Having been inhabited since 5900 BC and subsequently settled, amongst others, by Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantium, Vandals, Normans, Napoleon’s French and The British Empire. Malta is a history lover’s dream. It is notable also for being the home of the world’s oldest free standing man-made structure with at Ggantija on the island of Gozo, and there are many other historical monuments and sites to visit.
We visited in November and the weather was still mild, 15 degrees Celsius which was nice enough for sightseeing, Malta is far enough south in Europe that tourists still visit well into the winter months. If you plan on sightseeing avoid July and August as temperatures soar to the mid 30 degrees Celsius. However if it is a beach holiday you are after the summer is of course a great time to visit.
To get around Malta there are only 2 options, hire a car or use the extensive (and inexpensive) bus networks. We chose the latter option and other than the occasional delayed bus found it easy to use and fairly reliable. We bought locally a ‘Tallinja Pass‘ that allowed unlimited travel for 6 days on Malta and Gozo for just €21.
Malta is made up of 3 islands: The eponymous Malta is the main island where you will find the capital Valletta and the majority of sights. The next largest is Gozo, reached on a 30 minute ferry ride from Malta, whilst tiny and rarely visited Comino can be found in-between.
If you want to explore then Malta island is the best place to stay. We stayed in Paceville which is one of the livelier areas with lots of loud bars and busy restaurants. However where we stayed, The Hotel Valentina, was peaceful and not affected by any street noise. Close to the lovely St Julian’s Bay and a nice 30 minute stroll along the waterfront to Sliema it is a good base for those looking for evening entertainment. In hindsight we felt Sliema or the tourist centre of Valetta may have been better as this was where we spent most of our time during the day anyway.
In Valletta there is the impressive St John’s Co-Cathedral where you can pick up an audio guide as well as see Caravaggio’s famous ‘Beheading Of John The Baptist’. There is also Fort St Elmo built in the 15th century to defend from those pesky Ottomans. As well as giving impressive views across Valletta harbour it has also been used in many films and TV Shows, most notably it was the location for the jail in ‘Midnight Express’. Other sights in Valletta include the Grandmaster’s Palace, the Maltese Stock Exchange and Upper Barraka Gardens. For food there is the Is-Suq Tal-Belt indoor food market, very similar to the Mackie Mayor in Manchester city centre.
Malta played a pivotal role during World War II, being that it was then British controlled and located close to the axis power of Italy. We spent an interesting morning at the Churchill War Rooms close to Valletta. Here the Allies coordinated the war effort during the Battle of Malta that helped turn the war in favour of the good guys.
We spent a full day on Gozo. You can catch the ferry from the unpronounceable Ċirkewwa to Mġarr Harbour on Gozo. From here you can explore the centre on foot and visit the cafes and bars as well as Victoria Citadelle. To get further afield we used the touristy Hop-On Hop-Off buses. From here we were able to get to Dwejra Bay where the Azure Window previously stood before its collapse in March 2017. The area is still a great spot for scuba divers and boat trip around and through the caves.
As previously mentioned Gozo is also where you can find the Ggantija Temples Consisting of two temples which date back to between 3600 and 3200 BC, the Ġgantija Temples are included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. The site is considered as one of the oldest free standing monuments in the world, preceding Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids. Although today not much to look at, it could do with a bit of ‘repointing’, it is still impressive due to its longevity.
On our last full day we visited the St John’s Catacombs in Mdina. Having visited Paris’s Catacombs I was expecting something similar, how I was disappointed. There were no skulls, skeletons, not even a femur or a radius! I am not that ‘into’ skeletons but here we were basically looking at a piece of rock where their bodies once lay.
On our way back to our hotel we stopped off at the ‘Miracle Church of Mosta’. This impressive Rotunda (officially The Church of the Assumption of Our Lady in Mosta) was, like a lot of Malta, heavily bombed during World War II. 2 huge bombs pierced its roof but neither exploded. Was it divine intervention or a faulty timing switch from a German engineer that caused it? We shall never know but the church is well worth a visit either way.
Malta is full of history, this was our main reason for going. There are also excellent resort hotels where you can have a relaxing beach break. It is far enough south that it’s peak season extends longer than other counties on the Mediterranean. The food is also an interesting fusion reflecting its heritage of different occupiers over the millennia. A 3 hour flight from the UK means it is an easily reachable for a short break. Highly recommended!