined the EU these now have to meet the recognised conditions and are gradually being replaced by modern buses. Ferries run from Sliema to Valetta throughout the day and are a cooler option of travelling on a hot day, not advised though if it is very windy as the ferry is tossed about and sometimes is cancelled! Taxis are easily found, and we usually order one from the airport for a quick transfer. In Valetta, you can take a trip by horse drawn carriage too and clip clop along the streets, but always ask the price first! There are half day and full day trips by boat around the island, with lunch on board, or shorter trips in a glass bottomed boat, whatever takes your fancy! Some can become noisy with too much cheap wine enjoyed and an overdose of sun!
*Where to Stay*
Most resorts are from the North east end of the island down the east coast to the southeast end.
Ramla Bay to Salina Bay
I have visited Malta several times and we have stayed at various hotels throughout the island. In the north of the island near the ferry to Gozo is Ramla Bay, somewhere if you like peace and quiet. Mellieha is a small town with a sandy beach. The hotels are on the outskirts of the town and a walk along the beach is lovely, but the climb up the hill gets the heart pumping! St Pauls's Bay where according to the Acts of the Apostles, Paul was shipwrecked, is a busy tourist area and the resort stretches over 3 miles. It has joined up with Bugibba, which used to be a separate village, busy nightlife in this area. Qawra, pronounced our- ra, is another village, which has become a popular tourist spot and is slightly quieter than Bugibba. Continuing along the coast is Salina Bay, which was the first place we stayed, named for the Salt pans, the Coastline hotel looks across the bay towards Qawra, unfortunately, there are stretches without pavements and the road is quite busy at times to walk along.
St Julians, Paceville and Sliema.
New hotels are being built all the time and on the east coast, in St Georges Bay and St Julians there are some excellent 5 star hotels, where we now stay in a holiday resort or timeshare apartment. These resorts all run into one another so it is hard to say where one stops, and the other starts! Paceville has a large shopping centre, bowling alley and huge cinemas, so plenty to do if the weather should turn wet. If you enjoy a gamble the Casino here is the place to go, smartly dressed of course and with your passport and plenty of money! The nightlife is buzzing, with every sort of club you can think of and some you shouldn't! Sliema, which is just across the Marsamxett Harbour from Valetta, is a really busy and popular place to stay and we have enjoyed many holidays at The Hotel Fortina. The hotel has now added a 5 star Tower with luxury rooms and the Spa centre is highly recommended by me! There are all ranges of hotels and self-catering apartments in Sliema. The promenade, which circles the town, provides a safe walking area. You can enjoy the sea views, sit and have a coffee or a meal and watch the world go by. Lots of shops both smart boutiques and touristy!
Marsakala and Mdina.
Further south we stayed at Marsakala, at the Jerma Palace, surrounded by the sea this hotel was an easy walk from the fishing village with all the colourful little boats. It was handy for the Airport and south of the island but a car is quite essential if you want to get around, otherwise you have to go to Valetta and catch another bus from there. There are places to stay inland, like at Mdina, but although you can absorb the history of this silent town, most people like nearer the coast where there are some cooling breezes during the heat of the day.
*What to eat and drink*
Holidays are a time to indulge and in Malta, you can certainly do that! Italy has quite an influence so you find pasta on most menus and kebabs from the Arab influence. Being an island, fish plays an important part of the diet and we have sampled some excellent Sea Bass and Red Mullet at a beautiful fish restaurant looking out to sea. Lampuki is also one of the specialities to try. Tender casseroles of beef or lamb and rabbit dishes are found in local restaurants, cooked with oil, garlic and herbs. Cheese is made from goats' milk in Gozo, one of the small islands off the north of Malta. There are some very pleasant local wines. I like the Marsovin range and we usually bring a few bottles home. The Lachryma Vitis tends to be too sweet for my taste. Malta has its own brewery and my husband seems to enjoy a drink of the light lager type drink at lunchtime. They also product a soft drink called "Kinnie", it is quite sweet and you either like it or hate it! There is nothing I can compare the taste to, it has to be sampled (at your peril!) There are sweet confections to sample for dessert with almonds and honey or lovely fresh fruits, figs being popular and the ice creams are Italian style. If you want to sample other foods there are Steakhouses, Chinese, Mongolian, Indian etc. and of course, Roast Beef and other roasts feature on many hotels menus due to the British influence.
