Feeling restless in London after almost 3 weeks since returning from Thailand, I started plotting my next mini escape for the long Easter weekend. I wanted a destination that wasn’t too far to get to from London, with warm temperatures and a sufficient number of activities to do that would keep me occupied for 5 days.
This was how I ended up choosing Malta, a southern European country consisting of an archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea.
I had high hopes for Malta, and it has been a country that I’ve been wanting to visit for a while. It may have been that my expectations were set too high however, as I left the country feeling a little disappointed. Whilst there were beautiful things to see, I didn’t feel like anything was particularly amazing or extraordinary. The weather didn’t help either, as the country seemed to have entered a brief cold spell just before Easter, with strong winds and rain clouds necessitating jackets whenever we were out (apart from the one day we had in Valletta, which was lovely). All in all, I am still glad I visited, though I would only have planned to spend 3 or 4 days tops on the island, if I could turn back time.
I chose accommodation in Marsaxlokk, which is not that popular a base for travellers as there’s not much around catered to the tourism industry here, especially at night. Still, I thought it was a great choice, as we were away from the tourist crowds, located right by the serene harbour, with access to some top notch local seafood restaurants overlooking the water.
Driving in Malta
Our accommodation came with car rental included, which was extremely convenient as you will need motorised transport to see the whole of the island. Saying that, it’s not a big island by any means – it takes just one hour to travel between the farthest points on the island (assuming no traffic jams!). Though the buses are cheap and plentiful, the convenience of having our own car was very much welcomed. The local drivers are manic though, driving in an impatient and at times, stupidly dangerous manner. Expect a lot of beeps and weaving if you take to the roads.
What I enjoyed the most in Malta was the food, which was fresh, tasty and cheap. Having never tried Maltese cuisine before, I was pleasantly surprised at the evident Sicilian, Arabic and English influences and the unique combination they yielded.
Malta is a small island, so the sea is never really far away. As a result, you will pretty much always find fish and seafood on any menu and you’re not likely to go wrong if you go for it.
The national dish however, is widely accepted to be stewed rabbit. I therefore made sure to try it once before leaving, choosing to have mine with spaghetti and tomato sauce. It was very tasty!
Small, crisp pastries (pastizzi) stuffed with savoury fillings are a local snack, with peas and ricotta cheese being the most popular flavours.
The country is also famous for its nougat (both hard and soft), honey, sea salt, jams and flavoured liquers.
The local brew is Cisk Lager, which has apparently been received well in international competitions.
Towns and buildings steeped in history
The other aspect of Malta I liked was just how old and historical the buildings looked, especially in the medieval town of Mdina and the capital, Valletta. Walking around the streets, especially when so many of them seemed to be quiet and deserted, surrounded by large bricked ageing structures, numerous cathedrals and religious symbols, really gave me a feel of the country’s rich history and cultural influences.
One of the tourist attractions that I paid up for was the Mdina Experience, a 20 minute movie that talks through Malta’s history since the prehistoric times. It was interesting and definitely made me appreciate and understand more of what I was seeing and experiencing as I walked through the various towns.
Easter weekend in Malta
Malta is quite a religious country, with 98% of the population classified as Catholics.
Easter weekend is therefore one of the most important times in the year and can be quite an interesting time to visit. Good Friday processions, a sombre affair depicting biblical scenes, take place in major towns across Malta. The mood changes on Easter Sunday when ringing church bells and festive music signify the resurrection.
Special Easter pastries can also be found near churches and along the main streets.
If you do decide to visit in Easter, remember that pretty much all of the tourist attractions will be closed on Good Friday.
Areas of interest
5 days was more than enough time to spend on the island, especially because the entire main island, and the smaller islands of Comino and Gozo are so accessible. With so much time on our hands, we took to exploring one or two districts a day, starting late and chilling over long lunches.
The main districts and areas we explored in no particular order included:
- Marsakloxx – a traditional fishing village in the south-east corner of the island. Famous for its fish market.
- St. Julian’s – a more upmarket, tourist-centric district, complete with a yacht harbour and small beaches. There’s not much of interest here in my opinion!
- Blue Grotto – sea caverns on the southern coast of Malta. We took a boat trip out to see the caverns first hand, over the crystal clear blue waters. This is also a popular area for diving (the visibility here is amazing!).
- Mdina* – the old capital of Malta is today a beautiful medieval town walled off from the rest of the island. This was my favourite place in Malta.
- Valletta* – the new capital of Malta, recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1980. The history packed into such a small area is immense. St. John’s Co-Cathedral which houses a museum, as well as being a place of worship, is well worth a visit (if only to see the Caravaggio which hangs in the Oratory!). The harbour views are also lovely on a sunny day (by St Lazarus Bastion).
- Gozo – the second largest island that makes up the Maltese Islands. Famed for its specialty foods (including Gozo sea salt) and the Ġgantija temples, the world’s oldest free standing structures (part of the Megalithic Temples of Malta). You can reach Gozo via a 30 minute ferry ride which runs 24 hours a day.
* = not to be missed
Marsakloxx and St. Julian’s
The Blue Grotto
What I didn’t get to experience and thus cannot comment on are the beaches and diving opportunities in Malta (supposedly good for wreck dives) – the weather was too cool for my liking and I am far too used to warm tropical waters like Koh Tao to even attempt to take a quick splash in the Mediterranean Sea before the middle of summer.
The other big attraction that I also missed was the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum (another UNESCO World Heritage site), an enormous subterranean structure excavated in around 2500 B.C. The popularity of this tourist attractions means that you need to book tickets months in advance of your visit. I didn’t have enough time to do so, having only booked my holiday 1.5 weeks before actually arriving.
Have you been to Malta? Did you like it?