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Island Life

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Wed heard that Ryanair was going to be running regular flights from Cardiff so managed to book ourselves onto the inaugural flight for a little four-night cultural enrichment trip. Having never visited Malta before we were keen to find out more before our trip.

Malta sits just 93km south of Sicily and is a group of three islands – Malta, Gozo and Comino (the smallest of the three). As the 737 flies, its roughly three hours and twenty minutes from Cardiff.

As we were new to Malta, we thought it useful to employ the services of a local guide, Vince Debono, who was very knowledgeable and made sure that we didn’t miss anything.

We landed on the Wednesday and headed for Mdina, Maltas first capital city during the time of the Knights of Malta, and also a colonial settlement of Imperial Rome. Known as The Silent City, its a mix of medieval and baroque architecture; its fortification walls and location on high grounds make it one of the most enchanting places on the island. If you need a ‘tea break’ as one does in the UK, we can recommend afternoon tea at Fontanella Tea Garden.

Another great place to take in the views is Tigne Point in Sliema. Here you’ll be treated to an amazing view of Valletta’s skyline across Marsaxett Harbour.

After checking in to our hotel, and a welcome freshen up, in the evening we headed out for dinner, and met some friends at a great restaurant called Wigi’s. Excellent food but the star of the show was the tuna. I’m reliably informed the Japanese are enthusiastic importers of Maltese tuna and, after tasting it at, Wigi’s, we can understand why.

The weather wasn’t brilliant at this point but given that we were in culture mode, it didn’t really matter. Generally, the Maltese weather is pretty consistent but, occasionally, it rains, and on these islands, if you’re a local, that can be most welcome.

After an excellent breakfast on Thursday morning, we bumped into Andrew Galea, Sales Manager for the Corinthia Hotel where we were staying. Andrew was a mine of information and we really liked his passion for photography and military history. We always talk to hotel staff – they are usually a really source of useful info and the Corinthia staff didn’t let us down. I was chatting to a young man from Eastern Europe and he explained that Malta was booming. It certainly looked that way with exciting new developments and hotels going up right across the island.

By 10am we were walking through the City Gate Project in Valletta and the new Parliament Building. The Parliament House is the meeting place of the Parliament of Malta and, along with the City Gate Project, was constructed between 2011 and 2015 by renowned architect Renzo Piano. We also visited the Upper Barrakka Gardens which occupy the elevated space on the ramparts of St Peters and St Pauls Bastion. The garden was established in the mid-17th century to provide a peaceful retreat for the Knights. The Gardens command the best views of Maltas Grand Harbour.

Later that morning we visited St Johns Co-Cathedral and museum. The church was built between 1573 and 1577, during the reign of Gran Master Jean de la Cassiere. Its architecture and sculptures reflect Baroque art, and the church boasts some of the most beautiful works of art by Mattia Preti and Caravaggios only signed painting. Honestly, the Cathedral blew us away. With its acres of gold leaf it is truly breath-taking inside, and one of Malta’s mustsee buildings.

We breezed through MUŻA (in the Auberge DItalie on Merchant Street). MUŻA is the chosen name for Maltas new Museum of Art and was the flagship project for Vallettas European Capital City of Culture Title in 2018. MUZA is green-powered, generating its energy requirements through renewable sources, and represents best practice in renovating a historic Maltese building. There are beautiful works inside and, if art and sculpture is your thing, you will love it.

For lunch we visited Rubino Restaurant. The food was excellent and the superb service created the perfectly authentic ambience for enthusiastic discussions about what we’d seen in the morning. I had to try the local speciality, rabbit, and was not disappointed. It was divine.

In the afternoon, we visited the recently opened Is-Suq Tal-Belt Food Market, with its Victorian iron works which have been beautifully restored. I was hoping for more traditional market stalls but, hey, even Malta isn’t immune from the modern world. A stroll around the city in the afternoon found us exploring St Ursula Street, Victoria Gate and St Barbara Bastions. We ended the day at Valletta Waterfront and enjoyed a leisurely boat trip around the Harbour.

On Friday, we decided that Gozo would be our destination but, on the way, we checked out Golden Sands Beach. Golden Sands is Maltas most popular beach. Its large stretch of tawny sands makes it an ideal location for a beach wedding, so if you haven’t already popped the question!

On the way to the ferry, we stopped and enjoyed a view of the Popeye Village. Children would love this and it’s the actual movie set from the Popeye movie which starred the late, great Robin Williams.

A relaxing twenty-five minute ferry crossing took us to Gozo. The charm of Gozo is immediately apparent; its greener, more rural and smaller than Malta. Life on Gozo moves at a very leisurely pace, while also offering historical sites, mythology, forts and amazing panoramas.

Our first stop was the Ggantija Temples, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Ggantija Temples are the oldest freestanding structures in the world and, potentially, Gozos single most marketable landmark. Excavated from 1816 to 1820, the complex comprises of two Neolithic temples dating from the third millennium BC (3,500BC). Quite an eye opener.

While on Gozo, you must visit Ramla Bay it’s the largest sandy beach on Gozo and one of the most beautiful in the Maltese Islands and is positioned below the traditional Calypso Cave. The name Ramla is Maltese for sandy beach. The water is shallow, blue and safe for bathing. On windy days the white surf rolling on the sand is an added attraction.

