When I first booked our flight tickets to Malta, I didn’t expect much from this little country, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Malta is an impressive country, which not only has stunning landscapes, but also a rich culture and fascinating history.
Located in the Mediterranean Sea, at the crossroads of Europe and Africa, Malta was invaded and colonized by many people, because of its strategic position. It was part of the Roman and Byzantine Empires, was later invaded by the Arabs, whose domination ended with the arrival of the Normans. In the 16th century the Norman Emperor granted Malta to the Knights of the Order of St. John, who defended it from the Ottomans, but surrendered it to Napoleon. The archipelago became part of the British Empire, after the Maltese sought help from the British to free themselves of the French domination and finally gained independence in 1964. Throughout the time, all these different civilizations have left their marks on the Maltese people and their culture and helped create a unique and valuable heritage, proofs of which can be seen today all over the country.
Malta is divided into 3 inhabited islands: Malta, Gozo and their little sister Como and some uninhabited smaller ones. Most of the touristic attractions are on the main island, Malta, but Gozo and Como also deserve a visit. As the archipelago has less than 320 m², you can travel from one part of the island to the other in about an hour, so you don’t need more than a couple of days to visit the entire country.
After a little research, we decided that a 3-day trip would be more than enough to explore Malta. We reserved our first day to wander around Malta Island (except the capital, Valetta), the second for Gozo and the last one for Valletta.
What to see on Malta Island
Blue Grotto, one of the most visited attractions of the island, is a group of caves, whose waters reflect the sun to produce thousands of different shades of blue. To enjoy this natural wonder, on the days when the sea is calm, the local fishermen offer boat tours to these caves.
Unfortunately for us, on the day we visited, the sea was very rough so we couldn’t tour the caves. But instead, we found this panorama point, from where we had a spectacular view of the sea and the huge stone archway, that represents the entrance to the caves.
Continuing our journey on the rocky shores of Malta, we stopped at Dingli Cliffs (the highest point on the Maltese Archipelago at 253 m in height), for a majestic view of the terraced fields, the Mediterranean Sea and Filfla Island.
Our next stop was Mdina, one of the oldest cities of Europe. The city was the capital of Malta for hundreds of years, in part due to its position. Being in the center of the country, surrounded by massive walls, it would have been difficult for the enemy to conquer it, yet as it is located on top of a hill, the people living within its walls could survey the entire country and keep an eye on the seas.
While we were traversing the bridge to get to the massive gate that leads inside the fortified city, we had the feeling that we are being transposed hundreds of years in the past, in the time when the Knights lived there. No wonder that sequences from Game of Thrones and other similar series were filmed there, as the city looks like it was stuck in the Middle Ages.
We explored the silent and narrow streets of the city, admired the surrounding from the Bastion and visited St. Paul’s Cathedral and Palazzo Vilhena, which now hosts the National Museum of Natural History.
St. Paul’s Cathedral, with its baroque style, is built on the area where St. Paul converted the Roman Governor to Christianity. It is said that Malta is one of the first Roman colonies to convert and this was due to Apostle St. Paul. If you have time, go see also the Grotto of St. Paul, a cave in Rabat, where the Apostle took refuge after he was shipwrecked on Malta Island.
Marsaxlokk is an ancient fishing village, located on the outskirts of Marsaxlokk bay. The village is famous for its colorful luzzus – Maltese fishing boats painted in blue, yellow, red, green and decorated with the “eyes of Osiris” for good luck – and the Sunday Fish Market.
We decided to visit the “Southeasterly Port“ – this is how “Marsaxlokk“ is translated in English – on a Sunday afternoon and had the “great“ idea of looking for a parking place as near to the harbor as possible. As you can imagine we drove directly in the middle of the market and as the sidewalk was occupied by the stalls, people were everywhere on the road, so we spent more than 20 minutes driving 200 meters. After finally finding a parking place at the local football stadium, we mingled with the crowds to visit the Fish Market, walked to the center of the village to take a closer look at the massive church facing the harbor and just enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere the village has on a weekend day.
Fort St. Angelo and Vittoriosa
Across Valletta, on the shores of the Grand Harbor, lie Malta’s fortified “Three Cities”: Vittoriosa (or Birgu, as it was formerly named), Senglea and Cospicua. As we didn’t have time to visit all of them, we chose Vittoriosa with the newly renovated Fort St. Angelo.
After walking through the maze of streets and shortly stopping to visit Church of St Lawrence, we found ourselves at the entrance of Fort St. Angelo.
The fort is considered the flagship of Maltese fortifications and served as the headquarters of the Order of St. John during the Great Siege. As the fort has witnessed the complex history of Malta, it is the best place to learn about the most important events that shaped the Maltese people and its culture.
We got inside the fort’s chambers and followed the paths of history from the moment the Phoenicians arrived in Malta until its Independence Day, with a ten-minute presentation. The short movie unfolded on the mast of a boat and we enjoyed it from the boat, which is designed as a theater room.
Once we were done exploring the tumultuous past of Malta, we walked along the Bastion and took in the amazing views of Valletta, Fort Ricasoli and the Grand Harbor.
Sliema is the best place to base yourself, if you intent to visit the country by public transport. It has a multitude of buses to all parts of the island, a ferry to Valletta that only takes 10 minutes and offers various boat trips. The accommodation is cheaper as in Valletta, there are many dining options to choose from and stores and malls, if you fancy a shopping spree.
As we wanted to witness the picturesque view of Valletta both by day and night, we went to Sliema in a late afternoon. We took a walk along the bay in search of the perfect viewpoint and we found it on the pedestrian bridge that leads to The Point Shopping Mall. From this point you can see Valletta in its entire splendor. The blue of the sea, the white and yellowish buildings, the imposing dome of Carmelite Church rising from behind the city walls are the ingredients of the perfect picture, every tourist is yearning for.
Another place from where you can enjoy the views of Valletta , while you refresh yourself in the waters of the Mediterranean is Tigné Point Beach.
To be honest, Sliema did not grow on me. This is not a place you go to visit, as it has no major tourist attractions, but is the place from where you can begin your adventures in this pretty little country, that many times is overlooked by tourists.