Ghajn Tuffieha beach in Malta. Aistė Gerybaitė photos.
A Visitor’s Guide to Malta
By Aistė Gerybaitė
Last year I went to a musical in Pjazza Teatru Rjal, Valletta. A comedy musical it was. I remember clearly, like it was yesterday, a line from one of the songs in that musical “…Where the hell is Malta?” That line got me Blue Grotto burst into laughter and even though I knew where Malta is, I have been asked the same question a million times! Indeed, Malta, a small archipelago country in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, is a lost gem that is yet to be found by travelers.
It is located just about 50 miles away from Italy, off the beaten paths of many tourists who come to visit Sicily but never make it to Malta, which is just a short two-hour ferry ride away. Malta’s uniqueness lies in its location and its rich history.
Located just off the shores of Italy, one of the culturally richest countries in Europe, and some few hundred miles away from the shores of Africa, in the middle of the trade routes through its long history, Malta served both an important role as a strategic port and as a safe harbor for nourishing cultures.
When you come here, you understand that Malta is nothing like you has imagined and it will definitely stay in your mind like the country where “you never saw anything like this before”.
When to Go?
Even though Malta is off the beaten tracks of many tourists travelling through Europe, do not be mistaken that it is calm in the islands during the summer. The small island country lives out of tourism and the season starts here quite early. June to late September is very crowded and the weather is hot, however, the start of the season middle April and late September to end October are the best times to explore the islands.
Getting there and around
If you come from mainland Europe, most airlines fly to Malta International Airport including the cheaper ones such as Ryanair, Easy Jet, and Wizzair. If you are already in Sicily you can either choose to take a plane or a ferry trip to reach the island.
Getting around the islands is relatively easy. Choose renting a car, which is easy and cheap or use public transportation, which includes buses and ferries. However, since the new transport company introduced pay as you go cards in order to get cheaper bus ticket prices, you will need to make sure to apply for Tallinja card before you come so you can take advantage of a75 euro cents for a 2-hour ticket. Otherwise, you will need to pay 2 euros for a two-hour ticket.
Insider tip: Do not be mistaken, Malta might be only a country covering around 122 square miles, however, the two-hour ticket will not last you long. Traffic gets crazy here! It can take you up to 2.5 hours to go a 20 miles distance.
Wine glass city scene in Malta. A must visit is, of course, the capital, Valletta. Since the 1980s Valletta has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and there is a reason for that.
The city is often called “a museum under the sky” as walking around the streets feels like stepping back in time. Try to recognize the many different epochs that the city`s buildings hold, count the many churches the city has and walk alongside the bastions enjoying the beautiful panoramic views.
Best Unusual Attraction
The new parliament building and the city Gate in Valletta. Designed by renowned architect Renzo Piano, the new parliament of Valletta has been in the center of attention since the start of its construction.
Everyone has an opinion about it! Sit down in one of the cafes located in the square and ask your bartender what he thinks of it. I am sure he will have things to say. My suggestion is to enjoy your coffee and admire the immaculate construction of the building.
It embodies both the design of the old world while simultaneously exposing features that belong to the present. Be careful not to miss it once you make your way through the gates, the building sits on the right side of the square like it has been there forever!
Cycling around Malta`s sister island Gozo. Much smaller but nevertheless beautiful, this island is a paradise for those who search for quietness and nature. Though located just half an hour by ferry from the main island, Gozo might seem like a different world. There is no rush hour here, there are no screams of teenagers coming back home after a night out, just simple, relaxed pace of life.
Because of its size, I strongly suggest to be a more active tourist and cycle around the island if you are staying for 2-3 days here. Many places around Gozo rent bicycles, including hotels and bed and breakfasts. For those who are not too keen on cycling all day around, you can use public transportation or rent a car.
Malta has a lot of hotels, hostels, and B&Bs to offer all located in different locations allowing the customer to decide what he is looking for. For those, who are interested in history I suggest staying closer to Valletta or in Valletta itself. Towns like Sliema and Gzira should be your targeted area.
Harvesting sea salt in Gozo.
For those who want a lively night out and lots of seaside attractions St. Julians, St. Pauls Bay and Mellieha should be your first choice.
Insider tip: remember, Malta is a rocky country, thus If you want to stay next to a sandy beach It might be not as easy. The few good sand beaches such as Golden bay or Ghajn Tuffieha are located further away from bigger towns; however, they can still be easily reached by car or bus.
If you stay in Gozo I highly recommend small but absolutely adorable Sardinella Bed and Breakfast.
Located in the town of Xaghra, the place suggests tranquility and a warm, welcoming atmosphere.
Malta is all about food. The rich history of the country and the mix of the cultures here created a unique Maltese cuisine. What is more, locals love to eat out. There many great restaurants on the islands and it is a true heaven for foodies!
With strong influences of Sicilian, English and Maghrebin (North African cuisine) cuisines everyone will find something that suits their taste. The local delicacies I suggest trying include:
Pastizzi- a flaky pastry, filled with peas or cheese. They can be found in hundreds of kiosks around Malta and Gozo as locals enjoy them at any moment they can;
Gbejna or better known as locally produced cheese. Made from sheep` s milk it is enjoyed either fresh, marinated, or deep-fried with some good quality vinegar sprinkled over the top. It is gorgeous and full of goodness;
Ftira. In its simplest form ftira is a semi-flat, disc- shaped bread. In a bit more complex form it is a type of sandwich made with this bread, filled with olives, beans, tuna, salad greens, onions and whatever else is in season or can be preserved. In its most glorious form ftira becomes a mouthwatering pizza-like dish topped with olives, anchovies, onions, capers and thin slices of potatoes.
Insider tip: Try ftira in all its forms and decide yourself which one you like most. Here are some of my beloved ftira places around the islands: Maxokk Bakery in Nadur (Gozo), Emanuel`s bakery in Qormi (Malta) and Ta`Nenu in Valletta (Malta).
Once you come back from Malta memories of the country you just visited linger in your mind for a while, till you get back to your normal routine. And then you realize: there is a place where things you do not expect to happen do happen.
More Malta Information
Flight schedules and price vary according to the season. April to November there are more flights from more European cities. November to March only some airport suggest flights to Malta;
Ferry from Sicily to Malta. Prices start from 80 euros for round trip;
To reach Gozo take a ferry from Cirkewwa; Schedules vary in winter and summer; Standard passenger fare is € 4.65 for the round trip journey.
Pjazza Teatru Rjal website and ticket booking: Ticket prices start from 15 euros
For general information on Malta and Gozo visit www.visitmalta.com/ ;
Horse carriage on a city street.
For the bus card apply here: www.tallinja.com
Souvenir shop bus in Malta.
Emanuel`s bakery in Qormi, Malta Prices between 5-10 euros. http://www.emanuelsbakery.com/our_menu.html ;
Rent a car in Malta and Gozo: Easy car http://www.easycar.com/car-hire/malta website provides comparison on prices of rental cars between different cards. You can find a car rental as cheap as 10 euros per day;
Rent a bike in Gozo: Visit Gozo http://www.visitgozo.com/en/content/bike-rentals-172/ website provides a full list of point where you can rent a bike in Gozo. Prices start at 5 euros per day.
Aiste Gerybaite lives in Malta. An avid traveler and a law graduate with a passion for honest opinions and different points of view about the places she visited. Read her travel blog.
Read more stories about Malta on GoNOMAD