Air Malta flies from Scotland only on a Thursday, so apart from getting a seat on a charter plane we have flown down to Manchester or London to fly on a Saturday. There are several local airports in England you can fly from and the flight takes 3 - 4 hours. We favour air Malta, the meal and Maltese wine included in the flight price has always been good, so we arrive feeling relaxed and ready for our holiday. Luqa International airport is 4 miles south of Valetta and has the usual shops to buy last minute gifts.
The climate seems to be changing and places where you could almost guarantee excellent weather are now experiencing rain and winds. Malta has one of the highest records of sunshine in Europe, and in the summer months gets very hot, often up in the 30's. It can be a bit sticky in late September when the warm Sirocco wind blows in. In the winter the temperature ranges from 10C to 21C, we had a lovely Christmas holiday when the children and my husband even swam in the outside pool! During the late afternoon, we needed a cardigan, but the locals were wearing coats! The highest rainfall falls between October and January and we did experience floods one December! The waves were high and crashing on the rocks, it was very exhilarating and made me appreciate the Spa facilities at the hotel when you felt warm and cosseted! We didn't need even a cardigan in May this year, even late in the evening but we did eat under cover most nights.
*Water and other Sports*
Diving is very popular, and there are several centres and courses are held in some hotels. The clear waters are ideal for photography and some lovely fish can be seen. My daughter had a fantastic time snorkelling on the south west coast and as we sat near the rocky pools fascinated by some little jellyfish, we were surprised when several divers emerged! We have seen divers on the east coast in a little bay as well and the teaching seemed to be excellent. Some hotels have canoes, and wind surfing or water skiing can be arranged, and if you like to fish, there will be someone willing to take you out on their boat for a few Maltese pounds. When we stayed in Sliema we watched a some regattas and marvelled how they controlled their boats when they got out of the safety of the harbour.
Football is popular, and Sliema had won the cup one year and the celebrations were in evidence! Horseracing or trotting is a popular spectator sport and there are trips to watch, horses are still used in the rural area to transport produce from the fields. I've only ever seen one golf course so if you want to play a lot then Malta is perhaps not the right destination. Several hotels have tennis courts but unless you go in the cooler weather, I've found it too warm to play!
*What to visit*
The capital Valetta is a place everyone should visit whilst on holiday in Malta, it was built by the Knights of St John, and is a magnificent fortified 16th. Century city. A trip by boat is a must, there are so many harbour trips in various sized boats, so you can see the different harbours and creeks, admire the old buildings, and as you listen to the commentary and learn about Malta, you can sit back and relax in the sunshine. There is so much to see, climbing up the hundreds of old stone steps, and walking along the straight narrow streets, imagining how the knights managed! There are some wonderful churches to visit and the Bastions surrounding the city, visit Fort St Elmo and Fort St Angelo. The National War Museum, the National Museum of Fine Arts, for people who enjoy museums, the Upper Barracca Gardens overlooking the Grand harbour is relaxing. Floriana with its double arched gateway. The Great Siege, where you feel you were there, experience the sights and sounds of a siege! The three cities namely, Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua. Too many things to mention and we return to Valetta each holiday and although we always walk along the city walls and amble down the streets we find something new each time. For those who love to shop, you will be happy here too, and a market can also be found.
Another favourite place to visit is Mdina, known as the Silent City. Quiet narrow streets, cool as they are so narrow and the sun doesn't penetrate, but quiet as visitors have to leave their cars outside. It stands on a hill and is very photogenic, you feel you must have ventured into a different country and an Arab will come clattering down the street on his horse! Here you can walk along the walls, visit the Cathederal and spend a very peaceful day. Close by is Rabat where you can see Roman remains and catacombs. The Buskett Gardens is full of orchards and vines and said to be where the Maltese falcons were raised for hunting. Just outside is the Ta'Qali Craft village, where you can see glass blowers and other people at work and buy local crafts.
I can't leave this area without mentioning Mosta. People come here to see the famous Mosta Dome, it is huge and is unsupported. During the war years, a bomb pierced the dome during a service and landed on the floor without exploding. A replica can be seen in the church. When we spent Christmas in Malta we went a crib tour and visited some in Mosta, people erect cribs in all sizes and hundreds of people go to view them. The Maltese are very religious and when going into church holidaymakers should be clothed suitably.
Marsaxlokk, a large fishing village in the south of the island is a favourite spot. There is a market here where they sell lovely table linen with cut out work. Beware the cheaper products are machine work not hand made. Watch the colourful luzzu bobbing around on the water and the local older fishermen mending the nets. The luzzu are painted in red, blue and yellow and have a carved Eye of Horus, to ward off evil at sea, this dates back from the Egyptians.