We then headed to Victoria which is known to all as Rabat, which means suburb, and has been in existence well before the Citadel became the refuge for locals. It grew over centuries to become the town that was named Victoria 1887 in honour of Queen Victoria during her jubilee year. Besides being the administrative centre of the Island, it also holds the local law courts, hospital and school. The beautiful Basilica of St. George was rebuilt in 1693 following an earthquake. Market stalls are set-up daily in the main square of Victoria.

Citadel The Gran Castello. The old capital of Gozo was the centre of activity since Neolithic times. It has impressive battlements which offer a superb view around the Island with vistas over the fields dissected by rubble walls.

At midday, we arrived at Ta Mena Estate. We met the owner and learned a great deal about local food, wines, olive oil and liqueurs. He was a real delight and we sampled some beautiful olives, meats and local fayre.

For lunch, we all met at Kartell Restaurant in Marsalforn. An excellent establishment with great views watching the waves break while eating lunch was a real treat. The food was excellent and must be on your restaurant hit list if you visit Gozo.

After lunch, we stopped at the Qbajjar Salt Pans and Xwejni. The Qbajjar Salt Pans were painstakingly carved out from the natural limestone rock to make collection pits for salt water to evaporate, leaving behind it raw rock salt, rich in minerals. Dating back to the Roman times, the salt pans are still in use today.

We headed for Dwejra which is widely recognised as Gozos most spectacular natural landmark. Here, geology, time and sea have worked together to produce some of the most remarkable scenery on the Islands – the Inland Sea, Fungus Rock, sheer cliffs and a rocky coastline. Fungus Rock – Atop this sixty metre monolith, also known as the Generals Rock, grows a rare tubular plant that was once believed to cure dysentery and many other illnesses.

Later, we drove through Xlendi Bay, a small tourist resort located in the southwest of Gozo. Once a small fishing village, this bay, flanked by high cliffs attracts considerable crowds throughout the whole year. A 17th-century tower rises on top of the high cliffs, adding to charm of the place. Then it’s back to Mgarr Harbour to catch the ferry back to Cirkewwa.

After a mainly overcast week and ‘locally welcomed’ torrential rain on Friday afternoon, we woke on Saturday to the weather we’d hoped Malta would deliver. In brilliant sunshine under a turquoise sky, we headed out to Marsaxlokk Fishing Village. Marsaxlokk is Maltas main fishing village and one of the most picturesque localities on the island. The small fishing boats, known as the Luzzu and Kajjik, are painted in vivid colours of red, yellow, green and blue, and float gracefully on the calm waters of the bay. We really enjoyed it here, sitting in the sun enjoying good coffee and local pastries set us up nicely for the day ahead.

Our whistle-stop visit to Dingli Cliffs, the Islands natural fortress, turned into a slightly longer stop. The views are incredible and there happened to be a chap there demonstrating his proficient handling of various birds of prey. I was absolutely smitten by one of his owls and he kindly let me hold her while he recorded her flight from my hand to his in super slow motion – a truly beautiful moment in our trip. The cliffs offer beautiful views, including a vantage point of the uninhabited isle of Filfla. The tiny chapel of St Mary Magdalene is perched on the edge, and marks the highest point on the Maltese Islands, some 250 metres above sea level.

Our last lunch of the trip at Diar Il Bniet Restaurant did not disappoint. Nestled in a shallow valley on the outskirts of the picturesque Maltese coastal village of Dingli, Diar il-Bniet is a family run farm that has remained true to the traditional values of its ancestral roots. The food here was unbelievably good and we all agreed that the quality of dining on Malta had surpassed our expectations.

In the afternoon, we visited The Three Cities. These small cities go by the names of Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua. They are popularly known as the Three Cities, a term that was first used during the French occupation, when Napoleon decreed that Malta was to be divided into a number of administrative unit.

The most quaint part of Vittoriosa, the Collachio area is in the Old Quarter, where the Knights had their inns or auberges. The Couvre Porte was a complex system of historic gateways through which one could gain access into Vittoriosa. Beautiful architecture and a beautiful end to a great four-day-getaway.

So there it is. Four fabulous days in Malta. You may not wish to cram in as much as we did but however long you spend on these islands, if history, the arts and culture are your thing, you will not be disappointed. I’m not remotely religious but the visit to the Cathedral and several churches will stay with me forever. They are incredible and a real feast for the eyes and the soul. The richness and passion for the church out here is quite moving.

And, last-but-not-least, a pat on the back for Ryanair. We’d never flown with them before and, if we’re honest, all we’d heard were moans and groans about poor service etc. Honestly, they were a delight to fly with. Staff were excellent and we would certainly fly with them again.

Need more information? 

Need a guide?
We can recommend Vince Debono. Very knowledgeable and all-round nice guy. Yes, we like Vince. Look him up on Facebook. 
00356 9947 5066

Need a hotel?
Corinthia Hotel
St. Georges Bay, Malta
00356 2137 4114 

Need transport?~
Zarb Coaches Ltd (Malta)
00356 2148 9991/2/3 
Franks Garage Gozo
00356 21 556814

Need to fly?

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