There are many lovely coves to visit and one of the most famous is the Blue Grotto. Unfortunately, there is a charge to admire the colourful caves, and often long queues if a bus has just arrived. We now favour the quieter places reached only by car!
Even though Malta has joined the EU, like Britain so far they are keeping their own currency. It is Maltese pounds or Lira and 1 lira is divided into 100 cents. All major credit cards are accepted.
You get what you pay for! If you want to eat cheaply, then go to a small cafe. If you want good waiter service and special menus then choose something more upmarket. Holidays range in price and many bargains can be found on the Internet.
*What should you take home?*
I have some lovely glass from Mdina, in marbled shades. Silver filigree jewellry is popular, as is Gold work, and so are embroidered and crochet articles. Lace is usually worked on Gozo, a sister island but available in Malta if you don't fancy the ferry crossing. Of course, if you like wine or tasty sweetmeats you'll find plenty of things to buy!
You may have guessed I love Malta. Some people we speak to wonder why we go back. However, I could counter why do they return to Blackpool or The Lake District every year. If you want more from your holiday than lying beside a pool of getting sand in your crevices, and enjoy seeing something of the area, then Malta is well worth a visit. It is small enough to explore a bit each day and still fit in some sunbathing. Ex-patriots say they get island fever and need to get off the island if only to pop over to Sicily for a few days.
If you have never been, then why not take a holiday there soon!
To be fair, I should have done a bit more research before I travelled to Malta. Had I just looked round a little more carefully on the net, I would have realised very quickly that it probably wasn?t a place I was going to fall in love with, and I would also have been warned off the atrocious hotel I was duped into booking us into, the infamous Palm Court hotel in Qawra, to which there are, I now know, hundreds of internet sites denouncing as possibly the worst hotel in the world. However, it wasn?t all bad. There are some things I really liked about the place. What I liked : Mdina Mdina is a mediaeval city full of glorious old buildings and with a real sense of history. It?s absolutely beautiful, and an absolute must for any visitor to Malta. Don?t bother with any of the rip?off tourist traps like the ?Malta Experience? or the many gory ?interactive? experiences that the touts will immediately try to entice you into when you walk through the main gate ? just wander at your own pace through the pretty little streets, enjoy a slice of cake, a cool drink and the breathtaking views from one of the lovely little tearooms overlooking the walls of the city, and marvel at the gorgeous cathedral with its stunning stained glass windows and colourful shrines. The History Malta has a varied and colourful history and the Maltese people are rightfully proud of their heritage and eager that the visitor to their country gets a taste of it. The many beautiful churches and cathedrals bear witness to the religious fervour of the people through the ages (and still very apparent today) and the village ?festas? (religious processions and evening parties which are held in villages throughout Malta all year round) give the visitor a real sense of the vibrant, close knit communities that exist there. Those who are interested in the war and Malta?s part in it may want to go on one of the organised tours. Gozo
Gozo is Malta?s sister island and most people only get a chance to see it on day trips from Malta. It?s a lovely little island, much ?greener? than Malta and apparently it?s great for diving, although we didn?t have time to try out any of the dive sites. Pay it a visit ? it?s only a half hour ferry ride away and you won?t be disappointed, I promise. The Heat I love hot places. Even hot places that most people would consider waaaaaay too hot. This includes Malta in the middle of August, at 35 ? 40 degrees in the shade, admittedly very VERY hot, and I loved it! Just make sure you get a hotel with air conditioning or travel out of season if excessive heat bothers you. (Most of) The People The majority of the Maltese people were exceptionally friendly and welcoming. Occasionally the deceptively charming behaviour was there to lull you into a false sense of security in order to try and get you to part with large sums of money (see ?time share touts? below) but most of the time they were just lovely because that?s the way they are. Especially outside Qawra, where they aren?t used to seeing English people acting like drunken football thugs and are prepared to give us the benefit of the doubt. Holiday reps, tour guides, and Joe Bloggs in the street were usually very pleasant and helpful. Some Restaurants In Qawra, I can recommend the Overflow restaurant, which serves delicious freshly cooked fish and other tasty looking dishes, and Michaelangelo?s on the seafront which is slightly pricier but very good. Most of the other places we tried were disappointing. I wasn?t that taken with Maltese food in general (with the exception of a stunning Maltese seafood soup in the Overflow), but I suspect that?s just because Qawra is so touristy and wish I?d had a chance to go further afield and try some more traditional dishes. What I disliked : Time Share Touts They were everywhere! And they had som
e really nasty little tricks up their sleeves, including stopping to ask a hapless holidaymaker if they know the way to a particular hotel, then talking them into showing them the way and luring them into giving them information such as their room number, with which they will then pester the poor tourist for the entire duration of their holiday, hoping to get them to go and see their timeshare apartments. They also used the scratchcard method; stopping a holidaymaker in the street and giving them a scratchcard which they MUST use there and then ? oh, surprise surprise, you?ve won a holiday! Take my advice, throw it away immediately or better still, refuse the ?kind offer? in the first place! We were approached about a dozen times every time we left our hotel, and it was really off putting. I would never buy a timeshare apartment even if I really liked a resort, and nothing could ever entice me to go near one in Qawra! Our Hotel Our hotel, the Palm Court, was quite simply the worst hotel I?ve ever stayed in. Don?t go near it, I beg you! The ?all inclusive? food was disgusting, the pool was horrifying, many of the rooms were damp and smelly and so many people got sick there it really wasn?t funny. The company that we booked our holiday with are currently under investigation. We managed to have a good time despite the appalling hotel by getting out and about as much as possible, but it really was dire. Lack of Beaches I can?t really complain about this because I should have done my investigations before I left, but Malta really isn?t a beach lovers holiday. It is possible to swim in the sea at Qawra but you have to negotiate some pretty intimidating rocks to do so ? I recommend diving bootees or some sort of beach shoe! Apparently there are some nice beaches on the other side of the island to Qawra but I would imagine they get very crowded. I was also expecting great snorkelling around the island as I?d heard the sealife was
fantastic but I was really disappointed ? we hardly saw anything at all, even at the ?best? snorkelling sites! The Greek and Canary islands are a hundred times better for snorkelling. SUMMARY I don?t think I?d go back; there are far nicer places for around the same amount of money and although there were things I liked about the place they weren?t enough to draw me back for a return visit. If I did go back, it would be to a different part of the island ? Qawra is just like Southend. We had a good time, despite the terrible hotel, and there is a fair bit to do, but for a budget holiday I would suggest that places like Zante, Tunisia, Fuerteventura and Kos are a far better bet.
I went to Malta for the first time for 2 weeks in the summer of 1990. After that I went for 2 weeks every summer and 2 weeks twice at Christmas and the New Year until my last holiday there in 1996 – 8 times in all. It is the type of place that is said you either love or hate - obviously I loved it. I have considered completing and posting this before, but held back because I didn’t think my experiences were recent enough knowing how places change, but a friend who has just come back from a holiday there has assured me that little has changed. Also my type of holiday isn't the normal touristy thing. I don't go on many guided tours or have much interest in old ruins. Saying that I did pick up a fairly extensive knowledge of the brave history of Malta. What I love about there most are the people. I have never known such friendliness and helpfulness even though I live in friendly Yorkshire. Cynics say that it's because you are spending money. I don't think so, even though a lot of the Maltese people are on low wages and work in two jobs to survive I've found that many of them happily buy you drinks, take you for meals, spend money on petrol to drive you around the island without asking for anything back but friendship. We always left with invites to stay in homes the next time but we preferred to be independent and use hotels. There is a love for British people and all things British. We have had strong connections with Malta, which was part of our empire for 160 years until Malta became independent within the Commonwealth in 1964 and became a republic in 1974. Valletta harbour is the largest in the Mediterranean. During the Second World War our ships refuelled and were repaired in the dry docks there. Malta suffered a tremendous barrage of bombing for months. The people never gave in even though many of them had their homes destroyed and lived in catacombs and caves. For their bravery they were awarded the Geo
rge cross, which is now often known as the Maltese cross. The Maltese are rightfully proud of their George cross and I always wear one attached to an earring as a reminder of some fantastic times. Malta is a rocky archipelago – only 15 miles from one end to the other and has a population of around 500,000. It is 288kms north of Africa and I once read that many centuries ago was actually joined to that coastline before sea erosion made the separation. The first inhabitants were escaping wars and terror in Africa and the Maltese language I was told was originally Semetic. English is the second main language but Italian is also quite widely spoken there. Malta is close to the foot of Italy, only 93kms from Sicily and there are many Italian inhabitants. I noticed that a lot of the TV and radio channels were Italian and that there is an abundance of Italian restaurants there. Although English is widely spoken I did meet some from the small villages who speak nothing but Maltese. During my visits I often came across Maltese who also spoke French, German and Libyan. It is a holiday resort but they put many of us Brits to shame in the multi lingual stakes. The British influence is very strong despite it being over 30 years since our forces garrisons were closed down. Most of the Maltese that I met have anglicised names like Peter, David, Susan, Brian, Janet and Ben though I did meet a few Marios and Marias. They drive madly on the left hand side of roads that are often full of potholes and I found that the best way to get cars to stop was smile broadly. Then I would hear a not uncommon almighty screech of brakes and be able to cross safely. A lot of those I met had 2 cars, an old banger for night driving and a newer one for the day. A friend of ours Sylvio had a brand new BMW for the day and an old mini for evenings. On one memorable trip coming back from Popeye village, bits of his old mini fell off into the road every
now and then. A policeman stopped him and went off with his tail between his legs when Sylvio shouted at him – that wouldn’t happen here! If you are into classic cars you will be gobsmacked at the amount of cars from the 60s and 70s that are around. I remember seeing a Ford Capri that was identical to one that a friend owned in 1970. Malta didn’t have any drink drive laws up until the last time that I visited and accidents of young people are sadly remembered by small shrines at the roadside to mark where they had died in crashes and as a reminder to drive carefully. Saying that I noticed that very few Maltese people drank alcohol and even when they visited the bars mostly drank soft drinks or didn’t drink at all. The buildings are generally sandstone with a weather worn crumbling look. I didn’t see many houses in Malta, mostly apartments. I visited several apartments of friends and they were usually laid out in the same way, with rooms in single file and few windows. There would be one or two sitting rooms leading off from the entrance, then a kitchen or bedroom, more bedrooms if they were big apartments and a bathroom often at the end meaning a walk through several rooms to get there. The walls and floors were usually marble and the furniture a mixture of 50s to modern day. Perhaps it’s the dry air in Malta but some of the furniture and fittings were wonderfully preserved. I went to a party in one apartment that was definitely a throwback to the early 70s. Psychedelic wall paintings and a black ceiling dotted with stars and moons. A hammock hanging from the sitting room ceiling, 70s furniture and a table in the middle designed to put wacky baccy smokes together. The most incongruous item of all in the apartment was a knitted doll loo roll holder just like those that were all the rage in the 70s. As Malta is a holiday resort I should mention the weather. I went during the last week of June and
first of July and found it hot, varying from 20 – 37 degrees and it can get hotter during August. Rain is rare during the summer and it can get very dry and dusty with little but cactuses thriving. Mosquitoes queued up waiting for me to get off the aeroplane and each summer that I went my reaction to the bites became more severe. I tried everything that I could to avoid them but the little blighters always got me at some point. The last time bites on my feet caused them to swell up so much that I couldn’t get my shoes or sandals on and I had to call a doctor to visit me in the hotel. I was charged around £20 for the visit and some antibiotics but on a previous occasion I took my bite-swollen elbow to a doctors surgery and paid nothing. Malta have a reciprocal agreement with the UK concerning free medical care but that must exclude doctors being called out. The agreement is for free healthcare for one month only so you do need to take out insurance. We visited a friend Brian in the hospital in the capital Valleta several times and found it to be an ancient, grim looking prison like place. We are lucky to have modern bright hospitals around here, though Pinderfields at Wakefield looks almost as grim. Despite the old building then 18 year old Brian assured us that the doctors and nurses were good at their jobs and treated him well with nothing too much trouble. Brian had broken his back several years earlier by diving off the high rocks in Valleta harbour and was a regular there. My Christmas visits were smack bang in the middle of winter and I found most days a little warmer than our British summers but with a lot less rain and no mosquitos. I was walking along the main street of Valleta one New Years day when it started raining. A man celebrated the rare rainfall by running into the middle of the street waving his arms in the air shouting ‘shitta’ the Maltese word for rain. Although quite dry, there is more pla
nt life evident during the winter. I particularly remember how pretty the tree-lined road leading into Valleta is when they flower. Apparently the autumn and spring can bring hot dry winds called Xlokk in Malta, otherwise known as Siroccos. I remember hearing that snow fell a couple of years ago, highly unusual on this sunny island. Being a mainly catholic country the Maltese celebrate Christmas but in a much quieter religious way than us. Even so they go to town on the decorations. Everywhere you go you see hand painted window decorations ranging from religious in nature to Disney like cartoons. Much more attractive than anything that I’ve seen here. Valleta was chocca block with enough streetlights to rival the Blackpool illuminations. As there is a one hour time difference with the UK it was fun to celebrate the New Year twice, but watch out for balloons attached to bar ceilings filled with water. Every time that I visited I stayed at the St Georges Apartments in the Paceville area of St Julians, 5 or 6 miles away from Valleta . The apartments that we had were always reasonably clean and neatly furnished with the basics including TVs. Nothing fancy but I don't really need much except a bed, fridge, loo and shower when holidaying. On one visit the apartment was invaded by ants and the only way to solve the problem was to put some small piles of sugar in corners to attract them. The complex had a couple of lounges, a poolroom, a gym, 2 shops, a dining room and an indoor and outdoor pool. I used the pools often and the shops were small but not bad for quick food purchases. The well equipped gym I used nearly every day that it was open. Mainly to keep fit but partly because I developed a look but don't touch mutual flirtation/friendship with one of the owners - disappointed huh!! I never ate in the dining room, preferring to make sandwiches in the apartment or eat the most gorgeous pizzas in Italian restaura
nts. We asked where the best restaurants were on our first visit and were told to go where the Maltese eat. Usually in Italian restaurants but some of the Maltese owned restaurants were pretty good. I didn’t try the Maltese favourites of octopus and rabbit but their addition of boiled egg to pizzas was different but good. Although I can remember the approximate vicinity of the best restaurants I can’t remember the names. Pointless anyway, as with bars the names changed nearly every time that we went. Along with Sliema, St Julians has the busiest nightlife with lots of bars with seats outside and several nightclubs. We always timed our flights to arrive from Manchester on Saturday nights at around 8 pm. The short bus trip from Luqa airport, which was modernised in the early 90s, only takes about 20 minutes. We would check in, get washed and changed and be having our first drink in one of the nearby bars within 30 minutes. St Julians has a one-way traffic system and it was fun sitting outside one of the roadside bars watching the Maltese arrive in their bangers for nights out. Or on foot, the Maltese are in general a very attractive race and thanks to the abundance of gyms there are plenty of well toned bodies to watch as they strut around in shorts and skimpy tops. Mostly men at night, the women don’t go out much due to their religion. Sunday is family day and the evening would see families milling around the bar areas but drinking very little except for the atmosphere. Some of the visitors complained about the noise at night but St. Julians and Sliema are not the places to go if you want a quiet holiday. Just about everywhere else is quiet at night though. Just down the hill from the St Georges apartments is one of the island’s best hotels the Dragonara, which hosts the only casino on the island. I went in the hotel once and it looked good but a better sight to me was the Yachts anchored in the bay on the right hand sid
e of the hotel. On the other side is St Georges bay where we hired pedalos and speedboats. Often we would have pedalo parties where our friends and we would tie several together in the middle of the bay and eat, drink, swim and listen to loud music. We had to be careful and plaster ourselves with high factor sun tan lotions but the middle of the bay was just about the coolest place to be during the day. Swimming was great but there are stinging jellyfish to avoid. Malta is a rocky island with mostly pebble beaches, the one in St Georges bay was no bigger than my backyard and with only a little murky looking sand. Because there isn’t much sand the sea is very clear and I was able to look over the side of the pedalos or speedboats and enjoy watching the fish swimming about quite a few feet below me. If you are into watersports Malta is a good place to go. There are lots of different types of watersports and we saw windsurfing, diving clubs and speedboat racing. Unfortunately one speedboat exploded during a race, which put me off speedboats for a little while. I watched a water volleyball match once in Msida, which is about a mile away from Valleta. Msida is a small fishing port that I visited a few times with a friend who owned a gym there. The sea front was very picturesque with lots of small old-fashioned brightly painted fishing boats. The other big sport in Malta is football. They are football crazy and many of them support Manchester United, probably because the team went there every year during the second week of July. My next to last visit coincided with the world cup and Italy got through to the final. Every time Italy won the island went berserk and the St Julian’s one-way system was jammed with vehicles overflowing with jubilant supporters, it was quite a sight. If you like sandy beaches you can find them on Malta, but they are few and far between and quite small. The one that I remember visiting is Golden San
ds. I think that one is the biggest but it was only a few hundred yards across. For a beach holiday you really need to check carefully if you don’t want to be disappointed. Topless sunbathing was banned in Malta, but I did visit a nudist beach there once. There is also a splash pool park with some pools and slides, a cafe and a small funfair. I went there in 1990 on a day trip with the hotel. I thought that I was being clever finding a large umbrella to keep me out of the sun but the sun moves and the umbrellas don’t. By midday I was fully exposed to the hot sun and without a hope of finding any shade in the busy place. By the end of the afternoon I had little bubble blisters on my arms and back which scared some of our Maltese friends into thinking that I’d caught something. That was a problem with the sun that I’d previously had on a smaller scale in the UK and my doctor advised me afterwards to have a few sunbed sessions before going again in the summer. That worked but I always came back paler than when I went and sparking off rumours because I have a tendency to stay out of the sun if I can. Prices were very low, we were able to buy bottles of the local brewed lager Cisk (very nice) for at the highest 25 cents. There is 100 cents to one Maltese Lira and as 1GBP is equivilant to around 60 cents would work out at about 41p per bottle. In Valleta and the smaller villages you could get bottles for 15 cents, plus nearly every time we ordered a round a plate of free food would be planted on the table. Usually small slices of bread with a spicy tomato paste spread or crispy nibble type things. Very tasty the food was too. If you look beyond the tourist shops you can find some good prices on gold and especially 22 carot. Hand knitted in the small villages there are Arran jumpers in abundance and very cheap too. We didn’t find anything except some other types of clothing over expensive and only one
place tried to rip us off. That was a bar in St Julians, which charged us more than double the usual amount for drinks. Some Maltese friends joined us and when we told them they complained and we got our money back. In some places there was a higher nightclub entry fee for holidaymakers but we were told to ask for the lower Maltese price at the door that we got with no problems. Clothes were either cheap and nasty or expensive and nearly as nasty. The Maltese that we met did not generally buy clothes in Malta. They caught the once a week ferry from Sliema to Sicily and bought clothes and leather goods there at fantastically low prices. A friend used to get good Italian leather shoes for less than £10, probably far more expensive here. It would probably be worth taking an empty suitcase and filling it with bargains. Sliema is nearly half way between St Julians and Valleta. As I said earlier it’s a good place for nightlife but it also has the most up to date shopping centre where you will find some of the familiar larger chain stores with imported goods, lots of hotels and some water sports clubs. To get there we usually walked in the winter or caught a bus in the summer. The buses were an experience in themselves. Old and battered throwbacks from the 50s with often bad tempered drivers who drove fast over potholed roads and left the doors open to help create a more hair raising ride. It’s a good job I like a rough ride, but alas they were replacing the old buses with new ones the last time that I was there. A friend hired a car once and found the price was good and you can also get around Valleta in horse drawn carriages. Sometimes we caught the bus from St Julians to Valleta. The bus station was open plan to the extent that you almost don’t realise that you are in a bus station when you arrive. There is an archway at the entrance leading into Valleta, but watch out for the pigeons they like to bomb you when you walk
under it. On the left hand side you will find a public loo in what seemed like a dark cellar. There used to be a gnarled old lady wearing widow’s weeds selling toilet roll at the entrance. No matter how much money we gave her she handed over one sheet and glared defying us to complain. The same happened in some nightclubs but not all. I made sure that I had plenty of tissues in my bag and waved them at her as I passed. On the way out I would tip her and the glare would soften a little. On my first visit a lot of the loos were disgustingly dirty and smelly. They blamed it on a shortage of water but within a few years there was a vast improvement in that area. Every Sunday there is an open air market at the entrance. Some say it is really good for bargains but I never saw anything worth buying. On the right hand side after the archway is the remains of an opera house which was bombed during the last world war and is now used as a car park. A stark reminder of the bad times, and of how brave the Maltese were in defiance. This is the beginning of the capital’s main street, Republican street. It is quite narrow and mostly shop lined. About half way up was a jeweller’s and watch repairs shop that we visited many times. The elderly owner King Ben became a good friend of ours and would usually shut his shop and take us to a café or bar when we visited him. Sometimes there would be gifts of bottles of vodka waiting and he always offered us free or very cut price jewellery or watches which we turned down. His good-looking son owned a bar in Valleta and we weren’t allowed to pay for drinks if we went there in the evening. The loss of income while he closed the shop, and the complete generosity with no strings attached, typified what we found in a lot of Maltese people. Sadly Ben passed away just before our last visit. Further up Republican street there are government buildings and the police station. The police station was b
ombed just after we passed it one day, it seems we were lucky. On the left hand side there are narrow streets with tall crumbling apartment buildings that lead down to the harbour. It is quite steep with lots of old sandstone steps, even when I was at peak fitness I found it heavy going and not a good idea to come back up from the harbour when it is very hot. Sometimes we travelled by ferry from Sliema to Valleta. One of our friends Sylvio ran a burger bar at the ferry stop and we would sit at one of the tables and play the practical joke of gluing a coin to the ground. Brian, the friend that we visited in hospital would meet us there and we would push his wheelchair up the slopes into Valleta. He couldn’t manage to get up there by himself and if we didn’t take him he would wait at street corners for volunteers to push him, he never had to wait for long though. He lived in a top floor apartment with his family. No stair lift, just steep narrow flights that his family had to lift him up. I was told that the Maltese were working on improving wheelchair facilities, but it would be advisable to check before booking. Despite the poor facilities the people treated Brian as if he was special - with respect, kindness and not as if he was thick. We attended a festa one evening at the ferry stop with fireworks and lots to eat and drink. It was the one time that we felt any unfriendliness, perhaps because we were the only outsiders at their festival. That was until a little boy came and sat with us and chattered away in Maltese. We would say yes or no and a torrent of Maltese would spew forth making us and his parents at the next table laugh. There are festas just about every week in Malta, usually celebrating religious occasions but even the police have a festa. We found that out when my friend had some jewellery stolen from her hotel room and she went to report it to the police. She came back alarmed because the police had been wearing skirts. T
heir national costume and we found out later that some of the police had been locked in cells overnight after celebrating too much. In Valleta one of the many attractions is the Maltese Experience. A series of slideshows detailing the Maltese history from the Knights of St John turning Valetta into a Baroque fortress to the events of the war. A lot of the old battlements are still there and reminded me of the walk around the battlements of York. There are a few old cannons around which deafened us on some of the festas. Popeye was filmed in Malta and there remains a quaint looking wooden village purpose built into the side of a rock cliff for holidaymakers to visit. We went there but found a bar next to Popeye village a more attractive proposition than the tour. The Blue Lagoon is one of the most popular tourist attractions. You pay for a boatman to take you around and through a few caves that jut out of the water. The sea is a lovely blue colour but the sea around Malta is lovely anyway. I couldn’t see the attraction personally, it took longer to get there than the actual boat trip and the best bit was one of my friends trying to chat up the boatman and the boat nearly tipped over when she tried to get to him for a snog. Mdina was built by Monks and is called the silent city after the monks who had a vow of silence. It is a walled town and Maltas medieval capital. The streets are narrower than any that I’ve seen before and some of the rich Maltese live there in palaces. Gozo is one of 2 small islands off the tip of Malta and to get there you can get a ferry from Sliema. There is more greenery there than on the main island and it is quieter and more relaxed. A great place for diving. Bugiba has a holiday complex and is probably more the place to go if you like quiet holidays. We were very disappointed to find that the nightlife was nil after 10.00 pm and the town was virtually in darkness. Al
l of the other places that I visited are dim memories but I hope that I had given you a good general idea of Malta. There really is plenty to do whatever your taste in holidays. Apart from the things that I mentioned there are museums, art galleries, street shows, concerts and cruises. Finally a few practical things: We didn’t need visas to visit Malta but if you live outside the UK it would be something to check beforehand. We found that it was best to take only a small amount of Maltese currency, as the exchange rate was always better in Malta. There are plenty of banks but don’t try to rob them they are very security conscious with armed guards who unlock the doors each time somebody goes in or out. Most major credit cards can be used but you can also spend sterling in Malta. Many of the Maltese like to come here for visits and want the currency. The holiday reps told us that the water is safe but we were told differently by the Maltese. They told us to only drink bottled or boiled water and to be careful about eating salads in cafes and restaurants. They built a water purifying plant but as was pointed out to us, some of the restaurants and hotels have water tanks on their roofs that are open to insects and muck getting in. We were cautious and never had jippy tummys. I paid between £300 and £350 for my two week holidays which included flights and accomodation but no meals. Having recently looked at travel brochures the same deals are still available for less than £400 depending upon how many are sharing an appartment. Hope you’ve enjoyed this long but what is a small part of my Malta experience. We always came home laughing at the amount of fun that we had. I'd like to go back again but it would be sad if it was different.
Malta, officially the Republic of Malta, is a small and densely populated island nation comprising an archipelago of seven islands in the Mediterranean Sea. A country of Southern Europe, Malta lies south of Sicily, east of Tunisia, and north of Libya. The country's official languages are Maltese and English. Roman Catholicism is the most practised religion. The islands constituting the Maltese nation have been ruled by various powers and fought over for centuries. Malta has been a member state of the European Union (EU) since 2004 and it is currently the smallest EU country both in population and in area. Malta is the only nation in the world that has collectively been awarded the George Cross for conspicuous gallantry in World War II as a part of the British Empire, and its flag bears a replica of that award.